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Borders Plans Liquidation of Remaining Stores

A bankruptcy judge approved Borders Group's liquidation plan on Thursday, clearing the way for the 40-year old bookselling chain to start closing the doors on most of its remaining 399 stores by the end of September. About 30 to 35 stores could be sold to the Books-a-Million chain, according to reports, but the majority of Borders 10,700 employees will likely be out of jobs soon.

The ailing chain filed for bankruptcy back in February and was hoping to restructure. But a plan to be purchased by private-equity company Najafi Cos. fell apart last week amid criticism from the company's creditors. In a press release on Monday, Borders President Mike Edwards said the challenges facing the company and the industry were too difficult to overcome.

"We were all working hard toward a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now," said Edwards.

The "headwinds" Borders faced have affected the entire bookselling industry. Both publishers and booksellers alike are working to adapt their business practices to meet the demands of a changing marketplace, especially the growing prevalence of electronic books.

"Obviously, [the Borders closing] is causing a lot of concern, particularly amongst publishers," said Lorraine Shanley, Co-founder and President of Market Partners International, a consulting firm that specializes in traditional and digital book publishing. "The real issue is not so much whether it is printed books [that survive], because you can [still] buy printed books from Barnes & Noble and, but that the promotional opportunities that were available through retail are no longer available." Shanley pointed out that even though mass retailers like Walmart and Target still sell books, "you're buying only a slice of an enormous number of books."

Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar book retailers are wondering if there's a place for them in this new world. Barnes and Noble put itself up for sale last year and is now weighing a buyout offer for $1 billion from Liberty Media Corp. Amy Stewart, a writer who runs Eureka Books in Eureka, California, said she's grappling with the questions of "How do we maintain a physical presence and not just become a showroom for electronic downloads? How do we keep people tethered to a physical book and to these places?"

Surviving in this new climate will require creativity from publishers and booksellers, said Lindy Hess, Director of the Publishing Course at Columbia University. "Publishers are using the internet to reach their audiences in new and experimental ways," says Hess. "They are doing more online marketing and will continue to try and target audiences using social media, SEO, websites, and blogs as well as more traditional publicity on TV, radio, and print."

And bookstore owners like Stewart are trying to focus on the sense of community and connection associated with physical stores. "People love being able to come into a bookstore because they can bring the whole family; the family can scatter and go to their separate corners and find something to do," said Stewart. She said her store began opening on holidays and staying open later in the evening because going to a bookstore is "the natural thing to want to go do after dinner."

Stewart added that her worst fear is that the electronic books kill both printed books and bookstores. In fact, she even wrote a novel in 2009 about just this scenario entitled The Last Bookstore in America. It ends "rather apocalyptically," Stewart explained.

Fittingly, the book is only available in an electronic edition.

Photo credit: The Ewan, Flickr Creative Commons