Thursday, May 19, 2011

Borders’ Unraveling Diminishes Books and Authors

If reputation derives largely from being associated with success, then bankruptcy could pull the rug out from under it. As the Borders bookstore chain continues to unravel in bankruptcy, its decline has diminished the importance of everyone associated with books, including publishers and authors.

Today Borders is in court to explain that its prospects are not strong enough to allow it to continue its joint venture with Seattle’s Best, which runs coffee shops in about 90 percent of its stores. That is not the only thing that has happened in bankruptcy to suggest that Borders probably cannot continue in its current form.

We heard a week ago that there were no credible bids for the Borders chain, though several interested parties put in bids for a small number of stores. Barnes & Noble, for example, is said to have offered to buy out 10 Borders locations. Financing so far is falling short, so Borders, having entered bankruptcy by closing a third of its stores, will surely have to sell off additional stores and close some that it cannot sell in order to exit bankruptcy.

There is worry that Borders’ financial troubles could spread. Barnes & Noble, in particular, has warned that competing with store-closing sales may wipe out its chance at a profit this year.

All of this is the opposite of the air of success that the book business had in its best years. There is still a lot to hold up the book business’s legend: history, celebrity, graphics, television, The Oprah Winfrey Show (well, through Wednesday, anyway). But the money and the massive physical presence of the stores are noticeably less than they were at the beginning of the year.