Farewell Borderlands

The February Locus arrived in my inbox today. Most year’s that a happy thing, because I get to see a whole bunch of authors squeeing happily about getting their books and stories into the Recommended Reading List (some of which I may have had a part in making happen). This year, however, the issue brought some very sad news: Borderlands Books in San Francisco is to close. I spent a fair amount of money in that store when I was able to visit the Bay Area. I’ve been to events there. And of course Borderlands are the usual booksellers for SF in SF. Alan and Jude are great people, and I’m very sad for them. It is, of course, galling to see yet another independent bookstore go under because they can’t compete with Amazon. There were few enough specialist science fiction bookstores left in the world. Now there is one fewer.

5 thoughts on “Farewell Borderlands

  1. the wages of liberalism – hike in minimum wage, local business closes; very disingenuous post here not to actually mention the explicit link between the closure of Borderlands and the hike in the minimum wage:

    “The recent change in San Francisco minimum wage law will prevent the store from being financially viable no later than July of 2018 (at which point our payroll will have increased by roughly 39%). It is quite possible that the store would lack viability before that date, as wages will increase incrementally between now and then. Rather than wait, we have chosen to close now to allow us to get the most value from the businesses. Though all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a living wage in principle, the minimum wage law passed in San Francisco makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to run a viable business when retail pricing is set by publishers and our main competitors are companies such as Amazon.com.”

  2. Actually they say it was a new city law raising minimum wages. They took a big hit on it.stores are not allowed to charge more than the cover price set by the publisher so they had no way to make up the higher overhead.

  3. Both of these comments are partially correct. Yes, San Francisco has passed new minimum wage laws which raise the costs of doing business in the city. But that doesn’t necessarily cause a business to close. Borderlands will be continuing to run their coffee shop, presumably because they can raise prices to cover the cost increase. Every other coffee shop in the city will doubtless be doing the same, or has enough leeway in their margins to take the hit.

    An independent, specialist bookstore is in a very different position. It is not competing so much with other bookstores in the city, but rather with online sellers, which means Amazon. And yes, there is a problem with the recommended price printed on the book, but publisher pricing these days is very heavily driven by Amazon. I rather suspect that Borderlands pays more for each book they buy than Amazon does.

    It is very much a cost of doing business issue. Amazon do not need to locate their operations in places where wages are high. They are also expert at dodging paying their taxes. Competition between a small, independent company and a huge multi-national is not a level playing field.

    Of course you might argue that Borderlands should relocate to somewhere that has different wage laws, but a specialist bookseller needs to be located somewhere where they will have a large local market. Relocation of a physical store is not cheap either.

    From a consumer point of view, this may not matter, because you can always get the book you want from Amazon. But from an economics point of view the inability of anyone to compete with Amazon is very troubling.

  4. Uh, we’re talking about an extra $40 per employee per day when the min. wage peaked at $15 in mid-2018, and wages are considered as overhead and deductible from profit. I haven’t been to the store but perhaps the owners could each put in 60 hours a week, as many self-employed people or sole proprietorships do. Perhaps they already do; in which case perhaps shortening the store’s hours of operation by doing away with slow period hours, such as any time before noon, etc., and not opening on Mondays and Tuesdays, for example. Seems that there may have been other reasons for closing, since the store apparently would have been viable for at least two years into the future.

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