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The End of Borders and the Future of the Printed Word

27 July 2011

OK, maybe Passive Guy will never finish with posts about Borders.

This gloom and doom is from publisher Peter Osnos for The Atlantic:

Manhattan’s West Side might have more book readers than anywhere else in the United States. Until recently, the thriving cultural stretch of Broadway that includes the theater district, Lincoln Center, and some of the city’s best venues for quality movies was also choc-a-block with enormous bookstores. The high-rise Barnes & Noble emporium opposite Lincoln Center closed several months ago because of soaring rents, and now the expansive and elegant Borders superstore in the Time-Warner Center on Columbus Circle is on the way out, as the chain goes into liquidation.

So, in this flourishing area of the city — a span of more than three miles — there is no longer a general interest bookstore. There are still many good places to browse the aisles for books elsewhere on the island — The Strand, Posman’s in Grand Central Station, and Book Culture in the Columbia University neighborhood, among others. Barnes & Noble is still going strong — its superstores in strategic locations are bustling, B&N.com has been gaining traction, and the Nook is clearly the runner-up to Amazon’s Kindle as an e-reader favorite. Nonetheless, the demise of Borders signifies a major change in the marketplace for books. The unraveling of the country’s second largest book chain means a tremendous boost for digital retailers such as Amazon and the potential for a self-confident Barnes & Noble and the stronger independent stores to benefit by adding customers.

. . . .

Who is right? The answer is that no one really knows. But I especially liked the observation of Neil Strandberg, manager of operations at Denver’s great independent, Tattered Cover. On PBS’s Art Beat, he commented:

The work of Tattered Cover has been, then, to re-shape the business out of acknowledgment that printed book sales will continue to decline for the foreseeable future. We are smaller, retail-space wise than we were a few years ago and we will be smaller, I wager, a few years hence. Meanwhile we experiment with new product, inclusive of ebooks via our partnership with Google, food, gifts and services to local authors. I have every reason to believe that in ten years’ time, there will be a retail setting that everyone recognizes as the  logical descendent of today’s retail bookstores. The trick for all of us is to juggle declining printed book sales with new products and new services and the appropriate amount of real estate in the right location. . . . Taking a cue from some of the technologies that have been so disruptive, collectively, the indie community is crowd-sourcing the sustainable bookstore-like thing of tomorrow. One of us is going to figure this out.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Anticipating the response of some visitors to the first part of Mr. Osnos’ article, allow PG to explain that Mr. Osnos can’t help it that he lives on the West Side (undoubtedly Upper). He almost certainly has an intellectual if not emotional understanding that people do read, even a lot, despite the fact they have the misfortune to live far to the West of the West Side, perhaps in Ski Resorts or No Clue.

 

Bookstores, Disruptive Innovation

17 Comments to “The End of Borders and the Future of the Printed Word”

  1. Who would’ve thought that someone writing at The Atlantic would be so snooty to the rest of us rubes?

  2. I think that map is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen/read or tried to read (small print). Love it. I’m smack dab in the middle of Wine Vacations. LOL!

  3. The map is hilarious. I live above the 49th in the west. Hey, doesn’t the world end there with a big drop off into a dark uninhabitable abyss?

  4. Well, that makes me smack dab in the midst of Ski Resorts, and a couple hours south of The Tattered Cover, which has done very well by readers and authors.

  5. Passive Guy: During my travels, I believe I might have passed through Might be Nebraska, but I wasn’t sure. I’ve been through most of those places, including the blank space near strangely shaped Idaho.

    • JM – Fortunately, you were just passing through. If you had lived in Might be Nebraska, it would have left a permanent mark.

  6. What a nice, possibly mean, thing to say. I have left my mark on several of the other areas in my travels, and a few South American and European countries as well. I leave my mark wherever I go, and, no, it is not yellow. ;0)

    • Sorry, JM, I meant to speak from the viewpoint of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Someone from there would worry about permanent consequences of venturing any farther west than eastern New Jersey.

      • Well, since I was born west of NYC and New Jersey, the damage has already been done. I didn’t take it to be a slight, but thought I should cover all the bases.

        I’ve always worried about the permanent consequences of living anywhere more than a couple years and have managed to stay ahead of the danger — until now.

  7. The map reminds me of famous “View of the World” New Yorker cover.

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/21121

  8. Greetings from the “Combo of Indiana and Ohio”!

    Yet another excellent reason to self-publish. If it allows us poor dumb hilljacks in flyover country to stick our thumbs in the eyes of a few NY snooty-pants, then all the better.

    They really have no idea where their revenue comes from, do they?

    Oh man, I just realized what a giant can o’ worms that comment could open up. Yes, I’m talking about NY PUBLISHERS, not DC ANYTHING.

  9. It is people like this who give New Yorkers a bad name. Why doesn’t he want to go to the hundreds of little books stores cowering in the shadows of the sky scrapers. Maybe they don’t have his paperback romance books.

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