A long time ago, there used to be many more independent bookstores — new and used — than there are today. A host of factors are responsible for this turn of events, but one of the most important is that we (I’m speaking of the U.S. here) now have two major, national chains of new book retailers: Borders and Barnes & Noble. The expansion and consolidation of these two book industry giants have forced many smaller chains out of business. (Remember B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, for example? Those were the two big bookstore chains in Virginia Beach when I was growing up. B. Dalton was acquired by Barnes & Noble in 1987 and the last fifty stores were liquidated in 2010. Waldenbooks was bought by Borders, but most of the remaining stores have since been “rebranded.”) The “Wal-Mart Effect” of Borders and Barnes & Noble, plus the rise of Amazon.com and the Internet, have all served to exert tremendous pressure on independent bookstores, and many of them no longer exist, at least as brick and mortar stores.
So why do we care about the current state of the book retail industry? Well, there are lots of reasons for book-lovers to care, more than I’ll go into today, but one reason I’d like to mention is that both Borders and Barnes & Noble are in serious financial trouble. And by that I mean that it would not surprise industry watchers if either or both entered bankruptcy within the next 12-24 months.
Here’s one more piece of evidence for that: For the second month in a row, Borders has announced that it is delaying payments to vendors and landlords. Borders can’t pay its debts, at least not on time or in full. And keep in mind, this is for the months of December and January. If a retailer can’t pay its debts during the Christmas season, how’s it going to continue paying them during the worst retail months of the year? Something’s got to give, folks. Borders and Barnes & Noble have helped close down a lot of bookstores over the years, and now they are in serious trouble. The face of book retail on a national level is going to look very different five years from now.