Monday morning thoughts — Borders, HC and more

Yes, more on Borders.  You knew it would happen.  But I’ll get to it in a minute.  There are a couple of other items first.

Kate Sheehan has a wonderful post explaining why so many librarians are calling for a boycott of Harper Collins after the publisher announced it would limit the number of times an e-book could be checked out of a library.  In this thoughtful and insightful post,  Ms. Sheehan reminds us how the library serves its patrons and is not in the profit-making business.  Yet, even as the library serves its patrons, it is actively working to protect the rights of the publishers and authors.  But, in this day and age of financial constraints and shrinking budgets, to put an arbitrary — and unreasonable, in my opinion — limit on how many times an e-book can be checked out before it is “destroyed” is foolishness.  I applaud Ms. Sheehan for her stance and for explaining it so well.

Then there’s this post about changes going on at Waterstone’s.  Dominic Myers, the head of Waterstone’s, is taking the bookseller on a trip back to the past.  And all in order to survive.    From The IndependentWhen he took the helm, Myers rightly cited “stifling homogeneity” as a source of his company’s ills. Its financial woes are forcing Waterstone’s, however tentatively, to return to what made it so popular in the first place: knowledgeable staff, hospitable stores, and a love of literary fiction with popular potential.

All I can say is:  YES!  It has long been my complaint about the big box stores here in the States that the knowledgeable and friendly staff the local independent bookstores employed became a thing of the past as the big chains took over the market.  Over the last five to ten years, something else was lost — neighborhood or even regional specific titles because stocking decisions were suddenly being made on a national level and not local.  So the store in Dallas was the same as the store in Denver that was the same as the store in Boston.  I applaud Myers for his willingness to look back at what made Waterstone’s and other stores great and to try to adapt those methods to today’s market.

And now for Borders.  We’ve finally heard from Borders president Mike Edwards.  As I read this article, I can only shake my head and wonder why the decisions he is so sure will save his company weren’t made months or years ago.  Then I read further on and find my sense of disbelief and, yes, resignation growing.  Here are some specifics from his interview:

Saying he hopes to come out of bankruptcy in August or September, Edwards notes, “You’ve got a window, and you have to act decisively.”  True.  But why did Borders wait so long to take actions that were obviously needed?  If decisive actions were necessary — and I think we can all agree they were — why did it take filing for bankruptcy to bring them about?

He also says Borders may close up to another 75 stores, although the number may be as low as 20 – 25, depending on how lease re-negotiations go.  Again, why wait so long?

In papers filed last Thursday by the unsecured creditors, it is alleged that Borders won’t have the funds to place orders in the late summer/early fall for the the holiday season.  If true, this would be disastrous for the bookseller.

The same filing alleges that the loan Borders secured from G. E. Financial was more than necessary and resulted in $16 million in unnecessary fees.  It is also possible that, under the current terms of the loan, Borders won’t be able to secure the full loan amount of $550 million.  Again, not good.

Borders is now receiving stock from publishers, mostly on a cash basis.  Needless to say, Edwards wants to go back to how it was before.  All I can say is if the publishers agree to this before Borders proves there is a viable plan in place and that they can stick with it, then they deserve anything that happens.

But what really surprised me in the article was how, after noting that their online presence isn’t working, Edwards said he sees the biggest challenge as being the reconfiguring of their super stores.  Specifically, he said they “no longer need to hold huge inventories of slow moving books when they are available online.”  What?  Let’s remember, he just said their online presence isn’t working.  Second, I’ve never known Borders to keep books on the shelves for long.  Not unless they happened to be a NYT best seller or part of a paid end-cap or stand-alone display.

It sounds to me like there is still too much of the same ideology the got Borders in trouble to begin with.  If I’m right, I don’t see the company coming out of bankruptcy any time time.

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