Seriously, I’m rather upset about this Borders news. Yeah, they were mismanaged for years. Their website was a disaster (and kind of still is), and letting Amazon be their online retailer for years? I think just about anyone could have told you that that was a bad idea. But Borders, by being the “other” chain, has played a very important role in the publishing ecosystem. While Barnes & Noble has had a larger share of sales for years, and therefore has exerted more control over what gets published, Borders was always an excellent counterbalance. When publishers had a hard time getting B&N to order a book in the quantity they desired, they could hope that enthusiasm from Borders might make B&N reconsider. They could go back to B&N and say, “Are you sure you’re not missing something? Borders is taking a lot more than you!” Granted, it didn’t always work. Sometimes it took Borders actually selling a book for B&N to get behind it. As an editor put it to me today about a particular book, “They got the ball rolling.” Whether through their Original Voices Award or their Books You’ll Love program, when they supported a book, they made things happen. And when the copies are flying out of one retailer, other retailers pay attention. And not just B&N, but the big box stores and the indies, too. You really can’t underestimate just how much that kind of broad, national, enthusiastic support can affect things.
I know that I’m taking this news particularly hard because Borders has supported a couple of my authors in really big ways. While I know both would have been successful without Borders, I don’t think they would have been as successful as quickly. Borders’s taste (I know it seems odd to think of a chain having taste, but hear me out) was always just a bit different, a little bit less obvious, maybe. They could often see the commercial side of the not-so-commercial books, and in being the underdog, I think they paid particular attention to books that others might have been overlooking.
It’s terrible to be losing 200 of their stores, and even more terrible to think that it’s quite possible they won’t pull out of this mess ever. I’m sad that great booksellers will be losing their jobs and that some nice retail locations here in SoCal will close—the Pasadena store was pretty great. I’m sad to think the bookstore that I frequented most often in high school might no longer exist. And I’m sad for the authors who won’t get championed by a company that truly believed in books.