Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Is there anything more difficult to watch than the struggles of a dying entity? Is there anyone who truly believes the Borders chain of bookstores is anything other than a "dead man walking?"

On December 31, Publishers Weekly reported that the Borders Group, which saw third quarter sales drop an astounding 12.6% (By comparison, Barnes and Noble sales rose 9.7% for the nine week period ending December 31), began suspending payments to "some publishers." Which publishers were affected was not specified, but in response, PW reported that at least one of the "big six" New York publishing houses retaliated by suspending book shipments to Borders.

It gets worse. This morning, Publishers Weekly reported that, on the eve of "complex negotiations with vendors and lenders," Borders Executive Vice President and General Counsel Thomas Carney has resigned along with Chief Information Officer Scott Laverty. Apparently these two saw the handwriting on the wall and made for the lifeboats before the SS Borders slips below the surface of the sea of debt.

According to a Borders spokesperson, senior corporate officials (minus Carney and Laverty, of course) are even now in New York, "in discussions regarding the refinancing of existing senior credit facilities." In case you're like me and don't speak legalese, PW goes on to explain that the discussion involves a "new refinancing plan that includes new money from a new bank."

Is there anyone anywhere who believe Borders, at least in its current form, is anything other than a goner? Is there anyone anywhere who believes a bookseller which suspends payments on its inventory can survive? Is there anyone anywhere who believes Borders will be the last bookselling chain to fail?

Independent booksellers, which by definition don't have access to the kinds of resources the huge chains do, have been struggling - and failing - for years now, victims of a lethal combination: a weak economy and the rise of electronic books. It was only a matter of time before one of the Big Guys fell by the wayside, too.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the lightning-fast changes taking place in this industry. But anyone who likes to curl up at night with a good book can't help but feel at least a little sense of loss. Borders may not go down without a fight, but they're going down, and when they do, they won't be back.

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