Saturday, July 30, 2011 | 2 a.m.
There is a disheartening sign on the nation’s Borders bookstores: Going out of business. The company is closing all of its locations and is now liquidating. For people who like to read, the death of a bookstore is sad news, but Borders’ closing has been described in broader terms. Some people see it as the end of the era of brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Many people are pointing the finger at the Internet for putting an end to Borders — a sign recently spotted on the locked bathroom in one local Borders store directed shoppers to use Amazon.com’s facilities.
However, Borders’ closure is more complex. The 40-year-old retailer certainly struggled to try to compete with Amazon, which often had lower prices and a wider selection, but Borders also struggled to compete with Barnes & Noble, a larger retail chain that has both stores and a significant Internet presence.
Borders was also hobbled by its failure to quickly adapt and move into the market for e-books, unlike its main competitors. And that’s a key point. Americans’ reading habits are changing.
No matter how much anyone bemoans the transition from printed books to electronic books, that is where society is now headed. People are increasingly reading electronic versions of books using e-readers, cellphones and tablet devices. The Book Industry Study Group, a publishing industry organization, reported last month that a quarter of Americans have adapted to e-books. In recent years, printed book sales have flagged while e-books have soared.
That’s not good news for readers who love to wander the aisles of a good bookstore. We understand that. It is a joy to stumble upon an interesting read or a new subject while browsing bookshelves. And no matter how good e-readers are or how fast books can be downloaded, there is something special about nestling into a comfortable chair and turning the pages of an actual book.
Of course, Borders’ closure won’t mean the end of bookstores nor the end of books. We are sure that bookstores will be around in some form or another for some years to come, even though the local selection may be limited. But thanks to the Internet, readers have access to a wider selection of reading material than at any time in history. The once hard-to-find books can often be easily found thanks to many sites that offer new and used books. As well, readers can search online library catalogs around the world. Finding a book has never been easier.
However, once a book is found, it may not be found in a local store or library. It might be in a warehouse across the country or halfway around the world. Or it may be available only online.
It is sad to see Borders close and put thousands of employees out of work. Americans have one less option for buying books. And although the Internet has a bounty to offer, for many it’s just not as much fun to browse the electronic shelves of an Internet site or touch a screen instead of turning a page.