Borders slowly dying

The Bookseller reports that Borders UK is a short distance from collapse; it’s been cut off by several major wholesale suppliers, it’s unable to meet its bills, and it’s sitting on the sale block.

The sale block is not a particularly enticing one, either; WH Smiths have turned down the opportunity to buy the firm, and HMV (who own Waterstones) are only interested in cherry-picking a few stores, presumably ones where they’re not in direct competition. There’s always the possibility someone new might swoop in and try to set up their own position in the market, but media retailers with spare cash are few and far between this year, and high-street bookselling isn’t a very tempting prospect these days.

There’s interesting implications here for the book market as a whole. Borders has far fewer stores than Waterstones, who have a very large share of the book market, but it has a high turnover; on 2008 figures, it had about 40% the business of Waterstones – Blackwells and Amazon UK equalled about a quarter of Waterstones apiece, though obviously the latter includes a large non-book element. It’s not unreasonable to say that Borders represents 5-10% of the British book market, at least.

So where’s that going to go? Interesting times loom ahead – but given the distribution of Waterstones and Borders stores, which are usually very closely placed and directly competing for the same passing trade, it seems pretty easy to guess who’ll get the benefit of it over Christmas.