Thursday, 26 November 2009

Borders bowing out?

First the good news: I checked out the website of the Bridport Prize yesterday and yes, my name is indeed on the shortlist; it wasn't all a dream. Very uplifting - I just wish they'd managed to spell my name correctly ...

Today all sorts of rumours have abounded but it does seem to be true: Borders has gone into administration. The signs have been there for quite a while: I was amazed to see more and more floorspace open up in the Oxford store. I kept thinking - if you pay a fortune to rent space by the square metre why wouldn't you want to fill it with goods to sell? The children's department suffered horribly. In the world of books they have a ghastly term: destocking. It strikes a chill into the heart of every reader, every writer.

Then the destocking changed to the stocking of well, what Sir Alan Sugar might call 'a load of old tut'. Shelf after shelf of feather-edged, sequin-bedecked jewellery boxes and stands. Stuff like that. In a bookshop? I have no problem with coffee concessions and stationery and cards being sold in a bookshop - but fluffy boudoir gifties? NO!

The writing was on the wall - increasingly desperate offers, limited range and staff who looked like they'd lost the will to live. Now administration. Echoes of Zavvi and Woolies last year.

Locally, I liked the Borders store. I liked its long opening hours, the author events they put on, the Paperchase franchise, and, when it opened a few years back, the range they had. I also like Waterstone's and Blackwells, both of which are very close to Borders in the heart of Oxford. I like bookshops, full stop, and have been upset at the loss of the range of browsable, eccentric second-hand stores in the city. Chain bookshops have had their faults and still do: the endless 3 for 2s, the lack of daring with range, the frustration with central buying, the treating of books like ...

but wait! Who really treats books like baked beans? Enter the supermarkets, who have squeezed the chains as the chains once squeezed the independents. Supermarkets who with their enormous spending power have made publishers turn craven, granting terms that benefit nobody - not the publisher, not the chains and independents (who often source their books from supermarkets as they can get them cheaper than from the publisher), not the poor bleedin' author - and in the long run, not the reader, who is patronised and swindled, denied choice and range.

So, if Borders cannot be salvaged, this is a sad day, just as it was a sad day when Ottakars went, when Waterfields and Thornton's in Oxford went.

As writers, my dears, not only will we have to write the books, we'll need to self-publish them, market them, and find premises from which to sell them!

OK, now finally - there's still just time for you to sign up for my course on plot on Saturday! You'd be very welcome. See my post below for details or mosey on over to fictionfire!


Lane said...

It's such a sorry state of affairs isn't it. I fear the day when there are no high street book shops left - chain or otherwise.

In a place like Oxford it's even more shocking to hear of book shops closing:-(

Lorna F said...

Thanks for this, Lane, I so agree.