Writers hate the idea of slush piles, where agents and editors dump unpublished works. On the last weekend of business at Borders in Philadelphia, I saw the equivalent of a slush pile for published works.
It wasn’t a pretty sight. The titles, all marked down by 80 percent, included Norah Marler’s No More Dating Pigs, Suzan Hilton’s Feng Shui, Seth Meyers’ Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription, Susan Boyle’s Dreams Can Come True. There was Lacrosse for Dummies and titles by Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Bill O’Reilly and other contemporary sages.
That’s a small sampling. The store was jammed with books no one would want, even if they’d been marked down 100 percent. The scene was a testament to the mind-boggling number of bad books in print and to the waste of enormous amounts of money by publishers, not to mention waste of trees.
It was a reminder that, in the not-too-distant future, the books industry will be selling more e-books than new printed books. Publishers and distributors can’t hurt themselves making stupid guesses about press runs for e-books. They provide exactly as many e-books as the public demands, and consequently will clear higher profits as book buyers become hooked on the e-reading habit.
Did I mention this is some depressing shit? I can get used to a world with a dwindling number of bookstores, just as I got used to fewer record stores, no video stores and almost no decent movie theaters. But it’s hard to imagine a world without these destinations as anything but diminished, especially in regard to in-person social interaction.
Footnote: Ideally, the three-story corner space in the heart of Center City where Borders was would become another bookstore, but this time with smarter owners — for instance, the people at Joseph Fox Bookshop. (“Distant Star by Roberto Bolano? Not in stock but we can have if for you by 11 a.m. tomorrow, sir.”) But Fox would have to invent its own e-reader to compete with the surviving monster chains.
The bottom-liners who own the former Borders building — they’re in New York — will simply rent it to the highest bidder, regardless of whether that bidder’s business is as good a fit for the area as a bookstore-coffee bar-eatery.
And this: Ever wonder about the dim bulbs at the top who make the disastrous decisions, or non-decisions, that ultimately drive good businesses into bankruptcy? You don’t have to — they almost always land on their feet in new executive positions, as opposed to rank-and-file employees, who end up jobless. Ironically, there were probably a dozen employees at Borders Center City — people who actually work with customers — who knew years ago that the execs were making a big mistake by not confronting the challenges posed by Amazon and, much later on, by e-books.
The chiefs in the chain were probably too busy gambling on new acquisitions to check on the health of what they assumed was a herd of cash cows.