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The Economist's take on Borders bankruptcy: So cold

March 24, 2011 | 11:24 am

Borders_closed_2011
What does the bankruptcy protection filing by the Borders bookstore chain look like to our friends across the pond? Kind of sad, according to a post at the Economist this week.

The magazine's blog Prospero attributes Borders' slide to e-commerce, e-books and pressure to lower prices. But, contrary to common perception that big-box booksellers were bad for book lovers, it maintains that Borders' bankruptcy is bad news for book culture. First, the blog quotes Shira Ovide, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "It's hard to imagine we'd be feeling nostalgic for Borders, which many small town booksellers believe was a killer for their businesses." The Economist responds:

So cold. We can spare a little thought for Borders. It has a particular relevance for American small towns and suburbs that isn't apparent in urban centres. In the latter, the chain bookstores are the impersonal monoliths that destroyed small independents by undercutting them on prices. But elsewhere, the arrival of a Borders would mean that a town was finally getting a bookstore, rather than a rack of paperbacks and Sudoku books at the supermarket. (Similarly, while Starbucks might have hurt local coffeeshops in, for example, New York, in rural America it has achieved its stated goal of creating a "third space".)

It's an interesting argument, but the only example the Economist provides is a counter: In Austin, Texas, longstanding indie BookPeople successfully prevented a Borders from moving in nearby. It's nice to think that Borders provided bookstoreless towns with their first bookstores, creating new community space around books -- but I'm not entirely sure that it's true.

-- Carolyn Kellogg 

Photo: A closed Borders in Farmington Hills, Mich. Credit: Jeff Kowalsky / Bloomberg News

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