It was back in the 90s that Borders opened its bookstore in Glasgow in Scotland. At the time, I was a manager on the institutional side (library supply) of the old Scottish bookselling company John Smith & Son. Smiths had been trading since 1700-and-something and seemed like a permanent fixture in Scottish bookselling. Anyone in Glasgow who wanted a book, before Borders opened, went to Smiths.
The moment that Borders opened on Buchanan Street, I went to have a look at the new store. It was, by Scottish standards, enormous. Miles and miles of bookshelves supported hundreds of thousands of books.
Back at work, the director spoke to the manager of one of Smiths’ dozen stores. The manager of this small specialist business bookshop in the town centre was told to go and look at the new Borders store and come back with a strategy for his store. The idea was to develop a strategy that would allow the store to compete with Borders, to beat off cometition.
Off he went.
When he returned, he said bluntly that the strategy was to shut up shop. At once. He was serious. There was no way the store could compete with Border’s massive stock, slick marketing service, ordering service or customer service. Most of all, the store couldn’t compete with Borders’ retail prices. The scale of Borders’ book sales meant that the discounts they received from publishers were at levels far exceeding those granted to Smiths and therefore they were selling the same titles for lower prices.
And so the business book store duly accepted the inevitable and closed.
Within a few years Smiths itself – beset by numerous problems – was bought out by a US company and a fine old Scottish bookseller finally bit the dust.
So it’s interesting to see that Borders, which back then seemed invincible, has itself bitten the dust in 2011. The giant bookselling concern gave work and incomes to 10,700 people which means that at least twice that many – husbands, wives, kids of Borders’ staff – will suffer from the bookseller’s bankruptcy. Borders prepared to close its 399 bookstores before the end of September 2011.
Ironically, the initial strength Borders had – leverage with the publishers – gave way to a fatal weakness as disaster overtook the company. In the current financial crisis, publishers had refused to ship books and other merchandise to Borders’ stores on the usual terms that allow booksellers to pay for goods later, instead of on receipt.
Borders, in its day, brought about the collapse and closure of other bookstores. Now Borders itself is closed.