Friday, 18 December 2009

Goodbye Borders....Why Its Such a Bad Thing

The bookseller's chain Borders has gone into administration and is unlikely to be open many more days - I visited a few days ago and it looked like it had been ram-raided - with about six things left on the shelves.   I read an article in a newspaper claiming  the people of the UK just didn't get the whole thing with Borders - that it was a product of the 'Friends' TV Series era - where people sat around drinking coffee whilst choosing books and that we in the UK just never got the concept.  I can tell you if my relationship with Borders had been repeated up and down the country, they would be thriving. 

It seems, said the newspaper article, that the people in 'Friends' moved away, grew up, and started using Amazon.  But I do find this sad.  Even as an enthusiastic owner of a Sony E-Reader I could never have given up my paper book habit, and I never left the store without purchasing several books (and I mean several each time) - I LOVED the fact that I could go up to Starbucks on the mezzanine floor and that I could lug a pile of books up there too and I could sit and decide what I'd buy.  As I said, I never left without buying something. 
Borders and Starbucks also filled an important part of my life in that when I needed a breather, a bit of peace and quiet or even just an hour or two surrounded by books and people who liked books, I'd head on down there.   When I was feeling wound up or stressed I'd take a drive down the motorway and it became my 'pub' - I defy anyone who is surrounded by books and peace and the soft shift of pages, the quiet contemplation of books, the smell of paper, the scent of coffee and literary choices to be made, to remain stressed.  

What a shame.  Yes, it was anonymous, as is Starbucks - but a book store or a coffee store is always about more than the sum of its books and its coffee.   Its the people - for instance - there was a weekly knitting group who met in Starbucks - I wonder what will happen to that group now? Most likely it will just die out.   I wonder how many of those women who met once a week looked forward to meeting their friends, sharing their achievements and difficulties and for how many, that resource meant they would not be lonely all week because they got to see their knitting friends.

I've developed relationships with various members of staff during my visits to the store - having talked to them, I know that many of them are out of jobs with little chance of finding something new in this economic climate.

I think its a terrible shame that people have lost one more resource where they got to handle and choose books.  Amazon is a great service and I use it too, but its good when you know what you want - and how many of us actually know what we want when we arrive at the doors of a bookshop?  The wonderful part of bookshop is that invariably we spot something entirely different when we wander around.

Borders was a huge, multi-million pound organisation.   When I visited last Saturday, I was saddened to see hordes and hordes of people snatching books off the shelves - books, CD's, DVD's, calendars and anything else they could get their hands on.   The lure of seeing reductions of 40% and more and the knowledge that Borders might not be there in a week galvanised people into action and made them put their hands in their pockets.

Isn't it sad that it takes a closure before the same people who might have saved a company like this descend on it and produce the kind of sales figures that might have meant all the difference?  Surely this proves that the love of books is not dead, but that people love anything that is cheap. 

I was brought up in South Africa and we didn't have a TV because there was basically just no TV service to be had at the time.   I can remember the thrill of listening to 'War of the Worlds' on the radio with my family (and hey, I am only very early 40's before you start thinking I am talking about the 1930's!) - and more than that, I became an avid reader - my parents literally could not keep up with my reading needs.   Maybe its because of this I find myself working with my imagination, that I made a career of creativity - I certainly don't think it hindered me in any way.   I see kids these days who are more engrossed in a little box of electronic tricks than with anything else that is going on around them, and I feel sad for them.  Imagination begins and ends with reading - and saying goodbye to Borders is one more blow against imagination.
Independent Newspaper Article

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