Borders goes by the wayside

In the mid-2000s, before specialty coffee shops began sprouting like dandelions and cellphones were just cellphones, I spent fair amount of quality time at Borders Books in West Des Moines.

Reading books and magazines, studying the Word of God, and striking up conversations were some of my favorite pastimes at the suburban shop, and I’ve had a number of significant intellectual and spiritual experiences there.

Heck, Borders is where I met Big Dreamer Mitch Matthews, who happened to be showing off his “Q” concept to a group of nice, happy, go-lucky people who I like to call “Mini-Mitches.”

Well Mitch, my dream was to someday meet the woman of my dreams in the biblical theology or exotic travel section at Borders Books. Sorry, but that big dream died with wireless routers and free Internet connections.

Maintaining a personal library of books and movies, as well as a reasonably sized archive of hard-copied newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, is another hobby of mine.

But now, with a plethora of digital tools at my fingertips and a coffee shop on every corner, I have less need to acquire new printed materials because much of the content and information that I’m seeking can be accessed via the Web.

So it makes sense to hang out in my neighborhood. It makes sense to support local businesses. It makes sense to form connections and fellowship with neighbors and friends nearby.

I am sorry to see Borders close and I feel partially responsible because my patronage has waned over the past four or five years. But besides the fact that I have to find a new place to pick up a copy of the Columbia Journalism Review, maybe there is a bigger concern.

Beyond shifting consumer habits and the financial pain of print publishers and distributors in a digital age, how are new technologies and emerging media shaping our culture and influencing social norms?

More importantly, what are the pros and cons of this megashift?

P.S. Half Price Books has a sweet new shop and one of the most diverse retail film collections I’ve seen.

6 thoughts on “Borders goes by the wayside

  1. I was a Barnes and Noble fan, but I haven’t gone there for years. I just don’t read many books any more. Seems I get all my information online and borrow books from the library or buy and e-book when I need one. I do miss all those interactions in the coffeeshop though. Met some cool people.

    1. Barnes and Noble always felt so much more stuffy to me than Borders. Plus, they used to charge for Internet access and had very few electrical outlets. I never understood why a retailer would want to give me a reason to leave the store. Now, even Starbucks offers free Wi-Fi.

  2. Great post! I see a pro of the megashift toward the idea that world is getting flatter. You don’t have to be a corporate giant like Borders to sell books anymore. Anyone can do it.

    The same goes for traditional news publications. When I really want to know what’s going on, I check the Twitter stream. If I question something, I dig deeper and cross-check sources. I hope traditional news doesn’t die, but if they don’t change their mindset and start reinventing their business model, they will have a big yellow “CLOSING” banner across their door as well. Sorry, I know you work at one. Just sayin’.

    I’m still a book lover though. I think because “anyone can publish” … I’m often disappointed in the quality of the online content I find. I like to own my books too, not borrow. I have to smell the pages, mark them up with colored pencils and sticky notes and flags, and draw my visual thinking models in the margins or on index cards. But book authors need to change their mindset too. There is a lot of fluff and not enough visuals that explain key concepts. Blah blah blah yadda yadda… what’s your point!? This, too, is a shift in the social norm. The internet creates a new kind of reader, a less patient one. Authors need to pick up on it and blend the old with the new.

  3. Jocelyn,

    Correct. The advent of desktop publishing allows anyone with the proper tools and knowhow to wield them the ability to publish online. I thank God for word processing software. If you saw my handwriting, you’d know why. But I digress.

    Traditional newsrooms are intended to operate as the fourth estate, as society’s watchdog. Now, anyone can publish online and call it news. And some are concerned about not only the poor quality of content you may find by digging deeper and cross checking some sources, but also about a lack of credibility among them.

    In some ways, the digital age has leveled the playing field among professional publishers and amateur writers, between newsmen and bloggers.

    Besides, paper, ink and reporters are expensive and using them has environmental consequences. Yes, you read that right. Again I digress.

    I don’t foresee the journalism profession going away any time soon. In fact, it mustn’t go away. Without trained professional reporters covering world events, imagine how the fabric of our democracy would change? Scary thought.

    When you surf Twitter, do you find many of your primary Twitter sources link you to websites of traditional newspapers and magazines, or other respected media outlets? I would guess they probably do.

    I’m fascinated not only with the creation and distribution of content, but also with how, when, why and where we choose to consume it.

    Imagine the fame and fortune in store for the people who figure out how to reconcile print and online publishing? Perhaps they will take a more visual approach to telling stories and breaking news. Perhaps they will turn all of their coverage into 140-character sound bytes. Or maybe they’ll continue pushing out information to targeted audiences.

    But content will always be king. And I read (on Twitter) one time that “if content is king, distribution is crown prince.” I like that.

    And without quality and credible content, no matter how or why it is displayed on the page or screen, I don’t see how any publisher’s business model could be truly successful.

    Thanks for the comment.

  4. I agree with most of what you are saying. I hope you blog more about the content discussion — what makes it credible from a journalist’s POV, consumable today versus yesterday, and who (or whom?… if you are editing me…smile) in the journalism field is taking the right risks to reinvent the old distribution model.

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