Friday, July 22, 2011

Borders Books

David Whitehead is one of two patrons in the cafe at Borders Midtown Atlanta who is actually reading a book. He even plans to buy the book, but not necessarily from Borders.
"Unless there is a great deal in here, I buy books used online," said the 35-year-old crossing guard. Since he began shopping for used books, Whitehead estimates he spends about 65 to 75 percent less on the same materials – like the copy of "Lord of the Flies" he scored last weekend at a yard sale as one of 12 books for $2. The Borders price? About $13. "I feel bad," said Whitehead, "but this is America."
And in America, even the big guys sometimes finish last. With the announcement Monday that Borders Group would shutter 399 stores and lay off 10,700 employees, Borders customers expressed a mix of surprise and disappointment. While they said they would be able to find other places that offer free Wi-Fi and a quiet environment, they weren't so sure it would be as convenient and familiar as this location has become.
"I love this place. It is two minutes from my house," said Tammy Johnson, 40, who comes in daily for several hours. "You can get a lot of work done in here," she said. But Johnson is quick to admit, that while she occasionally buys books for her children, ages 8 and 14, making a purchase hasn't been at the top of her list. "I didn't buy a whole lot of books," she said, "but I hate that I can't buy them now."
Borders Group had already closed six metro Atlanta bookstores, including locations in Dunwoody, which has since become a Party City, and another in Brookwood Plaza, which is now an Aveda store. Liquidation sales at the remaining seven locations could begin as early as Friday with court approval, and the company could be out of business by the end of September.
Borders customers like Hiecue, 35, are already on the lookout for new digs. The artist routinely visits Borders Midtown each day from opening until noon where he reads magazines like Juxtapoz, IdN and Airbrush Action. "Seldom do I come here to look at the books," he said. He is more interested in conversation with other artists, a network he can also tap into at several independent coffee shops around town, he said. As for the magazines, "I'll have to subscribe."
It is ironic, said Hiecue, pointing to the window where a poster features an eReader, that Borders is advertising the very device some industry experts say helped bring about the store's demise. "I'll read a book online or find the information I need online, before I buy a book," he said.
The sentiment is shared by locals like Crystal Lockett, 26, of Virginia Highland, who is seated in Borders cafe reading a book on her iPhone. Though she recently just took up eReading, Lockett, a law student at Emory, has become a convert, filling her electronic "bookcase" with books. "[Borders] should have kept up with technology," Lockett said.
Electronic books is the only growth category in the trade books division, according to data from the Association of American Publishers. While Adult Hardcover and Paperback sales (the two highest categories of trade book sales) decreased, eBook sales increased 164 percent from 2009 to 2010. Those triple digit increases have continued through 2011.
Borders owns a minority stake in Kobo eReaders and had already begun to transition its eBook accounts to Kobo. Kobo, a Toronto-based company, issued a statement clarifying that it is a privately-held company with U.S. distributors other than Borders including Best Buy, Walmart and Sears. The statement also gave consumers information on how to move their Borders eBook accounts to Kobo if they had not already done so.
The closing of Borders, the company which launched the concept of a big box bookstore in 1971, may seem the most ominous sign of a reading revolution, one bound to deeply impact the way books are published and sold, but local booksellers haven't lost hope and some are even encouraged.
"There is no doubt that it is challenging out there, but we see a lot of book lovers," said Bob Roarty, co-owner with his wife, Jan Bolgla of Atlanta Vintage Books in Chamblee. Roarty called the Borders closing "a tragedy" but said it will likely help other booksellers and bookstores. "If I were looking to open a bookstore, this would be the ideal time," he said. "Borders did millions of dollars in sales. Where are those people going to go to buy books?"