bordersAfter years of troubling reports, it appears that Borders could indeed be on the verge of catastrophe.

After what should have been a profitable holiday season, the chain missed payments to publishers and has been trying—without much success, as reported yesterday by Publishers Weekly—to negotiate terms. Publishers are, quite understandably, tired of playing ball.  To make matters even murkier (and financial matters usually are), it was announced late on Thursday that Borders secured new financing which may buy them some time.

A few days ago, the Washington Post ran an article that explained more clearly than any piece I’d read before exactly what happened to the once glorious Borders empire.

I won’t attempt to summarize the article here since it’s such a lucid account of exactly how the company got itself in this pickle, but it’s hard to imagine the blindness of company executives who failed to grasp the importance of the Internet (crucial mistake number one) and eBooks (crucial mistake number two). I mean, heck, who knew the Interwebs was going to catch on?  And eBooks?  Who’d-a-thunk dedicated readers would so eagerly embrace an easier and faster way to get their hands on the books they love?

For a long time I resisted buying from Amazon because, I reasoned, I live in a major urban area with tons of bookstores all over the place, so why should I have to pay for shipping?  That led to disappointment after disappointment when I’d travel to Borders to pick up a book I knew was already released only to not find it on the shelves.  And, frankly, when I found employees willing to check in the back for the book I was looking for, with one or two exceptions, most of the time they returned empty handed.  And I left the store pissed off.

On one occasion I went in on a Friday to pick up a Nora Roberts trilogy entry that had been released the previous Tuesday.  Surely, I said to myself, it’s Nora Roberts, they’ll have the book, right?  Well, the joke was on me because the book wasn’t even anywhere in the store.  Wow.  Just wow.

Then there was the snark and attitude of Mr. Red Suspenders at the Borders I visited most frequently and the fact that they moved romance from the first floor (where it was easy to pop in and check what might be new) to the furthest section of the store on the second floor.  And, to make matters even more ridiculous, the Mass Market table—Impulse Purchase Central—was also moved to the same location.  That just doesn’t make a lick of sense on any retail level.

So, considering all this, when Amazon launched Kindle, I was one of the first to jump.  I went from buying at least a book a week at Borders (and very often more) to spending virtually nothing in the store.  And, clearly, I’m not the only one.

The bottom line for me is this:  I have never before done regular business with a company so obviously determined to shoot itself in the foot.

Amazon announced yesterday that the company’s sales for 2010 were up an astonishing 40% from 2009. And, for the first time, for every 100 paperback books sold by the Internet giant, 115 Kindle books were sold. So people are buying books.  They’re just not buying them from Borders.

The sad thing is that book buyers will be the ultimate losers. The aggressive expansion strategies of Borders and Barnes & Noble that drove the once ubiquitous romance-friendly mall bookstores into virtual extinction has left readers with few brick and mortar choices. Sadly, if Borders is not able to weather this crisis, those choices may get considerably smaller.

My sympathies to the employees who might be hurt by this. My sympathies as well to readers who depend on Borders for access to books.  This just isn’t good on any level, but, as a former customer, I sure as heck saw it coming. Too bad Borders executives didn’t.

– Sandy AAR

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