I’d love to lament the bankruptcy of Borders, and I do in that it owes Penguin some $41 million, which no doubt includes some royalties that will be withheld from me. But among the 200 store closings is the Borders in Utica, Michigan, which in January 2009 practiced a primitive form of censorship. The crime in the book A Slaying in the Suburbs took place in Macomb County, not far, in fact, from the Utica store. When an in-store schedule was being set up, PR people contacted the store, a natural of course, and the store said no.
From a story in the Macomb County newspaper:
“…The Utica location of Borders Books turned them down for an appearance, a decision that concerned them about stifling freedom of speech.
Cheryl McManus of Washington Township said she cannot understand why the book store chain would discourage discussion.
“That’s bizarre,” she said. “We need to talk about this.”
A Dec. 10 e-mail by a store manager says, “Our communities, on the east side in particular, were hit hard with this case. It was very close to home, and I’m not convinced our customers would react favorably to a booksigning event.”
Borders spokeswoman Mary Davis told on Tuesday: “The decision made not to have a book event at the store level was because we wanted to be sensitive to the Utica community.”
Davis, however, said the authors could appear at another Borders store in southeast Michigan if the book’s sales met criteria.
The Utica marketing manager also questioned whether some profits from the book would go to the Grant children.”
It was a pathetic episode in which the store had no reasonable response, also reported by Laura James, one of the better true crime bloggers around.
The manager of this store simply didn’t want a consideration – one of the best things that come from books – of any such issue in its store. And I’ve never heard of a book needing to meet sales points before it would be discussed. Imagine the books that would be ignored if that were the case everywhere. Of course we can see Borders touting the First Amendment when it so bravely refused to provide some requested sales records to the DEA in Kansas. But it’s not so brave when it comes to talking about something in its own neighborhood.
And as for Davis’ questioning where the profits would go; I’d like to tell her how to spend her paycheck and see how that works out.
So I can hope the Mary Davis lost her job and has found work in a more suitable industry – one that steers clear of anything remotely unpleasant or uncomfortable – because she is unfit to work in the world of books, where conversation is the crux of our being, no matter how distasteful she might find the subject matter.
Poor business practices manifest themselves at lower levels, and most analysts blame the downfall of Borders on management issues. It’s a small thing, but the approach of that store to an event that well could have drawn dozens of people and sold books – an event at the Macomb County Library did just that – was a microcosm of the chain’s failure.