Monday, July 25, 2011

On change in general and the closing of Borders in particular

I'm saddened by the closing of Borders. It seems to me they were a beautifully conceived operation. But unexpected changes took them unawares.

Tell me about it.

It's ironic, but speaking as an aspiring science-fiction writer, change has never been my friend. In the 1980s, when I began seriously contemplating writing as a profession, I used to purchase copies of Locus on a regular basis (if you're an SF writer and you're not familiar with it, you really should be).

In those bygone days of yore, I would often read about promising new writers getting advances in the low five figures.

(The lowest five-figure possibility is $10,000.00 nothing to sneeze at, even today!)

I was greatly heartened by this information. I assumed the situation would remain stable, awaiting the day I could get my act together.

Alas, it was not to be.

There's no need to rehash the whole sad story here. I don't even understand it how all happened. Suffice it to say that advances grew smaller and the number of places where you could submit unagented manuscripts shrank steadily.

You can still catch a break. J. K. Rowling did. But the chances are against it. You'd think nurturing new writers would be considered good business practice, but apparently it's not a priority these days. Everybody's got other things on their minds.

A lot of us have had blinders on, with no choice but to hope for the best. But it's hard to ignore the truth. A crap shoot when nobody's rooting for you is a fool's game.

I'm gonna miss Borders. The publishers will miss them too. Fewer places to buy books means fewer books will be sold. They've hardly started to feel the repercussions, I'm sure.

Another thing I did in the 1980s was purchase all of Robert A. Heinlein's YA novels, the ones I had loved in my youth, in paperback. I got 'em at a grocery store in south Tampa. They were there to buy, so I bought 'em.

You see, it used to be that you could find SF books anyplace they sold paperbacks and magazines. Then things changed, and there was a preponderance of Star Wars and Star Trek books. I don't know how those decisions happen, but that's the way it was.

That's not the way it is now. Now there's nothing. My local grocery store in Hendersonville, North Carolina has a little clone of a big box bookstore in it, half an aisle with books and magazines and chairs to sit on. Paperbacks and hardcovers and magazines, and a nice little wood parquet floor. Somebody spent some money on that setup.

But there aren't any SF books there. Or SF magazines, for that matter. Just top selling writers like Stephen King and Catherine Coulter. That's all you can find there.

No mysteries or westerns, either. You know, I kind of miss westerns.

(There's not even a section for westerns on smashwords. Oh, I know, there's a section for historical fiction. But still.)

I miss record stores, too. I miss browsing through racks of CDs. Fuck that, I miss browsing through racks of vinyl LPs.
Those days are long gone.

Borders had a respectable selection of CDs. That's another reason to miss them.

I'm not up on how music consumers get their fix these days. Digital downloads, I presume, but I've never learned how that works. I just know the world has moved on.

I remember being absolutely stunned when the big record store chains closed down. The closing of Borders is just a new version of that changeover. The world has moved on again.

But indie musicians and indie writers now have unprecedented access to their audiences. That's a good thing. I recognize that, even though I still feel like a stranger in a strange land.

It's called serendipity. Nobody planned it. Nobody said hey, let's give all those creative people a break.

But until they figure out a way to close the floodgates--and I'm sure they're busy thinking about it--we've got a window of opportunity.

Let's take advantage of that.

Even as we shed a tear for the way things used to be.

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