Bookbanter Column: “Thank You Borders” (September 16, 2011)

Borders 1Window signs for Borders Roseville store #130 at the beginning of liquidation

I started working for Borders in October of 2005; last October I had my fifth-year anniversary working for the company; by the beginning of October this year Borders Books, Music and More will no longer exist.  It is estimated that around 10,700 people will lose their jobs when Borders closes its doors for good.  The original Borders bookstore opened in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  At its height in 2003, Borders had 1,249 stores; five years later it announced its intention to sell.  Two years of doubt and uncertainty followed, mainly for the Borders employees, knowing that the end would come and it was merely a case of when.  A revolving door of CEOs and constant changes to upper management couldn’t stem or slow the tide of inevitability.

It is truly the end of an era, not just with all of us losing our jobs, but as a community venue that so many people have attended over the years.  Whether it was for books, DVDs, music, coffee, Paperchase stationary items, or somewhere to enjoy a music performance or a signing on the weekend; Borders to many was a place to go and have fun.  And now there will just be a series of big empty locales across the country.

Borders 2
Employees putting up liquidation signs

Borders prided itself on carrying a wide variety of authors, especially during the better years when it wasn’t just bestsellers, but a large number of midlist authors that readers couldn’t find at Barnes and Noble, and wouldn’t be able to ever discover at Amazon.com.  Independent bookstores do their best to carry many of these authors, but they don’t have the spread and range that Borders used to carry.  In a recent interview with bestselling author George R. R. Martin, he indicated that a number of these authors will have a lot of trouble selling their books, what with the small publishers already owed millions by Borders, as well as not having such a large retailer to carry their titles anymore.  The next few years are going to be interesting as readers, publishers, writers and booksellers look at what happens to this big hole in the book world.  Will Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble automatically fill it?  Will new independent bookstores begin to flourish across the country?  Will eBooks fill this great void?  Only the future will tell.

But Borders will not be quickly forgotten.  Many of the employees in the history of Borders – as well as current ones – have had many fond memories of working for this institution.  Many customers also have their own recollections of shopping at Borders, in fact at the beginning of the liquidation a customer came into the Folsom Borders asking if they could have a piece of the carpet once the store closed as it was there that she was proposed to; sadly she was not granted her wish as the carpet is needed for future tenants.  Shortly after the liquidation announcement, Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah created a special Twitter hashtag, #ThankUBorders, where everyone and anyone could share their fond memories and happy times with Borders; each and every day there are many new entries under this hashtag.

I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs, reminiscing about my job and experiences at this place called Borders that I will never forget.  I know on that last day, we’re going to need a lot of tissues.  For now, I invite you to read what a variety of authors and one publisher have to stay about the end of Borders . . .

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Letters and messages received from caring customers

“I am saddened by the demise of any book purveyor, though of course there must be a sadness hierarchy — with the defunct independents outranking the bankrupt chains.  I long ago forgave Borders for shelving Stiff under Medical Reference, because they also chose the book for their Original Voices program, and that program was a nice a leg-up for a first-time author… “ – Mary Roach is the author of the bestselling Stiff, and most recently Packing for Mars.

“Borders was a wonderful chain, with terrific stores.  It’s a huge loss to all of us.  We mourn when a single bookstore closes, and rightly so — but when 700 close, it almost defies imagination.  Countless communities will have no local bookstore at all.  I’m truly sorry to see them go.” – Robert J. Sawyer is an award winning author; his most recent book is WWW: Wonder.

“Well, my thoughts aren’t particularly complicated. It’s a shame, even though we all sort of saw it coming. Fewer book stores – whether it’s a chain or an indie going bust – is bad for readers, and bad for writers. Fewer books available means fewer books sold. And for that matter, it means a number of (often) book-loving people are out of a job.  Perhaps the Borders closings will open an opportunity for independent stores to rise up and fill the void – particularly in some of the markets where Borders was the only bookstore in the area. I’m not sure how viable or likely that is, but a girl can hope.” – Cherie Priest is the author of the bestselling Boneshaker.

“I can only talk about our local Borders, which was always wonderfully supportive of our books and events. I think the loss of any brick-and-mortar store is bad news. I do know that in later years I had several conversations with people in the book business who didn’t understand some of Borders’ business practices. Unnecessary expenditures, including over-production of author interview videos (when a lot of people are just using a hand-held flip camera, for example). I don’t know what I think really. ” – Jeff VanderMeer is the author of Booklife and Finch.

“I think it sucks.  Leaving aside the fact that I still enjoy browsing real live bookshelves and this cuts down on my options for doing so, there’s the terrible economic impact this is going to have on the entire book industry.  We were already facing an economic system dangerously denuded of “retailer ecodiversity” — and now the few remaining apex predators, no longer impeded by competition, are free to ravage anyone they see as lower on the food chain:  namely, book producers and book lovers.  It’s already happening, and now will get worse.  Still, at least there’s one hope from the liquidation:  Borders might finally be able to pay back the millions of dollars in unpaid-for books it’s owed to publishers and authors for years now.” – N. K. Jemisin is the author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms.

“Any bookstore closing, chain or independent, is a cause for regret. We may enjoy our e-readers of all kinds, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking into a bookstore and wondering what you’ll discover today, just by being among books, picking them up, sharing that space.” – Guy Gavriel Kay is the bestselling author of Tigana and Under Heaven.

“As both an author and a reader, the news of any bookstore closing is a tragedy. But when I learned about Borders closing I was particularly saddened. Borders was instrumental in making my first book, The Lost City of Z, a success. Borders employees were some of the most devoted readers, who recommended books and passed them on to customers. I did a reading at a Borders in Westchester, New York, near where I live, and was so struck by the extraordinary staff. And so when I think about those people who worked there losing their jobs, and all the readers and authors who will lose such a great place to gather and share their love of books, I’m left without words.” – David Grann is the writer for the New Yorker and the author of the bestselling Lost City of Z.

“First of all, my heart goes out to all the hardworking Borders salespeople and managers who have lost their jobs. The demise of Borders is a sad day for them, for us authors, for publishing houses, for the reading public — and indeed for our country. Fewer bookstores mean fewer books sold. It’s that simple. And that impoverishes us all.” – Douglas Preston is the bestselling co-author of Cemetery Dance and Gideon’s Sword.

“This is one chapter we hoped would never be written. But today’s business climate doesn’t take a sentimental approach. There are so many forces that conspired to effect Borders’ demise, but it boils down to the fact that the business model changed. Borders didn’t. I feel bad for all my friends and terrific booksellers who are losing their jobs, and the readers who lose their neighborhood bookstore. Borders was more than just a store…in its heyday, it was a community’s social pulse…a happening place where people gathered for book signings and musical concerts. It’ll be sorely missed.” – Alan Jacobson is the bestselling author of Crush and Inmate 1577.

“I’m crushed and shocked.  The loss of Borders will have a resounding and lasting impact on the publishing market.  Worst of all, it leaves fewer outlets for readers to easily browse, purchase, and explore new books.  And the effect will reverberate throughout the economy as well:  from the dumping of the 400 stores’ retail spaces into an already fragile marketplace to the 11,000 employees seeking new employment during these tough times.  There is not a silver lining in any of this.”– James Rollins is the bestselling author of The Doomsday Key and The Devil Colony.

“Well, it’s funny, I remember when Borders was “cool.”  —Before they became intent on opening a location next to every indie in town and running them out of business. I was so sorry to see their business model change; they really became the opposite of how they started.  Borders was “sex-positive,” and gay-friendly in their infancy; back when it was considered risky. They were out front with graphic novels and comics.  Whereas some prominent booksellers were saying: “No title with the word SEX in it will be allowed to have a signing in our store!”— Borders would welcome me.   I think I first went to one in Chicago, that was fun. I also remember very well being in their Wall Street location a few months before 9/11. They had such a jolly time inviting me to “invade” the suits and have a reading there.  I wish I could remember names better, because obviously, the good times were all about the great individuals I met, who in many cases, had been booksellers for years, at every kind of store. I hope I keep seeing them in the future!” – Susie Bright is the bestselling author of Big Sex Little Death, as well as the editor for The Best American Erotica.

“For any trade publisher the loss of Borders means that print runs will drop, in some cases by quite a lot for some categories in which Borders did well, which will then put pressure on unit costs and retail prices and profit margins. The knock-down effect would include loss of employees, fewer output, and more. And if this is the direction of chain stores, with indications that B&N will soon follow in five years, at least with attrition, as leases expire, then we could see a situation where publishers are either put out of business entirely or transitioned to ebook business models in order to save themselves. It’s a brave new world, but it’s anyone’s guess how brave and new it’s going to be.” – Sean Wallace is the editor and publisher for Prime Books.

“I think it’s a sad day when thousands of people lose their jobs and the ability of the consumer to browse through books in person becomes even more limited.” – Amber Benson is the author of Death’s Daughter and starred as Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“The closing of Borders leaves an enormous void in the book world, not only physically but also spiritually. The professional implications to the publishing industry aside, there’s something about the experience of stepping into a book store that can’t be duplicated by browsing books on Amazon.com. If the other brick-and-mortar stores suffer the same fate as Borders, then we will have lost a fundamental piece of our culture.” – S.G. Browne is the author of Fated and Breathers.

“I’ll miss Borders.  The closest bookstore to me right now is a Borders.  It’s in a local shopping center that has a movie theatre, and nearly every time I go to the movies I go in there to shop.  But that’s just the tiny little sliver of my personal regret.  Thousands of people are losing their jobs.  Big shopping centers will have massive empty real estate that will be hard to lease, and the cities and towns won’t be getting the taxes those businesses generate.  Of course, even that is only one aspect of the loss taking place with Borders flaming out.  Doubtless it will hasten the rush toward digital books as people have a harder time finding a bookstore.  The long term picture–what publishing will look like a decade from now–is unclear.  Perhaps once the conversion to digital is complete, or nearly so, that will create jobs and opportunities for writers.  But in the short term, we’ll have to navigate carefully as the industry continues to undergo its metamorphosis.” – Christopher Golden is the author of numerous books including The Myth Hunters and The Map of Moments with Tim Lebbon.

“Borders was the only new book store near my house when I was a kid.  I spent so many hours there.  Borders was the bookstore that always had the book I wanted, that always had the people who knew what I was talking about.  When I started publishing my own books, Borders was the bookstore that happily invited me in to sign and read and be a part of the bookstore dream.  I miss my local stores so much.  I can’t believe the whole chain is going away.  It’s a loss to me as a writer, to me as a reader, and to me as a little girl who just wants to walk into a bookstore and be amazed.” – Seanan McGuire is the author of Late Eclipses and Feed under Mira Grant.

07/02 On the Bookshelf . . . “Demon Fish” & “Fort Freak” & “Velocity”

Demon Fish    Fort Freak    Vortex

Looking forward to an interesting new shark book, Demon Fish, after being disappointed The Devil’s Teeth.  This will be my first read in the Wild Cards series edited by George R. R. Martin with Fort Freak, plus it features a story by Cherie Priest.  And finally we have the final volume after the great Spin and Axis with Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson

09/28 On the Bookshelf . . . “Rot & Ruin” & “Dreadnought

Rot and Ruin Dreadnought

I know, I know: it’s another zombie novel, but this one is a young adult one from bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, of Patient Zero fame, so I’m looking forward to it.  Plus, how could you say no to that cover.  Also got Cherie Priest’s latest in the Clockwork Century series after the bestselling Boneshaker, Dreadnought, which Priest talks quite a bit about in this interview.

09/08 On the Bookshelf . . . “Living Dead 2” & “The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten”

Living Dead 2 Zombies of Lake Woebegotten

Received this zombie duo from Night Shade Books.  Been waiting and looking forward to Living Dead 2, as it features stories from the likes of Cherie Priest, Mira Grant, Max Brooks and S. G. Browne to name a few.  As for Zombies of Lake Woebegotten, I already knew of its existence and have a feeling it’ll be showing up for a BookBanter Boon giveaway, possibly even for the next episode on September 15th.

“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest (Tor, 2009)

Boneshakerstarstarstarstar

In an alternate America of the 1880s, Leviticus Blue invents a mining machine that is supposed to revolutionize the growing town of Seattle.  Instead he loses control of the Bone-shaking Drill Engine, which breaks loose and tears through the underground of the town, causing buildings and roads to collapse within the tunnels made by the machine.  Then a mysterious blight gas is released that somehow turns anyone who breathes enough of it into the living dead.

Sixteen years pass and the city is walled off, turning it into a zombie graveyard.  There are those who live on the inside of the wall, eking out a survival, always terrified they will breathe the gas and be turned.  Then there are those who live on the outside of the wall, having abandoned their city, living in poverty, trying their best to get by.  Finally there are the zeppelins and airships that ferry, transport, and smuggle items into and out of Seattle.

Briar Wilkes, husband to the late Leviticus Blue, is doing her best to get by, while supporting a growing teenage boy.  Only Ezekiel wants to find out more about his dad, wondering if he might still be alive, and whether he was truly to blame for the tragedy that befell Seattle.  Ezekiel sneaks past the wall through a sewer pipe and travels into the doomed town.  Briar soon discovers that her greatest fear has come true, and she must go in after him.  She will make friends on the inside, but also enemies, while fighting to find out if her son is still alive, as well as making sure she doesn’t get turned by the blight gas.

Cherie Priest has created a wonderfully original story in what she says is a response to the Steampunk look of hat and goggles.  The result is a fun, action-packed book that explores the relationship of a mother and son with an unusual past, along with designed yellowed pages and brown print that gives Boneshaker a whole unique look.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on January 24th, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Cherie Priest check out BookBanter Episode 25.

AmazonFail

I think pretty much everyone is aware now of what Amazon.com recently did to one of the publishing giants, Macmillan.  Essentially it was a final reaction to a disagreement that’s been brewing between Amazon and Macmillan for some time over the price of ebooks.  Amazon offers ebooks at a bargain rate of $9.99 and Macmillan wanted Amazon to raise the price to $15 for their books.  Amazon then decided they’d had enough of this and instead chose to not only take down all the ebooks published by Macmillan, but also take down all their print books too.  So basically Amazon — at the moment — is not selling any books by authors published by Macmillan.  If you go to one of Macmillan’s books on Amazon, you’ll find the book, but see that Amazon is not selling new copies, and there are only used copies available.  A couple of authors I’ve interviewed — Brandon Sanderson, Ken Scholes and Cherie Priest — are published by Macmillan, and here’s an example of what happens if you want to buy a new copy of their books at Amazon: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Canticle by Ken Scholes, or Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

You may have noticed that these authors are published by Tor, yes, Tor is an imprint of Macmillan, and yes, Tor controls a large amount of all the fantasy and science fiction books being published.  They are also a very important publisher when it comes to publishing new authors too.  As Jay Lake has said on his blog: first week sales for new books are incredibly important.  Now for authors who’ve had their books out for a couple of months, it’s not necessarily so bad, but when the book came out in the last week or is due to come out in the next couple of weeks, it’s not good for the author; especially if you couple this with a brand new, first-time published author whose career may very well be determined by sales of the book.  And we all know what an influence Amazon has on the book market in sales.

So you can take it how you want, think of Amazon what you will.  In my opinion, it’s a pretty pathetic and childish thing to do, especially since the economy is still not doing well at all, and the publishing world is making tentative steps and is quite fragile at the moment.  The least Amazon could’ve done was take down the ebooks published by Macmillan, but left the print books up.

And while you’re contemplating this and deciding on what you think of Amazon, check out the following links to read more on the subject:

New York Times article: Amazon Pulls Macmillan Books Over E-Book Price Disagreement.

Thoughts and links from a literary agent: quick sketch on the Amazon vs Macmillan weekend theatre.

Some viewpoints from TOR authors: Tor authors express worry over their careers because of Macmillan/Amazon dispute

Reuters article: Next threat to Amazon’s $9.99 books? Rupert Murdoch.

Washington Post article: The Amazon-Macmillan book saga heralds publishing’s progress.

And let’s not forget the time that Amazon made that little “mistake” with the ebook 1984: Amazon zaps purchased copies of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from Kindles

BookBanter Episode 25 with Cherie Priest

Play

Episode 25 features my interview with author Cherie Priest. Cherie has written a number of books, including Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, Not Flesh Nor Feathers, and her most recent release is a steampunk adventure called Boneshaker set in late nineteenth century Seattle where a terrible accident causes people to turn into zombies. In her interview, Cherie says she wanted to make up a reason for the steampunk look of cap and goggles, and she has certainly created a compelling and entertaining one in Boneshaker. In the interview, she also talks about how she got started writing, what she’s working on now, and what she likes to do in her spare time.

Featured on the episode are my reviews for Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson, Jack: Secret Circles by F. Paul Wilson, The Unwritten, Volume 1 by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. If you’d like to purchase any of these titles, please click on the covers below :

The Vikings Jack: Secret CirclesThe UnwrittenBoneshaker

This episode of BookBanter is brought to you by East Bay and Footlocker, leading world suppliers of athletic footwear, apparel and sports equipment, featuring top athletic brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Converse, and Nike.  Go to East Bay.com and use the code AFBOOK15 to receive 15% off your order, or the code AFBOOK20 to receive 20% off your order of $75 or more.  Or go to Footlocker.com and use the code AFBOOKFL to receive 15% off your order.

For more updates and news, as wells as thoughts and comments about books and writing, be sure to check out the BookBanter Blog.

I’ll see you next time, on February 15th, in Episode 26 featuring author David Grann, and we’ll be talking all about his book, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon .

Thanks for joining me, and see you next time.

Alex C. Telander.