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Opinion: Author mourns Borders bankruptcy

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There is tumult in my heart about the Feb. 16 announcement that Borders will be closing 200 stores, including the location in Springfield, the store in which Moon City Press first launched my novel, “Morkan’s Quarry.”

It’s easy to see why Springfield’s Borders would be among those losing $2 million each day for the retailer – 25,000 square feet of books right across the street from a Barnes & Noble store of equal size. That’s surely a lot of duplication of top-sellers such as “Harry Potter,” the “Twilight” series and “The Da Vinci Code.”

In the heyday of giant retailers such as Montgomery Ward, when book buyers had few choices and no Internet, such side-by-side offerings might have been sustainable. But this Starbucks-gone-wild passion for expansion came on after Montgomery Ward and other retailers already had died and left behind empty shells.

It is very hard to be unique and become a customer’s favorite local bookstore when you have to carry what a corporate supervisor in Michigan chooses to be sold to the masses. Such giant scale, which seems to the untrained eye a wowing advantage, becomes a deathtrap. And carrying all those hotcake items as your mainstay becomes unsustainable when your customer already has picked up a discounted “Chronicles of Narnia” at Kroger or Sam’s Club.

You have to finance all that space and eventually pay some wholesaler or publisher for all those pretty books. And while Mindy from Koshkonong came in and bought the whole “House of Night” series, she won’t be back until next December. And Derrick, who lives on Eureka Avenue in Southern Hills so very near your store, can’t find a compelling reason to walk in when your store has nothing different on the shelf than what he finds discounted and shipped free at Amazon.com.

And yet, in honoring and working with Moon City Press, a small publisher at Missouri State University, and inviting me, one of its authors, to sign books, that is exactly what Borders manager Gary Selby and the good people who worked at that Springfield store aimed to do: Be a better local bookstore by offering something that spoke to Springfield. That is forward thinking; that is to my mind the only way bricks-and-mortar bookstores can get by. They have to offer local markets special discoveries – items you would never seek on Amazon but now desire having seen them. Plus, they have to offer their local markets the chance to get a signed book or, better yet, to interact with the author. Otherwise, why pay the premium retail price for the book? Bookstores are recognizing that challenge right now all over America.

Reading the articles in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, I find it equally distressing that five out of six members of Borders senior executive management came not from the book industry, but instead from grocery stores, manufacturers and financial services industries. That CEO shine, that executive swagger, must really be seductive. I think you can read the late news of Borders and see a case history arguing against the allure of outside, executive talent for an industry that started cottage and in the future likely will be more small-scale and personal than ever.

That really makes me sad for good booksellers such as Selby. Harried and hardworking, he made things happen in that Glenstone store. He was trying to make his bookstore local. But he had to face huge challenges and truly spastic corporate control.

While I am in tumult that good book people are being hurt and losing their livelihoods, I know that the act of sharing and selling an author’s work and local flavor goes on. You can walk in to Half-Price Books of the Ozarks, for instance, right now and see exactly what I mean by defined niche industry and proper scale. For the sake of books, readers and authors, in the wake of another sad mess, I encourage you to find yourself a local bookstore, and then love it regularly.

Springfield native Steve Yates is assistant director/marketing director at University Press of Mississippi and has worked for 17 years in small-press publishing. His novel, “Morkan’s Quarry,” was the subject of a 2010 Associated Press story, and his short fiction was honored in “Best American Short Stories-2010.” Now residing in Flowood, Miss., Yates can be reached at sbyates50@bellsouth.net.[[In-content Ad]]

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