Borders, Bankruptcy and Writers
E-mails coming in today from people wondering how the Borders bankruptcy will affect writers in general and me in particular, with some others wondering if royalties for the books they buy at Borders will get to the authors who wrote them, and whether they should continue shopping at Borders at all.
Well. First, CE Petit has some initial thoughts on what the bankruptcy means for Borders customers, and also authors, here.
For everyone who doesn’t want to bother with that analysis, here’s my thumbnail version:
For customers, provided your local Borders doesn’t close (and apparently a couple hundred will), you shouldn’t see too much different in an immediate sense, with the exception that some books may not be available because some publishers have cut off service to the company.
For writers, there may be a lot of back-end headaches, related to the fact that Borders owes lots of publishers lots of money — about $270 million as of today — and while Borders suggests (if I am reading this page correctly) that they will be able to pay publishers on invoices filed after today, everything billed before that date is now tied up in bankruptcy court proceedings, and who knows when or if or how much of those payments will be made.
What does all this mean for you, the concerned consumer? As far as I understand it (and I could be wrong, I am not a lawyer, etc):
1. Theoretically, for books that come into Borders after today, and are then sold, the publisher will be paid.
2. But that book you bought as a holiday gift in December? Yeah, Borders might still owe the publisher for that, and now it’s a court matter.
3. If the publisher hasn’t been paid for the book by Borders, whether the publisher will then pay the author for that sale, completely or partially (and sooner rather than later), depends on a lot of variables, including the specific wording of contract points.
So basically, if you’re worried that the Borders bankruptcy is going to screw writers, you’re using the incorrect tense. That screwing has already happened, and now we just have to wait for the effects to catch up to us. We may be additionally screwed from here, of course. We’ll have to see what happens.
Will this affect me personally? I’m sure it will, although in the short term I am well-insulated financially; other writers will not be so lucky. In the medium term I expect this will oblige me and my agent to pay close attention to contract points. In the longer term, well, if the second-largest brick-and-mortar book retailer in the US goes swirling, this is will obviously have an impact on how I make my living. It’s always something. Then again, “it’s always something” describes everyone’s economic life these days.
Some folks have asked me whether they should continue to buy books (and books of mine) from Borders. Well, speaking only for myself and not for my publisher or any other writer, if Borders is what you have as your local bookstore, and my books are in stock, and you want to buy them, go ahead. My publishers and Borders will sort it out at some point.
Borders has been good to me in the past — it ordered copies of The God Engines, and a hardcover novella isn’t an easy thing to place in a chain store — and their science fiction buyers have been enthusiastic about my stuff. So I’m willing to extend them some personal credit, and hope they’ll get their act together sometime in the near future. Whether other authors (and more importantly, their publishers) feel as sanguine about Borders at the moment is another matter entirely.