We went down to Borders today. It was like a courtesy call, stopping in at the home of the bereaved. The community gathers mourning the loss of the big store next to Toys R Us and Barbeques Galore. It was my book design research lab. The store that had killed the independent bookstores and had then somehow turned into our own neighborhood store.
Many trips over the years, standing in the long lines before Christmas making friends with the other people winding their way past the restrooms in the back of Research.
Many afternoons in the Children’s section, books strewn around the carpet as the hours wiled away.
But not today. The computers are gone, books have been brought out of a warehouse somewhere, the information desk is stacked with books. No information today. Pretty big crowd, though.
Technology? Or Something Else
Even today people are down there shopping. The story was always busy. Of course, they had 10,000 square feet or whatever for their music department, that’s an albatross.
Mismanagement? Bad Strategy? Amazon.com? Or just the nature of the beast. Books have always been ideal for direct selling, they don’t break in shipping. Now everyone shops online in the big bookstore with millions of titles. Or people have switched to free ebooks, Google and Project Gutenburg could keep you busy for the next couple of hundred years.
Besides, books only cost $.99 now, right? How will a huge store in a strip mall compete with that? And what’s the business model of a store the size of a warehouse filled with books that were printed before they were paid for, which is starting to seem like an archaic concept in the age of print on demand.
Discoveries and Serendipity
Jill brought over a book she wanted to buy: The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo (Conari Press). Although the size of this book is listed as 5″ x 9″, the book itself measures 5″ x 9.25″.
By comparison, a trade paperback is about 4″ x 7″ and a small trade paperback is 5.25″ x 8″ so this book is extraordinarily tall. I had seen some others like this a few months ago, but took a longer look at this one when we got the beast home.
The book, which is nicely designed, is 440 pages. Each page is about 30-40% longer than a book with a more typical page proportion. On a more normal sized page, it would probably run over 500 pages, quite a difference. Have a look.
I don’t know what it would be like to read these long pages. This book is pretty well suited to the format because it’s composed of a lot of small pieces of text. Would it be fatiguing? Heavy to hold?
Sales and Sales
All over the store there are big “Sale” signs announcing “30-50%” discounts. Of course, Borders always billed itself as a discount store anyway, and I can’t recall more than a few times ever paying retail there, since there was always a coupon.
Some racks were 50%, but they were likely to be non-book items or discount table fodder. The rest were a whopping 20% off. Not exactly earth-shattering. Still, people lined up.
We headed for the registers. Jill had found a couple of books and I had a nice-looking book on pies and tarts. She said, “You know, I never would have come across any of these books shopping online.” She looked around at the store. “There’s so much to look at here, you just start picking things up.”
She’s right, and it’s one of the big differences between books and other digital forms, like music. I would much rather buy music online, where I can sample anything in the catalog easily.
But books? Not so much. It’s not much fun browsing BN.com compared to going to Barnes & Noble’s store near here and poking around to see what we see.
It’s odd to think of missing Borders. The fellow at the register, who has worked there for a while, said they would be open until the end of May. Seems like a long time to carve up a carcass. Soon they plan to sell the fixtures.
A Deathly Memory
I guess my strongest memory of Borders was when the Deathly Hallows came out. If you remember the frenzy surrounding the long-awaited culmination of the Harry Potter saga, I do too.
Through a series of coincidences I found myself home alone that night, and drove down to Border’s to see if I could snag a copy. Naive me. It was just past midnight, and for a mile and a half or more in either direction, every parking lot along the road was parked to the edges. People walked from that far to get to the store to join the launch party in progress.
I cruised the store and peeked in from my car, it was impossible to even stop. The place was packed, rocking to the communal celebration of the power of literature to move us, en masse. The awesome ability of one woman, writing alone, to transport people around the world to these almost primitive, tribal celebrations. The amazing story had come to a close. We celebrated the story and the storyteller, and we celebrated being a witness to it.
As I drove away that night, I thought I had seen a gathering of the tribe, the people of the book, that was so strong it would never die. What I didn’t know was just how quickly it would move on.