Friday, 27 November 2009

No Borders

The problem with Borders - see financial pages and book blogs everywhere - is that they just simply got it wrong in the UK. They thought this was America, and it isn't, yet, but rents are higher. Driving to a huge out of town bookshop was not for us. Now 45 shops and about 1,000 workers livelihoods are at risk as the company slips into administration.
Borders always bothered me, particularly since I got my hands on the Borders (USA) managers' manual for smashing unions. Some of the content was hilarious, along the lines of advising managers that if they saw workers who don't normally talk to one another speaking together, beware, they could be talking unions. Worry if managers are not invited to staff nights out - they could be talking unions. From 1996-1998 the independent union the Industrial Workers of the World started to get a toe-hold in Borders USA, which led to firings and a Boycott Borders campaign. Like so many US companies they come over as all hip (the Guardian made much of their appeal to the Friends' generation) but at heart they were an anti-union firm, keen to hire till jockeys for low wages, operating a central buying system.

Yet their bankruptcy is terrible news. Many smaller publishers can't get into Smiths, can't survive off the indies and Amazon alone, which give Waterstones immense power over certain types of books. If they use that power wisely we all gain, if badly, we are stuffed. Yet I imagine the biggest losers will be the big publishers who need volume and need - to some extent - to be able to play someone off against Waterstones.

And Borders had its strong points - it stocked, at times, a very good range of magazines, literary and political. This will impact on Central Books, the main mag distributor to shops (and our distributor). From time to time they got behind local books in a big way - the Dundee Borders ordered 100 copies of our The Lost Sister, even though the author works at Dundee Waterstones.

There is a welcome spread of good indies, and small chains and good indies may be the future, but meantime we are in for a tough ride.

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