Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Stores as Community Centers; Should Congress Intervene to Keep Them Open?

Today, Borders filed for bankruptcy and announce that it will be closing 192 of its 642 stores.   These closures are leaving major holes in the communities affected.   Austin, Texas will lose all of its Borders.    Michigan will lose four stores including the store in Borders home town of Ann Arbor.   Chicago will lose most of its stores.  

The communities affected by Borders bankruptcy lose not only a place to buy books but more importantly a community gathering place whether in the isles of books, CD's and videos, and graphic novels or in the cafe.   These stores were places that acted as a late night place for students to study, mothers to meet with pre-schoolers for "play dates," the self employed to conduct business and couples on dates to go before or after a movie where they can flirt while they are browsing in the racks.   These stores also became community literary centers bringing members of the affected community together to listen to author talks and readings of children's books.  

The bankruptcy of Borders reflects the shift in how we buy books and recorded audio and video.  Books and much more likely to be bought on line and music is now mosly bought via downloads.  Now even hard-bound and soft-bound books are selling less frequently than books downloaded to e-readers and tablet computers.   Even video is switching from physical DVD's to streaming videos even though the quality of the product is inferior. 

The digital switch leaves those who are unable to embrace the new technology behind.  Those that continue to need physical books, as well as music and video recordings fall behind a "digital divide."  

The closing of 192 Borders stores will generate no calls from Congress for an investigation.  There will be no reqirement that Borders hold public hearings before it can close the stores affected.   No regulator will review Border's decision process in order to determine whether the decision to close each of the 192 stores is cost justified.   Shouldn't it?   Won't the effect on the communities be greater than the closing of a Post Office retail location that most patrons visit maybe twice a month that generate outrage from local communities, local politicians, the employees affected and Congress and require extensive regulatory review?  Maybe its time for Congress to require that book stores remain open and/or prove to a government regulator that the closure would save a company suffering losses money.


M. Jamison said...

Too cute by half and a strained analogy by half.
Borders is a profit seeking entity by design and not a network providing infrastructure. Borders tends to be located in areas with a sufficient demographic to support not only its enterprise but others. Borders doesn't provide banking or other services that poorer local communities and demographics may lack.
Those who attempt to equate the profitability of any particular postal installation solely with its retail revenue strain to create an analogy that is at best imperfect and at worst wholly specious. Those analogies do not consider the infrastructure aspect of the network nor do they account for the fact that a local outlet may be realizing the service commitment created by the acceptance of revenue at another location.
At this moment we need clarity in the discussion rather than the continued attempts to shoehorn the postal model into a retail business model that never has been appropriate or useful.

brian said...

I'm not sure there's much of a comparison between Border's and the USPS. These are mostly mega-bookstores located in suburban malls. They, and their Barnes and Noble counterparts, killed the small locally owned downtown bookstores that really WERE community gathering spots. They're really just slightly more literary big box stores with cafes. And if you have visited one recently, you'll have noticed that the percentage of space actually allocated to books is shrinking rapidly.

And don't forget- the small town post offices most in danger of being closed have either limited or no delivery- people actually DO go there every day. I suspect the number of people who visit their local Borders or B&N every day is tiny by comparison.

The institution most like the endangered small town post office is the local public library. Sadly, they are probably in even more danger than the P.O.