What Borders’ bankruptcy means for the publishing industry

bordersThe recent news about Borders’ filing bankruptcy, while not the least bit shocking to those of us in publishing, will hit the book industry hard.
Borders has been portending its own demise for more than year now, and publishers have all put into place some plan to adjust. High returns from Borders have been commonplace, and most publishers stopped shipping books to them a while back.
Yet, this is the best chance Borders has to pull it together. Will they survive? If you look at their management decisions over the past 10 years, there’s not much hope. But for many neighborhoods around the country Borders is a staple, a meeting place, something people will not give up easily. So we’ll hold our breath and cross our fingers.
The number of Borders stores will decrease—that’s not in question. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon the number of Barnes and Noble stores decreased. And though there’s certainly a big opportunity for electronic book sales, I wouldn’t discount the opportunity that indie bookstores have to regrasp some of their old territories.
As suggested at a recent book conference I attended, called Digital Book World, smart independents—those that serve as a community center and who really know how to take advantage of social media—can seize this opportunity for resurgence. They likely won’t ever again reach the level where they once stood before the superstores. But they can take some of that market back.
I’m not sure I’d be willing to give up the experience of buying books at a real bookstore. Maybe I’m just naive. But just as we see a trend toward more self-sufficiency, do-it-yourself, homegrown, local markets, book buyers could also swing that way.
There’s no question that the digital book world is growing and will continue to grow at a record pace. And publishers have to adjust and find ways to make it a profitable avenue. Publishers should no longer think of themselves as book publishers—they need to be thinking as content publishers.
Yet, for me, it’s still much too early to imagine a world without the printed book.

Jess Haberman is a full-time acquisitions editor at the Globe Pequot Press/Lyons Press and a part-time Dragonfly editor.


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