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Peoples Press

The Word is Out

Books without Borders

Posted in Blog by People's Press on July 27, 2011

What does the liquidation of one of the mega-bookstore chains mean for the future of the old black and white?

By Alison Berkley

My take on the value of paper books is crystal clear: if I can’t take it into the bathtub with me, put it on a shelf where I can see it or set it out on a coffee table and enjoy its display, I’m not reading it. I love the aesthetic of a book—I love the way the pages get a little bit warped after I read them. I love to write notes in the margin. I love to stack them on my nightstand as a physical testament to what titles I’m currently reading, the words and ideas that fill my head before I fall asleep.

Nostalgia aside, the liquidation of Borders has the publishing industry and its consumers in a panic. What does this mean for the future of print? A wide variety of theories abound. At the most fundamental level it means 399 book stores are no longer and 10,700 people lost their jobs.

The American Booksellers Association offers a simple, optimistic outlook with their official statement. They call it the “rightsizing of a bookstore landscape that has suffered from overexpansion in certain markets.”

There are ways this may positively affect small book publishers like People’s Press. “The biggest changes could come to the book publishing industry: As Borders stores disappear, the bookselling landscape could rapidly change, forcing authors to look for other places to market their work,” says Mae Anderson for the Associated Press.

It is estimated that Borders owes over $270 million of outstanding debt to major publishers like Random House and Simon and Schuster that will likely never be recouped. That will cause major ripple effects for the big publishing houses that’ll trickle down to the little guys. To make up for their losses, big publishers will have to cut back on how many books they publish next year, creating more opportunity for small publishers like People’s Press to work with authors they might have missed out on otherwise.

The other big question is if this is somehow indicative of an overall demise of print as e-books and digital media evolve and a new generation of readers is raised on Kindles and iPads.

“It is yet another nail in the coffin of the old-fashioned brick and mortar, paper and gum book business as the world zooms toward an ever-more-digital model,” blogs Rachel Syme for NPR. “There is no other future for reading but a digital one, and getting misty about the decline of tangible books is an exercise in futility. Reading itself has never been more popular, even if formats are in flux.” Still, she agrees there is something to be said for the experience of the book-and-mortar bookstore. She writes, “The aspect of Borders’ implosion that troubles me is that there will be 399 fewer places to take part in the communal act of book buying, which is a completely separate activity from reading.”

There are those like me who believe the demise of Borders could mean a surge for independent bookstores and smaller publishers who fulfill a need for community outreach not fulfilled by surviving behemoths Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

“That whole thing about stumbling across a book, or stumbling across a stranger who recommends a book—the serendipitous aspect of your literary journey in life—is evaporating as these stores evaporate,” says Rachel Simon, author of the New York Times best seller The Story of Beautiful Girl, who says she visits her local Borders several times a week.

Ian Crouch writes for the New Yorker, “Maybe the independent bookstores that have held out during Borders’ forty-year run will now benefit from the closing, and, a larger point, reemerge as the primary model for selling printed books to a dwindling but dedicated niche audience.”

Ditto that for the small publishing house who provides what the bigger guy never could: a sense of community, a sense of purpose, and a collective for authentic voices that might not otherwise be heard.

Until they make a waterproof iPad or a Kindle that will warp when I read it or let me take notes, I’m sticking with print. For the page, and the pen, and for indie publishers like People’s Press, I will always be grateful.

What do you think? Let us know!

Alison Berkley is a columnist for The Aspen Times and an aspiring novelist who has lived in Aspen for nine years.

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