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Booksellers Feel the Pinch

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This afternoon I popped into the downtown branch of my favorite independent book retailer. I hadn't been there in years, and with the movie theater next to it shutting down, I knew its sales would be strained. I bought a few gifts, used a frequent buyer coupon, and felt good that I had supported the independent, rather than the Borders just three blocks up the street.

But I really like Borders. Always have. I'll support my local independent chain (not an oxymoron in my mind, although someone who once worked there has strenuously objected to my use of the "independent" terminology) when I can, but Borders is a favorite haunt. I finally got sucked into its e-mail list, and just as I had feared and suspected, its frequent 20% off coupons are a lure for my occasional purchases.

I go to Barnes & Noble sometimes as well, although I've never liked it quite as much as Borders. I did buy a couple of jazz CDs there this year, using gift cards for the bulk of the purchases, and covering the spread.

Those chains are a supposed threat to the independents. But what would happen if they, too, began to disappear? This story suggests that Borders may soon be on the block, and BN may be a suitor, as a slowly sinking economy and the competition from online booksellers takes its toll on the big booksellers.

The news will probably make some people happy, but not me. I was browsing a Borders a few days ago, thinking of how online bookstores just can't recreate the atmosphere and the tactile experience (obviously) of paging through books, picking up CDs, and drinking coffee.

When did these big chains debut? It hasn't really been all that long. Has their time come to an end already?

Edited by Christian

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Hey, I'm from Detroit. Borders is STILL the great independent bookstore for me, just multiplied. The original Borders on State St. in Ann Arbor was always a destination in itself and I have fond memories of browsing it when Dena and I were courting, or just married. I'd drop her off at some appointment and go over a few blocks and wait for her to get her hair done or some such. The stores we all find everywhere now are just slightly more well organized versions of that original and sprawling store.

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Hey, I'm from Detroit. Borders is STILL the great independent bookstore for me, just multiplied. The original Borders on State St. in Ann Arbor was always a destination in itself and I have fond memories of browsing it when Dena and I were courting, or just married. I'd drop her off at some appointment and go over a few blocks and wait for her to get her hair done or some such. The stores we all find everywhere now are just slightly more well organized versions of that original and sprawling store.

Having worked for Borders for five years, I have a soft-spot for the store. I still prefer it over B&N (there are a few nitpicky reasons for this preference too), and I always feel like the people actually care when I'm at a Borders. I mean, I love indie booksellers

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Sad news about my favorite local independent bookseller:

Olsson's Braces For Chapter 11 Filing:

Olsson's Books, one of the oldest independent booksellers in Washington, plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, founder John Olsson said yesterday.

Pressed by creditors who have filed claims against the company's inventories and by rising overhead costs, Olsson's is closing at least one store and will evaluate its ability to operate its remaining five properties, an attorney for the company said.

"The book business is getting a little soft. It's not selling as much as it used to," Olsson said. "Our music sales went from 50 percent of our business to maybe 15. We lost a lot of revenue, and at the same time rents went up and real estate taxes went up. I don't know what we would have done differently. It's a killer."

When I was at my local Borders last weekend to buy a couple of CDs, I was shocked to see that the floor space devoted to CDs there had been approximately halved! I knew Olsson's was struggling -- music was the most obvious area where sales were contracting. But Borders? I knew they were having some issues with book sales, but I had thought music was doing OK for the chain.

Nope.

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When I was at my local Borders last weekend to buy a couple of CDs, I was shocked to see that the floor space devoted to CDs there had been approximately halved! I knew Olsson's was struggling -- music was the most obvious area where sales were contracting. But Borders? I knew they were having some issues with book sales, but I had thought music was doing OK for the chain.

Nope.

Digital downloads, my friend. Digital downloads.

As I heard it said a few weeks ago, if an industry loses 10-to-15% of its income, it is in a recession.

The last few years record sales have plummeted over 40%.

And yet more music is being discovered--just less music is purchased.

Time to reevaluate the music business model...

Nick

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Sad news about my favorite local independent bookseller:

Olsson's Braces For Chapter 11 Filing:

Olsson's Books, one of the oldest independent booksellers in Washington, plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, founder John Olsson said yesterday.

Pressed by creditors who have filed claims against the company's inventories and by rising overhead costs, Olsson's is closing at least one store and will evaluate its ability to operate its remaining five properties, an attorney for the company said.

"The book business is getting a little soft. It's not selling as much as it used to," Olsson said. "Our music sales went from 50 percent of our business to maybe 15. We lost a lot of revenue, and at the same time rents went up and real estate taxes went up. I don't know what we would have done differently. It's a killer."

When I was at my local Borders last weekend to buy a couple of CDs, I was shocked to see that the floor space devoted to CDs there had been approximately halved! I knew Olsson's was struggling -- music was the most obvious area where sales were contracting. But Borders? I knew they were having some issues with book sales, but I had thought music was doing OK for the chain.

Nope.

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. :( I love Olsson's. They're pricey, but they have a really good selection. I've always made a beeline for the store every time I've gone to Old Town Alexandria.

ETA: I just realized the one that's closing is the one by my old office. Now I'm REALLY sad. I used to be in there all the time on my work breaks.

Edited by Gina

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Olsson's has closed.

How are the independent book and music retailers doing in your city?

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Noooo! I hadn't even realized they were in trouble before now!

Now where will I go to rent quality DVDs? (And every time I step in the door, I would be tempted to pick up a book -- and I would often give in to temptation.)

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There may be a better place for this post, but I wanted to note that a certain book publisher has, in the words of the thread title, "felt the pinch," and there's a films-and-spirituality connection:

The small Manhattan publishing house that has published books by famous foodie James Beard, film director Ingmar Bergman, Israeli president Shimon Peres and other authors from around the globe filed for Chapter 11 protection several months after the death of its owner.

Arcade Publishing Inc. on Friday filed for bankruptcy in Manhattan. Despite an

Edited by Christian

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D.C.-area residents nervously await the fate of Politics & Prose which is officially on the block.

Buried in the story is some good news:

Meade and Cohen said that their 60 employees are nervous but that the sale should not be perceived as the store's final chapter. Despite doom and gloom in the industry, Meade said, "there are no financial problems here. We make a good profit." Two years ago, Politics and Prose sold 141,000 hardcover books for $3 million in sales, the owners said. This year: 156,000 hardcovers for $3.3 million.

But there's also the broader downward trend to contend with:

Book sales are down nationwide, falling nearly 2 percent from 2008 to last year, according to the Association of American Publishers, although sales of e-books shot up 177 percent on smaller volume. Independent stores have been hit especially hard, and nationally prominent shops have closed, including Olsson's Books and Records in Washington, Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan and A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco.

With consumers adopting iPads and Kindles to download books in seconds, analysts suggest that the future for bricks-and-mortar bookstores is grim. Other industry professionals predict that stores might evolve into showrooms where books might be bought off the shelves, downloaded at the register or printed on in-house presses that churn out high-quality paperbacks in minutes from a nearly infinite inventory.

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Hmm, Politics & Prose? My first thought is, boy will their closing take a big chunk out of Book-TV on the weekends. Never been to that store, but I'm quite familiar with it.

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I just caught up the New York Times' coverage of the store's pending sale:

In the weeks since the owners said the independent bookstore was on the market, a variety of potential buyers, including literary agents, authors and investors, have stepped forward to express interest. ...

Mr. Sagalyn said he and Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic and one of Mr. Sagalyn’s clients, have been in preliminary discussions with Ms. Meade and Ms. Cohen about buying the bookstore as part of a larger group of buyers. Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a nearby resident, said he is part of the same interested group. Mr. Sagalyn declined to name the others in the group, although he said all of them are customers of the store.

Mr. Foer said he has been a customer of the bookstore since his childhood, adding, “When I was in high school and couldn’t get a date on Friday night, which was just about every Friday night, I would spend my time in the aisles of the store.”

FWIW, I've spent more than my share of Friday nights at a bookstore. ::blushing::

Edited by Christian

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They're anything but!

Indeedy. I just wrapped up my second stint at the local Borders Express. I worked there from 2003, while I was still in college, to 2007 — during much of this I was management. They hired me again last fall to work a few evenings as week (it was 'marriage money'), and my recent promotion at my PR job at my alma mater gave me no time to work there. Anyway....

Bookselling is tough business, especially if you want to stay in business. And especially when the majority of the books you sell are also sold by the Wal-Mart down the street for a fraction of the price. Often customers ask why book stores are going out of business, and it usually doesn't register when you try to explain it. Sigh.

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Hmm, Politics & Prose? My first thought is, boy will their closing take a big chunk out of Book-TV on the weekends. Never been to that store, but I'm quite familiar with it.

The store's co-founder, Carla Cohen, has died.

When Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade opened a little Connecticut Avenue bookstore 26 years ago, they had two full-time employees, a small inventory that skewed toward serious nonfiction and a name - Politics and Prose - that celebrated Washington's predilection for wonkery.

Against all odds, the store went on to build a reputation as one of the nation's most renowned and successful independent booksellers - a buzzing community hub where readers gather each evening to hear talks by top-shelf authors, and where browsing shoppers are more likely to stumble across an obscure university press title than anything by Danielle Steel.

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Franklin Foer is still working on a bid for Politics and Prose, even as he moves on from The New Republic:

Mr. Foer will remain at the magazine as a writer at large at the same time he is putting together a group of investors to bid on a prominent Washington bookstore, Politics and Prose.

Those investors include Hugh Panero, a founder and the former chief executive of XM Satellite radio; Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine; and Rafe Sagalyn, a literary agent.

“I love the place so much,” said Mr. Foer, who went to Politics and Prose as a child.

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Borders prepares to file for bankruptcy. Yikes.

The troubled Ann Arbor, Mich., bookseller could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy-protection as soon as Monday or Tuesday, paving the way for hundreds of store closings and thousands of job losses, said people familiar with the matter.

As a former Borders employee (six years total), I have to say I'm sad. The company has done some really stupid things over the past decade, sure, and I would gladly support an mom-and-pop bookstore over a large chain (if any mom-and-pops exist around here). But I enjoyed working for them, regardless. The little Borders Express that I worked at probably won't close, considering that it's done pretty well over the past few years compared to other mall-based book stores. Here's hoping the nice folks there aren't out of a job anytime soon.

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I'm sad about this, too. I'm a Borders Rewards member who upgraded to "Plus" status last year and who has used several coupons/rebates/incentives since. My local store hasn't been the same since it ditched so much of its music selection. But that doesn't mean I want the place to close.

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It's sad, sure. Borders has generally had a fine selection of literary works (better, I think, than the competition). But I've seen this coming for a while. Borders never really figured out how to craft a comfortable shopping experience (their stores have always been dressed in loud, exhausting colors), and they never managed to gain a foothold in the all-important internet market.

Edited by Ryan H.

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It's sad, sure. Borders has generally had a fine selection of literary works (better, I think, than the competition). But I've seen this coming for a while. BORDERS never really figured out how to craft a comfortable shopping experience (their stores have always been dressed in loud, exhausting colors), and they never managed to gain a foothold in the all-important internet market.

It's certainly sad. The original Borders in Ann Arbor was the best bookstore I ever saw in the pre-Internet age. The selection was incredible, not only for books, but for music. Their jazz section was larger than some mom 'n pop music stores I've seen.

Alas, Ryan is correct. Barnes and Noble beat them at the "comfortable shopping experience" game, and trounced them at the Internet game. Which is too bad, because the deals were and are better at Borders. Find them while you still can.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Alas, Ryan is correct. Barnes and Noble beat them at the "comfortable shopping experience" game, and trounced them at the Internet game.

Yeah. I can spend an hour or so at Barnes & Noble without feeling antsy. When I've tried that at Borders, I leave feeling pretty warn out, even if I'm just sitting in the coffee shop.

Which is too bad, because the deals were and are better at Borders.

Except for the regular Barnes & Noble Criterion sale, which is the only reason I have a Barnes & Noble membership.

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Good article up on The American Spectator - Borders, R.I.P.? by one of the professors at my old lawschool.

So now I live in the wilds of the Washington suburbs with only chain bookstores, and a few solid used bookstores, making more and more of my purchases on line, which, I admit, can be a real convenience if you know what you want. But that is the point of a bookstore or a library: you find things you did not know you wanted or, perchance, needed. I have heard this experience described as serendipitous, i.e., in the nature of "a seeming gift for finding good things accidentally," according to my dictionary.

To the credit of Borders, they managed to preserve some semblance of the independent bookstore in their stores, until recently at least, carrying a varied and rich selection of books and hiring staff who seemed knowledgeable.

It was the mass marketing stuff with which they seemed to have had problems. I found it a disturbing trend, though, when Borders started erecting prominent displays of books and other paraphernalia about teenage vampires in love. In truth, maybe reading, truly reading, deeply and seriously, and mass marketing, are mutually exclusive propositions.

Edited by Persiflage

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It's sad, sure. Borders has generally had a fine selection of literary works (better, I think, than the competition). But I've seen this coming for a while. Borders never really figured out how to craft a comfortable shopping experience (their stores have always been dressed in loud, exhausting colors), and they never managed to gain a foothold in the all-important internet market.

You hit the nail on the head, Ryan. Borders unfortunately went to too little, too late route — they adopted some nicer store colors and added chairs (years after B&N, etc.), and they really shot themselves in the foot with their online presence (initially as an Amazon affiliate instead of going the B&N route). Cutting down the number of stores might make a leaner and meaning company (ala Sears), but...who knows?

Still, I'll always remember a two-year period where a few other booksellers and I had free reign to special order anything we wanted for the shelves. We had over 40 Hard Case Crime books, tons of Frederick Buechner novels, huge collections of obscure Marvel collections. Those were the days.

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A discussionon the local NPR stating regarding borders and indie bookstores.

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And, it's happened: Borders declares bankruptcy.

They're closing a lot of stores. I'm thankful that the two stores I frequent (including the one that I worked for) aren't on the chopping block.

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