There has been a lot of buzz lately about the implosion of Borders, with two executives recently resigning and banks offering the troubled company lenient terms for repaying its debt.
In response, Barnes & Nobles executives are offering a sadly typical, false free-market argument against the “special terms.”
We think the playing field should be even … We expect publishers to offer same terms to all other booksellers, including Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers. We fully expect publishers will require Borders to pay their bills on the same basis upon which all other booksellers pay theirs. Any changes in publishers terms should be made available to all.
True, but if Borders goes down there won’t really be a “playing field.” There will be a near monopoly of large-scale, brick-and-mortar bookselling — conveniently, by Barnes & Noble itself — followed distantly by second-tier actors like Books-A-Million (Did you just chuckle a little? I did.) and notoriously struggling independent booksellers. B&N’s concern for “all other booksellers” amounts to crocodile tears.
While using free-market reasoning, Barnes & Noble is attempting to press their advantage toward destroying the competition, and without genuine peer-to-peer competition, there is no free market. Unfortunately, the strategic survival of genuine free-market dynamics is often the target of disingenuous, tactical free-market rhetoric like this.
Now, I would be glad to watch Borders slip into the history books, if B&N is willing to face trust-busting to avoid an oligopolistic trampling of the free market. But, we all know that this is the furthest thing from their minds. With Borders out of the way, B&N can focus its corporate energies on mitigating loss-leading sabotage by actors like Wal-Mart and Target (which would be admirable of B&N), and driving second-tier and independent booksellers out of business (not so admirable).
Let’s hope that publishers will see that the last thing they want is Barnes & Noble standing alone in its field, and that Borders can get its act together before it’s too late.