About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Dozen Eggs Breaking

Publishers Lunch links to the updated Borders closing list, with another 28 stores scheduled to close by the end of May, 12 of those stores that I have visited. As with the original list it includes stores of all shapes and sizes. Hollywood & Vine that did business but I doubt ever enough for the rent at that location. Milpitas CA which I will miss, because it was one of the nicest stores in the country for selling sf/fantasy on the day I visited. Fairfield CT, which I was surprised to see wasn't on the original list and which I'd visited on opening day and occasionally since as a quick on/off Metro North. Stamford CT is a somewhat historic site, as it had been put up by Waldenbooks prior to its purchase by Borders as part of their budding "Bassett Books" chain of superstores, the original location in Towson of Borders #44 that is now in Lutherville MD had been another. Braintree MA and Tacoma WA had both once been extremely prosperous, and I don't know if their demise reflects high rent or half of their business going elsewhere over the past several years. Federal Way, WA and Cranston, RI are both stores that had relocated to supposedly better locations. The store in downtown Philadelphia PA is another surprise because that store sold a lot of books and was still doing so at my last visit, but it was also a big store in a high rent location designed for selling books, music and movies (in fact, a relocation of an older smaller location that may have been books only) and likely has too big a rent bill for a time when there isn't much of a music and movie business any more. You think on these relocations and you realize how miserable the Borders strategists were at forecasting the demise of hard copy content sales.

In its bankruptcy filing, Borders reserved the right to close up to 75 more stores, so the additional 28 suggests that at least some stores were given rent concessions to help keep afloat. The very un-busy Glendale Queens store as an example gets to enjoy life still. Stores like Hollywood & Vine or in downtown Philly, there's not much of a chance the landlord will do Borders any favors because locations like that can almost certainly find new tenants.

I visited one ongoing Borders in Manhattan this week and one that is closing. Even a going out of business sale with 30% off and an extra 10% off for Borders Rewards (around 36% total discount) doesn't seem to move sf/fantasy at the Park Ave. Borders, which has many depleted sections but sf/f looking like it was hardly touched, and overall still has a surprising amount of inventory four weeks after the liquidation sale started. They're about ready to bring down the remaining merchandise on the 3rd floor music/movie area, and part of the 2nd floor was closed off. I was undercharged for my purchase, pointed it out, waited around while they re-rang, gave them an extra $10, and was given $18 in change. I didn't point out that they had now made a bad situation for them worse.

The front of store at the Columbus Circle store that is to remain open still had lots of books and looked very full. To give Borders credit for something, they've done a decent job of scrounging and scraping for inventory to give a good initial impression of things when you walk in the front door, and that is important. The store still had customers going in and out, but when you got into the actual section shelving you did notice that things were a little lighter inventory wise than usual. A theoretical order for 4 copies of Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon had turned into an actual order of 2 copies coming from Ingram, this goes on sale Tuesday and at least they'll have some. There were some books being reordered and on the way from one source or another, and 120 copies on order for the mass market of Charlaine Harris' Dead in the Family that is on sale in a couple of weeks. At the same time, there was supposed to be a promotion for the new Mark Hodder book in FOS Bay 4 from 15 March for 2 weeks, but no Borders stores have actually gotten the book, and who knows when or how or from who because the publisher can't be entirely pleased to have some money owing as a result of the bankruptcy. So it's a very mixed bag, the stores are there and open and at some level getting the titles they need to have to look that way, but they're going to suffer if they can't start to get back to ordering and restocking in the usual way.

A funny store I'm told third-hand. The closing stores are essentially managed by the liquidation company at this point, and as the romance section was being relocated and consolidated at Borders Wall St., management decreed that books should be arranged by price because people would be coming in to hunt for bargains. The employees did say that this was not such a good idea, and then did what they were told. Well, I'm looking for a bargain too, but if I'm going to find my bargains they better still have a semblance of alphabetization because I'm not that kind of a bargain hunter.

In other book news from Publishers Lunch, indie chain Joseph Beth is putting it up for sale and closing an additional store. They haven't been able to come up with a reorg plan that everyone likes since filing for bankruptcy in the fall, and the sale process now seems like the only way to keep any of the business ongoing.

And if you're interested in UK book news, here is an article from The Bookseller where the head of Waterstone's says the UK may have as much as 3 million excess square feet devoted to book distribution (not stores, but distribution facilities) and that he'd like to bring return rates down below 10%. A competitor says this would be too low because you then aren't taking enough chances, and this is in fact correct. Since it's impossible to tell in content business what will or won't work when it actually confronts the public, you need to be able to take a few uncertain bets in order to find the things that will work.

1 comment:

Peter Wright said...

Borders closing is interesting on many levels. On the one hand, when I tried to visit my local store recently and saw that the rumors were true, that the store was indeed going out of business, I felt a pang of sadness. Where will I go for that slightly veneered air of 'smartness' that always seemed to linger around the coffee area? I'm not going to wander off to the little shop on the corner any time soon - they're just snobs.

On the other hand though, I couldn't help but think "Yay, good riddance". I'm an author too, and on more than one occasion have been subject to the vagaries that were the Borders book selection process. Hell, I remember a pre-Amazon era where you were made or broken by the decision of the big book chains to either stock you or not. Then Amazon came along and with the promise of long tail sales backed by the wince inducing sword of "discount or f*ck off".

Borders leaving us re-inforces that the Amazon-led charge of all things digital is very real. With Borders gone, we can all turn our attention now to Amazon's overly controlling discounting mantra and yearn for the day where e-publishing returns more profit and control to publishers and most importantly authors. It will happen, one day, and Borders untimely (or was it?) demise is in some ways just another step on that particular long and winding road.