My wife, the writer Sona Charaipotra, and I have gone on countless dates to Borders all over the country, often sitting in the café for hours on end, nibbling on pastries as we sift through stacks of books. When our daughter was about 2 months old, we introduced her to the wonderful world of books at Borders, first near Penn Station on 33rd street in New York, and a month later in California when we went to visit my parents.
In case you’re wondering what I am on about in the video above (it’s mostly in Punjabi), here is a translation:
Kavya Kaur, what are you reading?
What magazine is that?
I see. You want to get an agent already?
You’re getting very angry.
I agree, finding an agent is no laughing matter.
My baby is so talented that she can laugh in the face of an agent and still get one.
You got angry again. Still reading that article about getting an agent?
Since that first Borders visit at 2 months old, we’ve taken Kavya on countless visits to Borders with trips here and there to independent bookstores like the children’s bookshop, Books of Wonder in NYC. I’ve lost count how many times me and Sona have gone on bookstore dates to Borders. Both of us belong to various listservs and forums discussing writing bits and ends, so despite the official denials, we knew Borders was losing money. And yet, we still bought gift cards. So, it wasn’t a shocker when Borders filed for bankcruptcy a few days ago. But it was still depressing to think about a world without Borders.
We were happy to hear that the 200 stores Borders was closing didn’t include our regular spots in New York City: Columbus Circle and 33rd street, or the one in the Riverpark area of Fresno, California, across from Barnes and Noble. The two in San Jose mildly affected us, but we were relieved our main spots were safe for the time being.
For the past year, some interesting discussion topics have been brewing in the literary world through email groups and listservs that goes beyond, “Oh donkey bollocks. Now I’ll have to drink coffee and read books somewhere else.”
Here are three of the ones I’ve been avidly reading about:
1. Gift Cards
For now, Borders has said it will still honor gift cards, and reward points can still be redeemed, but people are still panicking and using their gift cards on books they’re not that interested in keeping. We’ve got tonnes of points and over $100 in gift cards, so we’re not sure what to spend it on, but with a bookshelf that is packed, and boxes of books in the basement, we’re not going to go crazy. That’s the theory anyway.
2. Authors and their Royalties
Not only are authors concerned about what Borders declaring bankruptcy means to them, but consumers are concerned about the fate of author royalties for books they purchase from Borders. Of course, it affects authors much deeper than just with royalties, even though Borders claims that everything is running normally, just minus 200 stores. Firstly, publishers are owed plenty of money (280 million last I heard), and publishers are the ones who cut the authors their check.
There are also those authors who rely on Borders for book sales through book signings, which may not happen for lesser known authors (I don’t think Stephanie Meyers or Salman Rushdie have anything to worry about). And obviously, if you close 200 stores down, you can’t hold a book signing there. Borders has made the claim that by filing for bankcruptcy, everything after today is all good, so publishers and authors will get paid. Fingers crossed.
3. The Future of Book Publishing
The bankruptcy and closing of 200 stores seems to have changed the fate of Borders for the short-term, but the long-term survival is still a huge unknown. With magazines and newspapers folding left and right, e-books and online stores seems to be the trend. And Borders has been incredibly slow to make embrace the changing habits of today’s reader. A lot of people think Barnes and Noble shouldn’t waste its energy in claiming the momentary spike in sales created by this bankruptcy, and should continue expanding their success with the Nook e-reader and online store. Borders made its first colossal boner move by parceling off its online store to Amazon. What on earth were they thinking? The closing of the 200 stores and declaration of bankruptcy has let it breath a few more breaths, but Borders has to do something drastic very quickly. It is in no position to go toe-to-toe with companies that sell books exclusively online, and can’t claim to be the underdog in the book wars. A solid customer base is what keeps an independent bookstore afloat, but Borders isn’t quaint or charming enough to pull that off, so it’ll be interesting to watch them one up the Nook, and finally realize that nobody buys DVDs and CDs.