Borders Closing: An Author's Perspective

This post, by Steve Yates, originally appeared on his Fiction and History blog on 2/17/11.

Springfield, Missouri Borders on bankrupt chain’s closure list

There is a tumult in my heart about the Wednesday (2.16.2011) announcement that Borders will be closing 200 stores, including the location in Springfield, Missouri, the store in which Moon City Press first launched my novel Morkan’s Quarry.

The characters in my novel, the Morkans, owners of a limestone quarry in Civil War-era Springfield, would likely take a cold-hearted line on all this. Michael Morkan could easily see why a Borders at that Glenstone location would be one of 200 stores losing $2 million each day for the retailer. 25,000+ square feet of books right across the street from a Barnes & Noble store of equal square footage, that’s 50,000 square feet and surely lots of duplication. In those 50,000 sq. ft., think how many shelves HAVE to carry specific books that frequently sell—Harry Potter, The Twilight Series, the Da Vinci Code, and the like.

But walk-in, foot traffic markets have limits, capacities to absorb and demand any given product. In the heyday of giant retailers, back when Montgomery Ward still existed, and book buyers had few choices and no internet, such side-by-side offerings might have been sustainable. But this Starbucks-gone-wild passion for expassion came on after Montgomery Ward and lots of other retailers had already died and left fossils and empty shells.

The minute Morkan learned the space at Borders was leased, and the staff had to be paid an established minimum wage, and there would be no hope of free county prison labor… he would opt that every book in the place, every ISBN or SKU in retail parlance, be one that tears out of there faster than an opium and alcohol-saturated tonic (see energy drink) from a traveling medicine show.

There’s one source of the tumult: it is very hard to be unique and become a costumer’s favorite local bookstore when you have to carry what a corporate supervisor in Michigan chooses, items that can be sold to everybody. Giant scale, which can seem to the untrained eye a wowing advantage, becomes a deathtrap. And carrying all those hotcake items as your mainstay becomes unsustainable when your customer has already picked up The Chronicles of Narnia at Kroger or Sam’s or Wal-Mart at an humungous discount.

Read the rest of the post on Steve YatesFiction and History blog.