There was a point when our family went to a Borders or other bookstore at least once a week and sometimes twice. We would invariably spend up to $100 a trip. No more, and it seems like others have curtailed their book-buying visits too.
I just read that Borders has not been paying publishers in an effort to deal with its debt. The article blames the problem on e-books, but that can’t be the whole story. Many of the books I used to love to purchase just aren’t very good in the e-book format–coffee table books and magazines filled with color photos are very much in that category. It used to be interesting to try to judge how the tastes of the public were changing by watching the various sections at a Borders grow or shrink. Remember when computer books took up 3 or 4 entire aisles and magazines devoted to computing of one kind or another took and entire rack or two? That was at the peak of the first dot com era. It was awesome being able to walk in and pick up the latest cool books, even relatively rare textbooks that I used to have to go to specialized bookstores to find.
Then all of a sudden something started happening. Bookstores started taking more and more shelf space for cheap paperback fiction. Then they started spending more and more time pushing the expensive just published hardbacks and the bargain basement clearance items. The CD and DVD sections started taking over more and more space. I was recently in a Borders where these non-book media were as much as 40% of the floor space. I’m a gearhead/car lover, and there used to be huge sections of color books on every imaginable car. They’re all but gone. The last time I was in a Borders the car books got one narrow bookshelf. Did the public really lose interest in cars to that degree? Maybe, but somehow I doubt it. I have a very broad range of interests and every single section got decimated and reduced. There seem to be a few exceptions, but not too many. Still plenty of cookbooks available. It looks like, but I couldn’t swear to it (haven’t spent time there since we finished remodeling our house) the architecture and decorating sections are decent. The inventory in every other area I’m interested in has reached a point where I’m no longer interested in looking–I already know I’m unlikely to find anything I haven’t seen and already bought.
As I mention, there are a lot of books that I don’t like to consume as e-books. Anything that is a coffee table book loses most of its impact. I prefer textbooks that are paper. It’s largely just the fiction, biographies, and light business books that I consume as e-books. Maybe I’m just an odd bird, but heck, e-book readers, much as I love ‘em, haven’t penetrated to that great an extent to account for the demise of a retailler like Borders. My suspicion is they got greedy and quit serving the customer. They forgot Sun Tzu’s admonition not to attack the enemy (e-books) where they are strong (cheap fiction).
It’s a shame really. I’m waiting to see who will step up to take over and do bricks and mortar books right again. Maybe it can’t be done, but I doubt it. Meanwhile, I’ll just have to order those kinds of books from Amazon. It sure isn’t the same though.
(Cross-posted @ SmoothSpan Blog)