Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

July 22, 2011

Borders Liquidation Sales May Begin As Early As Today

Power manga shoppers and comics-friendly gift-card holders nationwide may have a comics-buying experience on their hands to match any offered by this weekend's Comic-Con International: the Borders bookstore chain earlier this week announced it was giving up the ghost and its remaining stores would go to liquidation status to rid themselves as much product as possible as early as today. Despite the troubled chain's efforts in recent months to financially reform itself and the store closures and employee shedding that followed, approximately 400 stores and 10,000 employees will feel the impact of this latest, final move.

imageFounded in 1971 and perhaps best known in business circles for Kmart's 1990s acquisition and not-always-smooth partnership/merger with Waldenbooks, the Borders company once operated over 1200 stores. It last turned a profit in 2006. The closure is a further blow to the recession-battered state of Michigan, as the bookseller's headquarters is split between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

The effect on comics culture and the ultimate legacy of Borders as it pertains to comics will take some sorting out. Borders aggressively stocked and sold comics trade paperbacks, and enjoyed a general reputation for supporting manga from Viz and Tokyopop during their years of rapid expansion. Having those kinds of books in retail establishments that serve a resolutely mainstream audience and that encouraged people to stick around and pull material from the stands helped certain comics reach audiences they might have had a deeply problematic time finding 10 years earlier. At the same time, a lot of Borders' purchasing was apparently focused on certain companies: two publishers have told CR not for attribution that the slow, heaving decay of the bookstore giant has had little effect on them because the company never carried their books to any great extent in the first place. It'd be difficult to underestimate their importance to certain kinds of comics, though, particularly in the larger context of other, similar bookstore chains; it'd be just as unfair to give them sweeping, absolute credit for any achievement in comics as a category given what their rivals did at roughly the same time and efforts like those of independent bookstores on behalf of art comics trades or the Direct Market in the 1990s in terms of adding a significant trade paperback element to their comics retail efforts.

On a personal note, I worry a bit after the closure's effect on reading culture in a lot of the markets in which they were the sole or dominant player. This isn't to say that the appearance of these stores with their comfortable chairs and giant magazine racks and coffee shops right in the bookstore didn't wreak havoc on many smaller bookstores. They almost certainly did. But for the most part, Borders provided a different experience than that network of smaller shops, and hit a vastly different demographic as a result. At their best, and despite the ridicule that might come from certain circles for the thought (mostly coming from people in big cities), big stores like that served as a community resource and sort-of public space, all revolving around books. I know that one such store was a semi-lifesaver for me the year or so before I moved to Seattle when I lived in a small Pennsylvania town, and I can't imagine how I would have reacted to a place like that when I was 13 or 14 and dreamed of family trips to Chicago so that I could maybe look at more books than might fit into the trunk of my Grandmother's Cadillac. I discovered work by several cartoonists at my one-time Borders as well, particularly in the kids book and discount sections. Certainly these stores' departure won't automatically restore things to how they used to be. In this case, less is probably going to be less.
posted 8:40 am PST | Permalink

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