Borderlands Books owner doubles down on douchebaggery

Blames Closure On Minimum Wage, Not Amazon

Though he mentioned the problems posed by e-readers and Amazon in his initial statements on the impending closure of Borderlands Books, owner Alan Beatts would now like everyone to know that the real culprit is the increasing minimum wage. With $15 an hour due to each employee (by 2018), the Mission's science fiction-, fantasy-, mystery-, and horror-focused store says it can't survive.

"Let me put to bed this whole it's Amazon, bookselling-is-not-viable story," he reportedly said. "I am closing because of the minimum wage law. It's not our rent, it's not Amazon. It's not the way San Francisco is changing."

As a data point, I never once shopped there, because I've been buying all of my books online since before they opened in 1997, when bookstores were already a nonviable business.

I had a drink at the cafe once, though. It was fine.

Businesses fail when operating costs outstrip income, period. Cherry-picking a proximate cause of increased costs as the reason just demonstrates what political bone you have to pick, not the actual economics of the situation.

It's like those jackass restaurants whose reaction to having to pay healthcare for their employees was to passive-aggressively break that out on the bill as its own line item (and then just pocketed the money anyway). To their credit, though, these places also all itemized out "transportation costs" when gas hit $4.50/gallon, and reduced their prices when gas got cheaper again. Oh wait, that didn't actually happen.

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34 Responses:

  1. joe luser says:

    I'm confused: the statement sfist links to is the initial statement from last week? Where he clearly claims that he has, in fact, a non-viable business and is aware of that. What saves him from douchbaggery, and simply positions him as a maker of poor business choices, is his distinction between the book business, where prices are fixed by others, and the cafe, where he can raise the price of a cup of coffee to what the local market will bear and which will be staying open.

  2. mattyj says:

    "Let me put to bed this whole it's Amazon, bookselling-is-not-viable story," and then tell you why my bookselling business is not viable (allegedly.)

    1997? Should have opened a beanie baby store or something.

  3. Gianteye says:

    Maybe I'm confusing stories here, but didn't the store's rent increase by ~50% over the last five years? Haven't the relevant taxes, filing fees, and administrative scrutiny on small businesses all gone up over the course of the tech boom?

    It seems strange that this guy is pulling a Pappa John's striking at big gubmint making him pay his employees, but not at them for increasing his other operational expenses.

  4. Sheila Marie says:

    Christ, what an asshole.

  5. Sheila Marie says:

    Christ, what an asshole.

  6. Jim Sweeney says:

    If these peons would just accept sharecropping, it wouldn't matter that our customers were leaving us in droves.

  7. Jim Sweeney says:

    If these peons would just accept sharecropping, it wouldn't matter that our customers were leaving us in droves.

  8. Sheila Marie says:

    Never mind that increasing wages around the city MIGHT mean people have money to buy books.

  9. Sheila Marie says:

    Never mind that increasing wages around the city MIGHT mean people have money to buy books.

  10. Jim Sweeney says:

    That's crazy talk.

  11. Jim Sweeney says:

    That's crazy talk.

  12. I can't remember the last time I bought a book made of paper. It might have been at an airport. Even then, I know I've bought the ebook version of a book that I found at an airport bookstore rather than adding to the bulk and weight I had to carry.

  13. I can't remember the last time I bought a book made of paper. It might have been at an airport. Even then, I know I've bought the ebook version of a book that I found at an airport bookstore rather than adding to the bulk and weight I had to carry.

  14. Sheila Marie says:

    I still buy a good bit of books in dead tree copies - the joy of browsing someone else's shelf is too great still, and the Kindle just doesn't cut it. BUT I'm reading more on Kindle than in paper lately - took me ages to get through my last paper book, while the Kindle is hard to put down when it's time for bed!

  15. Sheila Marie says:

    I still buy a good bit of books in dead tree copies - the joy of browsing someone else's shelf is too great still, and the Kindle just doesn't cut it. BUT I'm reading more on Kindle than in paper lately - took me ages to get through my last paper book, while the Kindle is hard to put down when it's time for bed!

  16. Tom Lord says:

    Hold on, please. I think "we" should own this. Yes, of course, when you raise the minimum wage, certain business models fail. Overall, you tend to reduce the level of employment. The jobs that remain are more livable.

    That is the theory both "sides" of the minimum wage debate agree upon. It's true. And it is a good reason to keep raising the minimum wage (and reducing the length of a work week -- why is it still 30 or 40 hours, depending on the regulation or contract you are talking about?!? 20 is more like it.)

    • jwz says:

      When you raise the minimum wage, certain business models fail. When gas hits $4.50/gallon, certain business models fail. When you have the germ theory of disease, certain business models fail. When the internet exists, certain business models fail.

      Totally with you on the work week, as previously.

      • Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

        Yep, and if the government didn't raise the minimum wage, those business models wouldn't fail. And people wouldn't be out of a job.

    • This. I voted for the increase in my last act as a San Franciscan. (I presume my medal and parade are on their way.) Should it come up for a vote in NYC, I'll vote for it again. It was a good idea, but it's not magic pixie dust: it will have negative effects as well as positive effects on the margin, and I merely assert as a supporter that the latter outweigh the former. Doesn't mean that the negative effects don't exist, or that Alan is required to lie about what happened to his business in order to make me feel better. We lost a bookstore that I happened to like in order to give SF's working class a raise: I'll take that bargain every time.

  17. Charles Gray says:

    Hey, if we could pay people what we pay the computers, it would be a viable business!

  18. Charles Gray says:

    Hey, if we could pay people what we pay the computers, it would be a viable business!

  19. MARK FREEMAN says:

    So, having a partner who used to work in bookstores, I have a somewhat inside view of this process. Of course it is Amazon (and peoples' mistaken idea that buying online is cool-- maybe, in the short run, but no, not really when it comes to jobs and keeping money in the community vs the near slave labor at Amazon). But real neighborhood bookstores have held on and found ways to be creative. Some may find adding about $2/hr this year alone-- an additional $80 per employee per week-- to be a camels-back-breaker. Supporters for the new law (I include myself) thought about places like chain stores and fast food restaurants that can and should be paying a decent wage. But here is the thing. Most businesses can raise their prices to cover the increase. Bookstores can't. The price is on the cover. I support a rising minimum wage for everyone. But for small bookstores it will mean either less employees or in some cases, closing. A more carefully worded law might have anticipated this and made some accommodations, you would think. And isn't it is time for those who live in a city to consider making at least half of their purchases here, rather than at soon-to-be monopolistic sites?

    • Nick Lamb says:

      Book shops are not the only businesses selling a product that someone else printed an RRP on during manufacture. Snacks and beverages often have a display RRP too. The manufacturers accept that they'll need an incentive wholesale price to make this viable, and that in areas with a very high cost of living and for certain other businesses they need to offer a version with no RRP. And books aren't actually any different, varying price sensitivity means we sell the same text at a variety of prices already, we just format vary to make it a bit less obvious.

      What sort of "accommodation" would you make anyway? Are you going to follow the practice of other US businesses and pretend you can just get the customer to pay the workers directly: "Don't forget, if you're buying a hardback novel, even at a discount price, always tip at least $50 because the people in the bookstore don't get a normal wage" ? I think San Francisco (or maybe California generally?) was already outlawing that because it's so very obviously and brutally exploitative.

      • thisisendless says:

        You could give the same tax breaks that SF gives to Twitter and the tech ilk. There are plenty of creative tax solutions that the city could come up with. Property tax, the cost of business licenses, etc.

    • Pavel Lishin says:

      I didn't know that book prices were mandated by the publishers. I figured it was just like a can of beans - you can offer a discount one day, or hike the price up by 20 cents the next.

      • Jeremy Leader says:

        Are book prices actually mandated by the publishers? I know the price is printed on the book, but what would happen if the bookseller stuck a sticker over it? I know several of the big chains used to stick their own barcode sticker over the publisher's ISBN barcode, which often also had a price, and I know bookstores sometimes sell books for less than the "cover price". I could see the publisher getting upset if the bookseller sold books at a discount (because it would piss off the publisher's other distribution channels), but who's nose is going to be out of joint if the bookseller tacks an extra $0.50 onto every book? Amazon is already selling the books below list price, so it's not like the people coming to a physical bookstore are expecting to get a bargain anyway.

      • MARK FREEMAN says:

        Right. Would you pay $13.50 for a book clearly marked $12?

        • nooj says:

          yes.

          if i wanted a discount, i'd walk over to the big bookstore that constantly gives 20% off. but i didn't, cause i don't like to shop there.

  20. MARK FREEMAN says:

    Places like Walmart can and do sell some books at a lower price. But. They only sell the few bestsellers they are sure will be wanted by tons of people. Not "specialty" books, and you certainly can't ask them to order one. But. They do this as "loss leaders" to get you into the store and into the shopping mood. And another But. They have convinced publishers to give them better deals than they do to regular bookstores. Amazon even tried to blackmail one major publisher by not selling or not highlighting their books unless they dropped their price to Amazon below the profitability level. That one got a LOT of attention, and important authors were saying they would not deal with Amazon-- and it got resolved, but nobody is saying under what terms. The issue to me is: once a company like Amazon can control much or even most of a market, what is to keep them from selling only what they agree with, at the price that only they determine. As a consumer, I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. And they have no here here, so I can't throw them at all.

  21. Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

    When you raise the price of something, you get less of it.

    Simple economics. Businesses fail when operating costs outstrip income, period. Cherry-picking a proximate cause of increased costs as the reason just demonstrates what political bone you have to pick, not the actual economics of the situation.

    Except its not a proximate cause, and it is the actual economics. Increasing the minimum wage increases labor cost. That has to come out of somewhere. The owner shouldn't have reduce his profits, because he might not have any left, as in this case. Minimum wage increases costs jobs and makes things more expensive. It hurts the exact people its meant to help.

    It's like those jackass restaurants whose reaction to having to pay healthcare for their employees was to passive-aggressively break that out on the bill as its own line item

    Or more likely its actually showing what healthcare costs because most people don't know.

    • Pavel Lishin says:

      Or more likely its actually showing what healthcare costs because most people don't know.

      I also don't know what my local restaurant pays their accountant, or legal representative, or their cleaning staff, and yet that stuff never seems to make it into the line items on my receipts.

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