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Home > Books > We’ve Crossed The Border(s), And We’re Not Coming Back

We’ve Crossed The Border(s), And We’re Not Coming Back

February 14th, 2011

Updated (2/16): See below.

I’ve dreaded this development for years: the Borders bookstore chain is headed for bankruptcy. I’ve long been a loyal Borders customer, thanks in large part to the constant reinforcement of cascading discounts. Hardly a week goes by without at least one visit, and I usually walk out with something.

I never fully understood why Borders always struggled in comparison to rival Barnes & Noble. Granted that–here in Champaign, at least–B&N tended to be the better stocked, but Borders handed out free coupons like candy while its counterpart charged $25 a year for the privilege of saving 10 percent. When I had my Borders-branded Visa, I existed in a consumerist spiral of discounted books and DVDs that earned me Borders Bucks that allowed me to buy more books and DVDs at even steeper discounts and accumulate still more points.

I know that I abused the system; despite warnings that multiple uses of a given coupon during its cycle constituted fraud, I might drop by several times in one weekend when there was an especially meaty one. The golden ticket–40% off any item–was a clarion call to let my printer rip.

I may have been part of the problem.

Yet, in my mind, I made up for it in volume. I have bought a lot of books these past few years, and I wasn’t buying them on Amazon.

It’s too early to tell if Borders will go the K-Mart route (still in existence, albeit without a store within 30 miles of my house) or that of Circuit City (going, going, gone). Hopefully, our outlet will escape the purge. If not, we’ll be down to a B&N, a couple of used book sellers and the campus bookstore. Last week, USA Today speculated that small book dealers may make a comeback, but ours–Pages for All Ages–is long dead.

And it’s all the Internet’s fault.

Okay, you can’t assign blame to a series of tubes.* Besides, it’s a specious argument that ignores other concurrent technological and societal changes. But there’s no ignoring that the infinite timesink of the Web, the rise of the tablet computer, the mass acceptance of e-books, and the 80,000-pound cybernetic gorilla that is Amazon.com have combined to make selling slabs of wood pulp out of a locally-operated brick pile an untenable business.

I’m very sorry to see that happen.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my iPad.

Really. I LOOOOOOVE MY iPAD.

If you’d told Ten-Year-Old Me that 35 years later he’d be carting around an object that contained hundreds of record albums, a thousand books and all the comics he could ever hope to read; that it would play video games, offer movies on demand and allow him to access the sum of all human knowledge**, Ten-Year-Old Me would’ve said “No fucking way!” Actually, no he wouldn’t have, because Ten-Year-Old Me didn’t talk like that. Ten-Year-Old Me was a good boy. But he would’ve been desperate to get those 35 years out of the way so that he could have the Precious.

Forty-Six-Year-Old Me worries that it’s too much, too fast. It’s not just the book publishing business that’s been affected, but magazines, newspapers, music, movies, radio and television***. And I have a vested interest in that last one. Retirement is an awfully long time off with changes occurring at microchip speed.

The thing is, I have a hard time blaming anyone for the dissolution of the media forms I hold dear. Truthfully, it is faster, easier and cheaper to push bits around. It’s hard to argue for the relative inefficiency of physical offices full of people with insurance policies and pensions, when most of the work can be done from a central location with a small staff.

It all makes sense. Hence comes the fear.

I wonder, when the time arrives and the last of the buggy whip factories close, what are all of these booksellers, editors, journalists, publishers, engineers, etc. etc. etc. going to do? When one person can do the work of fifty, how are we going to keep the other 49 occupied?

And don’t tell me that we’re all better off without the middlemen who got in the way of the creative folks behind the content. The artistic Utopia of self-publishing will only be viable so long as there are people making enough money to afford ephemeral, virtual non-essentials. Maybe you don’t need us to distribute your crap, but you need us to buy your crap.

So, the book stores are closing. The newspapers are shuttering. The broadcasters are next. It’s the end of the world as I know it.

At least, that’s what I read on my iPad.

*At least, not until it attains self-awareness. Which will be soon, meatbags.

**Well, the important pop-cultural parts, anyway.

***And the Post Office. And the printers. And the paper sellers. And the lumberjacks. Why does no one ever think of the lumberjacks?

Updated: Our local Borders survives. So far.

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