Borders Closes: The Loss Of An American Landfill As Bookmart

Per recent comments here, we’ve been dwelling on Borders neutron-bombing many local stores. Not that we miss them particularly. They, like Barnes & Noble, were both seemingly everywhere and indistinguishable once inside. That made middling venues like Politics & Prose seem precious, like a soy milk Espresso Con Panna Grande.

Across the D.C. metroplex bookmarts in a medium or higher lease obligation zone got the axe. Tysons Corner? 18th & K? Friendship Heights, White Flint, etc.? Chop. Nearby B&N stores stand albeit with thinning product.

We won’t go into Borders’ defective business model. Suffice to say, a major competitive edge – a deep back catalog – vanished with the web and became a liability. The remaining few good used bookstores around town face that same remorseless process. B&N feels it too but controlled fixed costs and jumped early on the gizmo, Nook.

At a remaining Borders today we spoke with a familiar staffer. Over the years she’s helped with special orders. She advised remaining stores had to pass a bright line low(er) overhead test. Survival is also relative. This once robust bookmart features only about 60% of earlier inventory.

Walking around felt a bit like being in the Soviet Union in the mid-Gorbachev years. Everyone pretending to believe they will make it. Like listening to Sovs then vaguely promoting incentives to the command economy, here one must ask, ‘What exactly are the surviving remaining stores?’ They’re not bookmarts. They’re not niche plays.

Demoralized staffers shuffle books across new open spaces, dodging hastily placed empty ‘book club’ tables and ever more greeting cards. Even the coffee store furniture has been downgraded.

We continue to be astounded that the capital of an alleged superpower doesn’t have at least one world class book store. When we think of those who have gone before and now passed we can’t dismiss the thought, unbidden, that it’s a mercy they never saw America today.

Remaining product on the shelves is wide and thin. Notable exceptions? Military (Nazi) porn appears intact, for example. That’s to be expected. Outside it’s America and D.C. More curious are the still overpriced DVDs and CDs. It’s improbable at their price points they generate much revenue. Wouldn’t it be interesting to go through a monthly report and crunch the number to see if these truncated, former bookmarts can survive?

Sometimes it’s a mercy to shoot the wounded.


  1. says

    @Dr Leo Strauss
    “we can give or lend books without worrying what gizmo someone has”

    1) a)one of the features of the Nook is that you can lend books you’ve bought to friends and also b)you can emulate the Nook on your laptop or desktop (not so convenient for lugging around, of course)

    2) There’s a Latin American proverb – “someone who lends a book is a fool – someone who returns one is a bigger fool” – more true than not – I now regard every outgoing “loan” as a gift

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Agree that the ebook pricing is lunacy. Convenience on the Metro should not come at full tangible price. Moreover, as anyone with any digital experience knows, formats of the month come and go. How many CP/M disks do people have? We do. Might as well be in Sanskrit. MS-DOS 3.0 floppies? Same. Small floppies? There one might find a USB external drive. But what about Iomega disks?

    Last time we looked, a book we had 40 years ago is still accessible today on the shelf. We can give or lend books without worrying what gizmo someone has. Otoh, maybe it is blessing the junk being sold as e-books might be inaccessible and lost to the future. They might think marginally better of us that way.

  3. sglover says

    I understand why have to do it, but pushing ‘Nooks’ is a little like helping your own firing squad cleaning their rifles, no?

    During a recent visit to the Twinbrook B & N I asked about ordering a copy of Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation”, which I keep hearing good things about. B & N won’t sell you a “book book”, but you can buy it in e-book form — for $20-25!!! Never mind that it was published in 1944, and has probably existed in some electronic format for years, now. How can they possibly ask for more than, say, $5 for **any** general circulation e-book?!?!? I know for a fact that the whole volume is available gratis over the web.

    Not so long ago there was talk about how the large book chains could function as custom printing shops. The idea was that you’d go in, look at the wares in some form or other, and if you wanted a book book they’d print and bind it a copy for you. I suppose that’d take more capital than the chains can muster, now. But it’d be an awful shame if “real” books disappear. I don’t think e-readers are necessarily bad — I see lots of them on Metro, and they seem useful. But I suspect they might lead to even more homogenization.

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