Last week the papers were full of the news of Boarders’ announced shutdown. The Boston Globe published a few articles and some reader responses bemoaning the closing of the mega-store’s location near downtown crossing. None of the letters admitted to frequently buy books there. Instead they lamented the loss of a favorite place to browse books or read on one’s lunch hour. One reader stated that she liked to browse at Borders, make a decision, and then purchase the book on her digital tablet. The Wall Street Journal presented this closing as ominous for the book industry: book sellers, authors, and publishers alike. Both noted that the reason for Border’s collapse is the Internet, specifically Amazon.com which allows people to select exactly what they want from a seeming unlimited database of books.
Reporter Richard Nash of CNN.com took a more optimistic approach that heralded a new age in selling books: A trend toward a micro economy. His opinion implied that formerly, the greatest challenge for a bookstore was to provide the largest selection to its customers and thus the book industry saw the rise of the mega bookstores in the 90s. Now technology has made these mega bookstores obsolete; online browsing is much more efficient and informative than browsing in person and a online shopper is more likely to find a title that will satisfy his or her needs.
The Globe’s recent article and the response it received from readers leaves hope for independent stores to succeed where a large corporation failed. The fact that customers of the Borders at Downtown Crossing lamented the loss of the venue makes me think that there may still be a niche for the kind of place where books are for sale & can be read in store, but also can offer something else. Out of this optimism, two questions arose in my mind. First, were local booksellers optimistic or pessimistic when it came to the closing of Borders? Second, what does Border’s closing mean for the local book market? I decided to contact some local book dealers to see what they thought.
Tom Nealon owns Pazzo Books in West Roxbury, a local bookseller that specializes in rare and out of print books. Mr. Nealon expressed little surprise the corporation’s failure, “the death of Borders has done more psychological damage than anything else,” he explained via email. Pazzo Books secured a niche but also takes a more personable approach toward its customers as Mr. Nealon explained, “People still want recommendations – and not just ones generated by algorithms.” However he was not optimistic about the mega-store’s closing. “[Amazon is] the only obvious winner from this,” he stated, “having one giant player in the industry is bad for everyone.”
Tyler Stewart owns Pandemonium Books & Games, which specializes in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror books. The store also doubles as a venue where players face-off in games such as Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. Mr. Stewart largely credits his success to this diversification. “There is a very large overlap between gamers and science fiction readers,” he explained. Pandemonium plans on taking advantage of a recent partnership between the American Book Association and Google that will allow small booksellers to hawk ebooks using Google’s search capabilities. Mr. Stewart shares Tom Nealon’s view that an independent bookseller can serve its customers better. “One key advantage specialty bookstore have over generalist Internet giants is that we know the genres very very well, and I believe we will be able to recommend ebooks better than Amazon could.”
Admittedly, I only spoke to only two book stores as the majority of them did not respond to my email, but the initial response from local business owners seems to be somewhere in between the dire predictions of the Wall St. Journal and the optimism of Richard Nash of CNN.com. Hopefully local business can take advantage of technology and niche markets to overcome the threat of Amazon and Barnes and Noble in the coming months and years.