We expect a lot of people to pass through The Book Table over the next few weeks who will want to chat with us about the Borders liquidation. Most of you probably expect us have a lot of strong opinions on the subject, and we do: we have many volumes to say, but they might not all be the things you expected.
First and foremost, we will say flat out: we are not celebrating. Eleven thousand fellow booksellers out of work is a dark day for all of us in the book industry. It’s a dark day for publishing when there are 400 fewer outlets for books, when our friends in the already beleaguered publishing industry will face even more rounds of layoffs. It’s a sad day for bricks and mortar, when there are that many more people who will turn to the internet, most specifically to one company-to Amazon-to fill their shelves or e-readers with books. It’s a sad day for reading when there are fewer communities with bookstores, a place where someone might stumble upon a book to read who otherwise might have gone home to their television or their internet connection for entertainment and companionship. Frankly, speaking as two people who have each worked in the industry for close to two decades, it is just plain devastating.
There is no doubt: Borders changed the industry landscape in the 90s, in some arguably good ways, some bad. We spent most of the 90s working at various independent bookstores in the Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. One by one, Borders encroached on them, one by one they closed. So no, we are not without resentment for the company. We are not without criticism of the way they chose to operate over the years, both to the detriment of publishing, and to the detriment of themselves. The company expanded rampantly over the years in the name of an attractive balance sheet, with little thought to any underlying stability. They taught their customers to shop on Amazon rather than develop their own website. They made many mistakes. But at their best, they opened stores where no other bookstore existed for miles around, providing unprecedented access to a wide range of titles in smaller, underserved communities, and that is no small thing.
Of course, we hope we can pick up some of the business that Borders leaves behind. But we do not delude ourselves into thinking that we will be the winners in this situation. Many Borders customers will head to their nearest Barnes & Noble; a vast number will turn to Amazon. For many, simply picking up the latest bestsellers while at Target or Costco will satisfy their needs. For some this may even push them into adopting e-books. We will likely pick up a percentage of the business as well, but we are well aware we don’t have the name recognition or even a fraction of the capacity to take over what Borders provided for Oak Park.
We do want to take this opportunity, however, to address our customers and to say thank you. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you for supporting a bricks and mortar bookstore. Through sales tax, through donations, through our programs and activities, we work to actively enrich Oak Park and its surrounding communities. We are endlessly grateful to all of you for welcoming us and allowing us to have our little niche in an industry we adore.
We would also like to ask of you at this moment, very simply, to think about what is good for your community when you choose where and how to shop. Think about what your sales taxes pay for. Think about what kind of community you want to live in, not online but right here in the analog world. And remember us if you decide to go digital: it is not synonymous with shopping with Amazon or other major chains. We have affordably priced Google eBooks on our website (which are compatible with most everything as long as you forgo the Kindle, and instead choose any of the other numerous excellent devices available).
In the coming months, we will be reaching out to all of you to consider how we can better serve the community in Borders’ wake. Please consider our ears open and willing to listen to your suggestions in the meantime.
Rachel Weaver & Jason Smith
The Book Table