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Whither Publishing Goest

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Calling Off Auction, Borders to Liquidate (New York Times)

When Borders came to Toledo a few years ago I kind of made a point of not going there.  Their arrival caused Toledo’s largest and best independent bookstore, Thackeray’s Books, a favourite haunt of my family’s, to close up shop.  It didn’t help that Borders moved into Franklin Park Mall (I refuse to call it by its new name), which rapidly went downhill this past decade, gathering all sorts of undesirable characters.  When Southwyck Mall closed a couple of years ago, all the gangs that had congregated there moved to Franklin Park as well.

Eventually I did start going to Borders, if only to use up some gift cards I’d acquired.  On the whole their prices weren’t nearly as good as those at other bookstores in town — to say nothing of online booksellers — but when you’re basically getting the books for free thanks to gift cards, prices don’t matter so much.  When I got on Borders’ e-mail lists I started getting coupons from them, and if I took some time to compare prices I found that I could get some pretty good deals there.  I would never say I was a regular customer there, but I bought a fair number of books there, though never without the benefit of a coupon or a gift card.  (It helped that Borders had an entrance from the parking lot, so I could go in and out of there without having to traverse the actual mall itself.)

I never developed an attachment to Borders like I did to Media Play, but it’s still hard news to hear that they’re going out of business, and not just because one of my former creative writing students will soon be out of a job as a result.  In general the closure of a bookstore, let alone a national chain, makes me sad, especially since Ohio’s last feminist bookstore, People Called Women, is having difficulty as well.  Bookstores are wonderful places — even when I wasn’t much of a reader I still loved them dearly — and the fact that so many are closing can hardly be seen as a good thing.

From a more selfish perspective, all these bookstores closing is also making me more fearful about my ambitions to be an author.  Although many of the articles on Borders’ liquidation point out the growing market for e-books and the opportunities they provide for prospective authors like myself, my academic background makes me leery of going that route, if only because there’s no “prestige” in self-publishing since everyone can do it.  Even though some of my projects seem better-suited for self-publishing, it’s not a path I’ve given that much thought to.

At the rate things are going, though, even assuming I get a publishing contract for one of my projects and get a book out, I have to wonder just where it’ll be stocked.  Borders is obviously out now, and it seems like Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble aren’t doing so well either.  The stuff I write isn’t exactly the kind of thing Walmart stocks.  That pretty much leaves Amazon and online book retailers, and I can get onto those with a lot less hassle by self-publishing.

Physical bookstores aren’t going to disappear overnight, I know, and they likely won’t ever completely disappear.  Still, the news articles about Borders are making it clear that the move to e-books and self-publishing is occurring far faster than I’d previously thought.  By the time I’m ready to start looking for an agent — which I hope is soon — the market may undergo yet more major changes.  As much as I want to go the traditional publishing route, perhaps I need to look more into self-publishing and be ready to go that way if it’s more prudent for me to do so.

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