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The Borders Requiem

February 12, 2011

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704329104576138353865644420.html

Every time a bookstore goes under, a little piece of my soul dies.

Notwithstanding the book clearance sales which I must miss (!) because I am not in the States right now. Blergh.

But I didn’t miss the Waldenbooks store clearance when it was scheduled to close about this time last year. Cheap books, something I would never miss if I can help it.

Still, it is sad. I swear, every time I set foot in a bookstore, I leave with a  hand weighed down and a lighter wallet (or my parents’ lighter wallet). Borders was great. All big bookstores are great. The selection is rarely very deep but it is the broad range and browsing-friendliness that makes the bookstore really the only place I particularly want to go whenever I hit a mall.

I don’t know if it was just the declining sales that killed Borders; they did go for a lot of funny-money moves, but everything was just a step or two too late. You can’t blame the customer really. The US postal service is good. The US internet connectivity is good. Cheap books are easy to find. People have nearly no savings because they spend on toys like the iPad (an instrument of Apple’s (tautologically) evil global world domination hegemony paradigm  plan that tries to lock everything and everyone down in the “I! I! I’m so cool because I use something designed real pretty with toddler-level usability! I! I!” net. Go Android-the-needlessly-complicated-but-endlessly-tweakable-fun-little-system-you-can-emulate-gameboys-and-the-PS-on!). But what if this were contagious, ala mortgage-backed securities?

First goes Borders. Then goodbye, Barnes and Nobles. Where will the publishing houses deliver to? Little stores? But they’re folding too! How are the publishers to operate? Ebooks? But “Everyone can self-publish” – woohoo. Great. So the publishers aren’t needed any more. Goodbye Penguin Books. Goodbye HarperCollins. Farewell Scholastic. See you someday, Doubleday. Everyone who is anyone is writing and self-publishing their own Nanowrimo-style one-month-is-all-you-need books (like me! I love my Nano book which I cheated on to win!). And so nearly anything you can read becomes egoistical crap. Why bother?

Publishers are useful. They reject a heck of a lot more than they print. It’s the good (or at least somewhat readable) stuff that comes out. Not something with spelling and grammar liek dis. Editors exist for a reason. The books that publishers put out have to go somewhere. Why not the screen? Well, when was the last time your hard drive crashed? So everything gets backed up on the cloud? Sounds great. You know, I have about 100 GB of video sitting in my drives I haven’t watched. I just don’t feel like it. There’s so much else to do, like checking out some random sorta-friends-I-haven’t-seen-for-four-years on Facebook. If it’s not in my face all the time, I won’t look at it for ages, and by the time I remember, the feeling has passed. Books, physical books, they adorn my shelves and make me happy. Sometimes when I am really bored or if someone else is occupying my computer, I wander over and see something awesome near a corner which I haven’t read for ages. I pick it up. I open it. I read it. I am absorbed for a few hours into another world.

Does opening your fancy eBook reader folder and looking at a list of all the text files (or PDF, or ePub, or whatever it is Apple uses) that you have on your reader make you happy?

Most recent fancy digital gadgets are designed to last about two years. That’s why when they die off the company has the newest variant up and ready for you to burn your non-existent-savings on. (Still, my Gameboys are like 12 years old, and they’re still kicking, provided I don’t let batteries leak all over them). Will your files last when your toys kick the bucket? Absolutely not. It’s almost Buddhist in concept. Let it all go. Have no attachments. Do you desire it? No, dude, you don’t really need it that much. Don’t worry about it. Be happy. Backup often, if you really must. Sigh.

That’s why the end of Borders is tragic. They will try to remain operating through Chapter 11, fix up their messy finances, reorganize, slim down a bit, and if everything works out, they will come back. Let’s hope they do. If they don’t, well, I suppose this marks the beginning of the intellectual apocalypse.

Note: update on the previous post. Looks like they weren’t axe murderers. But I haven’t been contacted. Meh.

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