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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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Borders, Post-Mortem

At this point, it's hard to see that Borders isn't on the verge of a bankruptcy filing, the best case scenario would be a Chapter 11 that would reorganize into a much smaller company that might have a go if focusing on stores that actually make money, but even that, I can't be real optimistic because same store sales are dropping so fast that a store which makes money today might not in two years. Though we live in a country that does allow companies to spend lots of time going bankrupt and doing it on multiple occasions, witness the airline industry.

So what happened?

OK, mid 1980s, Borders is one of the best stores around and starting to spread out in Michigan a little and lend out its inventory system. It's a good system. It lets stock sell down, then reorders. One day you might have 0 copies of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers on the shelf, the next day they'll get 3 in. So everytime you go to Borders, even if it's once a week, you might see a slightly different but always excellent selection. It encourages you to keep going back. And again, it's a really good system, and stores that use the system generally prosper.

Late 1980s, early 1990s. As Borders starts to slowly spread across the country, and in fact does so before Barnes & Noble starts to open superstores, each new opening is a major occasion. The stores have well tailored massive inventory, they are architecturally distinct, they have book people who have to pass a book test working in them, they are wonderful places to go to. Eventually K-Mart buys Borders, merges it into Waldenbooks, the mall stores generate cash to fund the superstore expansion, and in the early years of Borders as a publicly held company we are told that it is selling much better per square foot than the competition, i.e. B&N. And they have this great inventory system, that carefully tailors a large selection to each individual store on a constant ongoing basis. It isn't uncommon for a Borders to be voted the best bookstore in those local newspaper year's bests, and I would say much more common for that honor to go to a Borders than to a B&N.

Mid to late 1990s. B&N invests in a major improvement in their inventory systems. For new books, the store-specific Borders inventory system was pretty much unique through 1995, I first noticed in 1996 when The Kiss was published that B&N was starting to do the same. B&N also develops a quick replenishment system, so if a store is supposed to carry a book and sells it, another copy will be on hand in a week or ten days in most instances.

Late 1990s. Against a more competitive B&N, the creaks in the vaunted Borders inventory system become apparent.

Problem #1: that sell-down and reorder thing from 1985 doesn't work so well now. Borders will order Pocket backlist once every x weeks, and for some books that don't sell as well maybe reorder them once every y cycles. And once ordered, books take much longer to move from the publisher to the Borders warehouse to the Borders store than to move through the supply chain at B&N. If a Borders and a B&N are both supposed to carry Deathstalker, as an example of a typical must-have JABberwocky book in 1998, and both sell on the same day, the B&N will have a new copy ten days later, the Borders might be back in stock six weeks later.

Problem #2: especially in genre fiction, you need to invest in inventory because it's very hard to sell book #4 in a series when you can't find the first three books, or to sell #1 to somebody who notices #4 when it comes out and says "hey, let me try this series out." The Borders inventory system can't cope with this. By focusing on performance at each individual store, it would delete an earlier book in a series that maybe hadn't sold in a year, and then that store would have trouble as the series progressed because it would have all sorts of strange inventory gaps. That wasn't a problem when you had only 28 really fantastic locations, it gets to be a problem when you have 82 locations and some don't do well in sf/fantasy. B&N on the other hand would keep books on hand for core series at most all stores even if some particular stores weren't sellling them. I could go to the Evanston IL Borders, see all these books they should have but didn't, then go to the B&N across the way and see them. They were yellowed copies from sitting on the shelf and a printing behind because they hadn't reordered in a year, but they were there.

Which brings us to Problem #3, lack of brand consistency. At any large chain whether its Home Depot or Express or Costco you have bigger stores and smaller stores with varying selection. But at Borders, the computer would happily reorder lots of older titles forever and ever at the best stores that sold one or two copies a year at those very best stores while cutting even core titles by reasonably important authors at inferior stores. The wonderful store #89 in Columbia, MD was really like a completely different store than the quiet #179 in Commack, NY. One could have twice as many items as the other, 35 vs. 80, let's say, circa 2000. A B&N might be 45 vs. 65, not that there wasn't a gap but it wasn't near as big in percentage terms, and the B&N was more likely to have the core backlist titles like all the Deathstalker books by Simon Green or all the Blood books by Tanya Huff.

These problems were apparent for a long, long time.

But whatever problems the heads of Borders would solve, it wasn't these.

Maybe it was a real problem that all of that strange quirky store architecture with all kinds of weird diagonally places shelving lines was hard to navigate. And one CEO said this was so, and remodeled all the character out of all of the old stores and made all the lines nice and straight.

Some other CEO from supermarkets, he felt Borders needed category management like in supermarkets where the big supermarket chain would partner with a marketshare leader like Procter & Gamble to plan how the detergent aisle would look.

Or, now that Borders was a national chain, we need to function like a national chain selling our display space in the front of the store and getting our managers to put their endcaps up when they are supposed to instead of still acting like it's 1992 and you actually have local color.

Then we got more remodeling, replacing those character-filled shelves where the hardcovers and mass markets were shelved separate in the genre categories and huge amounts of excess mass markets could squeeze in right behind (sometimes books could get lost back there, I loved going through the entire on-shelf backstock and finding them) with unified hardcover and mass market shelving. This was a disaster. The remodels were very disruptive to the stores, and the new shelves were less efficient, so stores would run out of space and return books at their whim which would then not be replenished for several weeks which would exacerbate the whole out-of-stock thing.

One of the things you might notice is that the charm of Borders in its best days at its best stores was that it had carefully tailored inventory unique to each store, and each store felt like it was in and of its community instead of being just another Borders. Many of the changes made in the first decade of this century slowly took away bits and pieces of the best characteristics of the best Borders.

You may notice that none of the changes all these CEOs were doing sped up the supply chain. Even after Borders put in a reorder for a backlist book, it would still take two to four times as long for that book to make its way back to the store shelf. It could still be weeks after a book sold before the reorder was even placed. There were some efforts made by the sf/fantasy buyer in 2006 to rationalize the sf/f section so that A stores had a full A range selection thus doing away with some of the weird gaps that had developed over the years, but this didn't help much at the D or E store range to reduce the overall inconsistency of the brand.

Sometime when Borders tried to solve a problem, like getting a new inventory system for its mall stores in the mid 2000s, it managed to fail. Now, really, all the inventory management software that has to exist in 2005, and Borders manages to buy something that doesn't work? How, how, how, could they manage to do that?

And then somehow or other, everyone at Borders failed to notice that the mall store business was no longer generating cash and had become an albatross. George Jones was the CEO when the company first announced it had cash issues in the first half of 2008, which was just about the same time that the company unveiled his pet project of a new store concept. As I have blogged about, this is the one unforgivable thing, to either not notice the company is running out of cash because you're fiddling with your new concept or to still fiddle while you run out of cash. And what happened after was more unforgivable still. He cut back title counts. So all those books, the Hot Blood anthologies in their Kensington reissues a good example, that were on sale at the best Borders and not too many other places, were cut. Well, people noticed. The best Borders were no longer appreciably better than the best B&Ns, the worst Borders were still worse. They did try and remedy this some in Fall 2009.

The odd thing is that the new concept store George Jones fiddled with in 2008 was focused on digital initiatives. What if Borders had gone out to an all-out embrace of the Sony Reader then, and not fallen behind so miserably on e-readers? Christ, what if Borders had realized it needed a website, instead of being a hopeless third, then ceding to Amazon, then investing a fortune to try and regain all that lost ground.

I can forgive Borders some of its recent transgressions. The feeble Area E attempt at selling eReaders is justified when you are losing same store sales quickly, don't have cash, can't afford to have dedicated staff standing at the front of the store. I was upset, but I can forgive that. But I can't forgive idiots who think it's OK to go ten years taking eight weeks to replenish a book that your closest competitor can replenish in eight days. That's dumb-ass, and it was allowed to perpetuate under many CEOs for many years.

And I did write letters to Borders CEOs over the years to discuss some of these things.

Let me be clear, I want Borders to survive. As I've explained, we need more than one big chain. This week's case study: Brandon Sanderson's THE WAY OF KINGS was the #7 fantasy hardcover on Nielsen Bookscan last week, a major impressive showing four months after publication. As of a few days before Christmas, B&N put this title on to "No Replenishment" and has sent out the call to all their locations to return all of their copies. Now, do I want the fate of every one of my clients tied in brick-and-mortar to what B&N is doing? God, no, please, anything but. Poor Jig, in a B&N world, Jig is dead. Hard to even know if Jig's creator would have had a chance if Jig had been relying on only one major chain.

But if you're wondering why it seems very likely that Borders will be seeking court protection in the weeks or months to come, I think this post is as good an explanation as you will find, anyplace.

It's hard to even know whether to encourage people to shop at Borders when they need the business but maybe will never be able to pay the publisher or reorder a copy if they can't get credit arranged, or to just throw in the towel. I've been shopping at Borders for almost 30 years, 225 of their superstores, and it's a damn shame.


Laurie Mann said...

As person who worked at Borders from 1993-1994 and again from 2001-2002, I can't begin to say how far the company sank in that time period. In the mid-90s, you had people who knew books running their stores and each store had a community outreach person who would organize many store events. By 2001, random marketing people were running stores and the community outreach people were few and far between. In the mid-90s, Borders corporate was reaching out to small presses and would carry many small press books. By 2001, they were downright hostile to most small presses so they stopped dealing with Borders. Some of the problem was Borders inability to deal with Amazon, but that wasn't the whole problem.

Mary Holland said...

Forty percent of the floorspace in the closest Borders is given to books. The other sixty percent is tchotchskes, dvd's, wrapping paper, and puzzles and games. Of the hardcover books, perhaps 30 of the titles (all genres) are displayed, with 4 or 5 best sellers given a table each. So they'd have 50 copies of the latest 'Twilight' and perhaps 3 copies of the latest Bujold - not that anyone in the store had any idea who she was. My favorite 'reorganization' was when they did away with the 'New Titles' table completely, so that weekly browsing was a waste of time. It has since returned, but the number of titles in inventory, even new freshly published items, has dropped. They're doomed.

Jean M. T said...

Used to be that Borders was where I found those interesting, quirky titles that B&N didn't have, now they're hardly worth the visit. I live in an area where the only major chain bookstore within 50 miles is a small Waldens, and in the last year it has really noticeably gone downhill. Just recently they moved the Battle of the Books section to the back of the store, which stole two full(floor to ceiling) shelves from the sf/f section, and reorganized the front of the store so that you have to turn sideways just to walk to the back of the store where the shelves are - it's claustrophobic, and feels like they are forbidding you from looking at anything besides the magazines and bestseller displays. I have a friend who used to love working there, and now she hates it. It's like its been left out to die, and if it ever does I'm not sure what I'll do - 50 miles is kind of a long way to drive to just browse the shelves, or to attend a signing, and it's up to 200+ miles for those who live farther out.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant and insightful as always, Joshua. And depressing as hell.

Andy Laties said...

Borders Books was an illegal project permitted by the big publishers to develop in violation of their own wholesaler affidavits. The nostalgia about the Borders Of The Early 90s is a reminiscence of this period. That is: Book Inventory Systems was a "wholesaler" that publishers were selling to at 55% discount. This "wholesaler" was supplying the Borders retail stores. This was illegal. It was appalling. The publishers shouldn't have allowed it. Because they were the SAME COMPANY.

The fact that the publishers allowed it is what killed so many of us indie stores who were attempting to compete with Borders. Back then, Borders was famous for discounting all hardcover 10% to customers. They could do it only because the publishers were allowing that "wholesale/retail" combine to violate the rules. In some locations, Borders even discounted hardcovers 20% just to destroy the nearby indies.

Publishers should have stopped shipping to the "wholesaler" named Book Inventory System. Instead, the publishers permitted Borders to destroy hundreds of indies.

This kind of nostalgia for the old days of Borders is totally misplaced. Borders should have been stopped long ago; if they had been, we'd have at least hundreds and maybe thousands more excellent indies in this country. That's because Borders was a much tougher competitor than B&N back in the 90s -- and all because they were getting illegally preferential terms from publishers.

GOOD RIDDANCE to Borders and may the return of the indies commence.

Martin said...

It would be a great shame to see Borders go under. I really love the weekly 33% off coupons I get being a Borders Rewards member. But those make you wonder: are they just getting by, selling most of their stock at near-cost? Knowing I can get new books for a third off MSRP means I have pretty much no motivation to pay full price any more at all. I can't be the only shopper spoiled in this way. When your entire customer base only shops discounts, whither your profit margin?

Still, I do like the chain and want them to stay, if only because (much as I agree B&N has better stores) one major bookstore chain just won't do. But I've seen formerly wonderful Borders stores where I live (Austin) go from lovely to near-ghost towns in terms of their inventory. The worst thing happened about three years ago when they eliminated their CD and DVD sections. I can understand losing the CD's, but DVD's weren't exactly a dying medium. And the fact that Borders DVD stock was so thorough (going deep into obscure, cult, genre and foreign titles, and not just Hollywood blockbusters) made browsing and shopping those racks a joy. When the movies disappeared, so did so much of the character that made the stores so wonderful. I hope they can keep going and weather the bad times while they figure out some better strategies. After substantially cutting back their hours to 9 PM closings, the stores here have gone back to 10 PM, which I hope is an optimistic sign.

Laura Resnick said...

Very interesting analysis. There are three bookstores closer to me than my local Borders, all of which I prefer to Borders, so I mostly shop at those three stores. However, I didn't really consider, until reading your commentary, that once every couple of months... I actually drive PAST the Borders to go to a bookstore that's a bit of a trip for me, but which I am happy to go a little out of my way to shop at now and then. Yet even when =in that neighborhood to shop for books=, I almost never stop in at the Borders. I just don't like it. And I don't like it for a combination of reasons I've never puzzled out or really thought about (after all, I've got a bunch of local bookstores I -do- like, so I didn't fret about not liking Borders), but which reasons are pretty well covered by your commentary, I now realize.

Louise Marley said...

Great analysis, Joshua. I guess all we can do is keep our fingers crossed--and use up our Borders gift cards while they're still good!

Jeff Carlson's universe said...

Excellent post.

Martin said...

Andy: If the policies of Borders were as "illegal" as you claim, can you point to the specific statute in the US Code that was being violated? Also, why did no D.A.'s office anywhere in the country notice the illegality of their practices and file charges? I can understand anger and frustration at the loss of charming independent bookstores — especially your own — but being bitter over such losses doesn't mean that the cutthroat nature of a corporate competitor is by necessity proof of illegal practices. Not necessarily defending Borders here, just, you know — when people start throwing "Illegal!" around, I start to think "Citation needed."

The Brillig Blogger said...

Well, there was a lawsuit in California over discount practices in the publishing industry many years ago that you can read about here which is a little bit different than and later than what Andy wrote about. The outcome of that lawsuit and others was to force publishers to fully define who qualified and how for wholesaler discounts see as an example and I doubt this was laid out in similar fashion in 1985. That said, I still agree Andy might be exaggerating some. 55% discounts, I don't think those have ever been routine. And most independent booksellers would probably happily travel back in time 25 years dealing with Borders offering 10% off on most hardcovers than today when Amazon routinely and legally discounts by 40%+ and then ships the book to your door for free. Every Borders can close tomorrow, it won't become a halcyon new day for indies, most of which treat sf/fantasy like a communicable disease.

John Brown said...

While I would hate to see this big book chain go, it's important to put it in perspective. The demand for books is what it is. Like a river, if one channel dries up, the demand will build up and then flow to other channels. It will go to B&N and Hastings and BooksAMillion and the other chains as well as to indies and Amazon. It will also give opportunities to folks with innovative ideas to start up different kinds of bookstores. The death of Borders might be just the thing book retail needs. This is a market economy at its best as old models that don't suit the current environment die off and make way for new or better ones.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Northern VA for many, many years & considered the Borders in Bailey's Crossroads my second home. Spent who knows how many hours/days/weeks total there over the years. Saw many wonderful authors speak and read their works there. Their outreach person has always been on top of the best opportunities when it comes to brining in authors. But, each time I visit, I'm less impressed with the look, the arrangement of the store, the stock and, unfortunately, the staff. The people who work there, more and more, are there for a job, not because they have a love of and a knowledge of books and authors. That didn't used to be the case. It's a loss, as are the many wonderful independent stores. Sad for Borders, B&N, independents, and all of us.

AlleyPat said...

Good analysis. I visit Borders 4 out of 5 weekdays and always get coupons. However, for SF genre books, they are woefully short. Book 2 is out in hardcover, but book 1 is nowhere to be seen.

Kristi said...

Really enjoyed reading this. I worked at Borders #1 in Ann Arbor in 89-90 and helped open the Columbus store. The demise of Borders makes me sad but it is a completely different animal than it was back then, as your astute analysis shows.

Michele Lee said...

As a current Borders employee I have to say at least one thing: Those wrapping paper and greeting card sections bring in a lot of regular and good customers.

I very badly don't want Borders to go down, but that's primarily because of the people I work for. My GM and Sales Manager are both fantastic book people who work very hard for the company and for the customer. I recognize that this might be becoming an exception to the rule, but the people I work with make this job the best one I've ever had.

The Brillig Blogger said...

It's nice to hear from someone like Michele, since posts like this usually attract only angry employees, who are not always the most reliable witnesses. If we want stores that sell only books they are going to be much smaller than what we get along with the cards and games and other things at a B&N, Borders or Indigo; compare the # of titles at worst superstore with the typical indie. Bailey's Xroads still is an excellent Borders by the standards of the day, it was fun to see it hopping in early Nov. on day of Towers of Midnight event. But Borders could not find the right parts of the boring corporate consistency of B&N to emulate, and in chasing after the wrong parts of that lost touch with the best parts of the Borders DNA that Bailey's embodied.

Anonymous said...

I was an employee of Borders for seven years starting in the mid-90s. I just wrote (on Baen's Bar) a long and detailed description of what Borders used to do RIGHT from an individual store/customer PoV. Your post describes more of the process from the higher-up perspective -- that is, who made the dumb decisions and how they came to be made.

It's a real shame; the Borders I started work for was a wonderful bookstore and a good place to work overall.

To the one poster talking about the return of the indies? Um, no. Independent specialty stores can reasonably expect to survive, but independent general bookstores are less likely to survive now than ever. They have none of the financial clout or resources to survive the ups and downs that are going to be striking the industry, especially as the E-book issues really gear up. If Borders falls there will not be some rise of the oft-beatified independent booksellers to fill the vacuum. A few more may appear, but nothing that will provide anything like the same services.

Ray said...

Well written and very accurate. I know, I lived it from 1992 to 2009. One slight correction, buyers had the ability on the "Expert System" to flag a title and never delete it. So, for example, numbers 1 through 4 in a series could be flagged not to delete from stores even if sales did not dictate stocking the title. The challenge was the buyers did not have the time or even the inventory dollars to make this happen consistently. In addition to money on remodels, millions were spent in Ann Arbor working on such things as "Common Systems" which never came to fruition along with poor investments in compaies like "All Wound Up", "Planet Music", and "Sprout" just to name a few. I cannot think of one investment that panned out successfully for Borders. It is a shame, I hope Borders makes it...but I am not sure I see a way.

The Brillig Blogger said...

Ray will be happy to know that Borders did eventually start to reassign the Planet Music store numbers to newer superstores in the mid-late 2000s!

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

When I started shopping at Borders, there was just the one store; and the booksellers there were the best book experts around. Their computer section was the best I saw anywhere I traveled; and I wasn't surprised, because their computer book buyer was deeply involved in the local software community and was an active participant in many local user group meetings. Borders people were the gurus.

Now, they're pretty much indistinguishable from B&N booksellers: nice people, but not gurus. But where they dropped the ball for me was their new Borders Rewards program in the early 2000s. It wasn't much different from the old Walden Rewards program that I knew and loved from the 80s: it was free, and you accumulated points, and for every 100 points they sent you a $5 certificate.

(Then they complicated it with a goofy "discount day", where every so often you got a percentage discount all day at all Borders stores. Now I do confess: I have made three purchases at two Borders in a single day. But still, for most people, this discount affected only a single purchase.)

But while I loved the Walden plan in its day, by the time of Borders Rewards, B&N had their plan. It's not free, but it's simple: 10% savings on all purchases, plus clearly marked member discounts on select items. I like simple. When it came time to decide whether to go to B&N or to Borders, I had to do paperwork or search through my mail to see if I had a discount at Borders. At B&N, all I had to do was walk in the door. At Borders, I saved on special days. At B&N, I saved every day.

The last time I was in Borders, they tried to pitch a new Rewards program to me, one almost identical to B&N's; but I realized that I had lost the Borders habit. And they have only themselves to blame for that.

Heather Redmond said...

I prefer Borders to B&N these days as it has a more kid-friendly feel, but one thing I've noticed for years is the bathrooms always smell. That fact transferred my loyalties to B&N for a long time!

Cynthia Ward said...

Thank you for the very interesting post, Joshua. It clarifies a lot for me.

> indies, most of which treat sf/fantasy like a communicable disease.

To whoever said that, right on, bro/sis. The generalist independent new-book bookstores in the '80s S.F. Bay Area could barely stand to stock SF/fantasy, and some of them didn't seem to stock romance (which I didn't read, so I may be in error about this last detail). Even in Silicon Frakkin' Valley, the selections of SF/F would suck at most generalist indie bookstores. I eventually developed a term for the phenomenon: "Charlie Syndrome" ("We don't sell tuna/books that taste good. We sell tuna/books with good taste.")

Given the generalist-indie contempt for the genres that so many people read, it wasn't surprising that so many indies struggled and died when B&N, Borders, and introduced genuinely-generalist bookstores.

Nowadays, I live in the CA High Desert, where the only new-book store is a Barnes & Noble. I support indie bookstores and shop in them whenever I can. But there was no new-book indie up here before B&N came. And if the B&N up here went away, we would not get a new-book indie bookstore.

So I just want 'em all to survive, B&N, Borders,, and independents.

JJBrannon said...

Buying gift cards for Christmas, I warned everyone to use them quickly.

I was shocked to find the science section thrown willy-nilly into four low shelving units while a swath of floorspace had been surrendered to YA paranormal romance.

Okay, I thought, here's our future for civilization: sparkly vampires in excess and ignorance of science.

The knowledgeable Borders' clerks of yore are an endangered species.

The author appearances and discussion groups seem chimerical as Bigfoot.

I was told, with all these emails relating coupons I cannot use because I refuse to join a rewards system that requires my phone number, why didn't the store target my zipcode for author appearances which would guarantee my purchase of in-store product?

"We can't do that. Why don't you call a couple of times a week to see who's expected?" the store manager suggested to me.

No, books are not produce, Mr. CEO. Selling faddish made-for-movie series does not generate mainstay customers of **books**.


Erin Skelly said...

@ John Brown - If we lose Borders, there's a good chance that we'll lose Books-A-Million, too. BAM is owned by Borders, and if they can't sell the division, it will probably close, too :(

If Borders files for bankruptcy protection, is there still a chance that they could turn it around?

The Brillig Blogger said...

Books a Million is not owned by Borders.

Andy Laties said...


Thanks for the links about wholesaler/retailer issues with Borders. Yes, 55% was indeed the default discount to wholesalers. I know because I copied Borders in 1992 and set up a wholesaler called "Children's Bookfair Company" and got 55% discounts automatically. My neighboring retail store (The Children's Bookstore) was then the happy illicit recipient of books that I transferred, in violation of legal-looking affidavits that I had signed. That is: I broke the rules just like Borders did, for four years. It was easy. It was weird how easy it was. I have never thought about contracts the same way again.

As to what code was violated: good question. I know that in order to have a separate, stand-alone corporation that was a "wholesaler" and that was entitled to 55% discounts, I was made to sign those legal-looking affidavits that were sent to me by the credit departments of every publisher I did this with (a couple of dozen publishers, including all the major houses). What could they have done to me, when I violated the affidavits, the way Borders did? I suppose they could have 1)cut off shipments; 2)taken me to court. So, my use of the word "illegal" is probably about corporate contract law.

I know that the sales reps who facilitated this all for me were very cynical about the situation at the time. They knew that I was violating the rules, and they knew that Borders was violating the rules, and they knew that their own employers, the publishers, were setting up bogus situations that would hurt the industry.

As to all the other commenters who so enthusiastically inform me that if Borders goes, there will be no revival of full-service independent bookstores... I have been arguing this point for many years. Let me point out that in 1959 there were 10,000 indie bookstores, and in 1980 there were 2,000 indies left, and in 1991 there were 5,200, and now there are a bit under 2,000 again. I firmly believe that it's a cyclical thing, and that indie bookstores will indeed rise again. I agree with the commenter who said that the market will be served, somehow. I think the many fine booksellers who would be out of work with the collapse of Borders includes quite a few who would be called up by communities newly bereft of bookstores to open new bookstores.

Best, Andy Laties
Author "Rebel Bookseller" (due out in 2nd edition from Seven Stories Press July 2011)

Annie Maura said...

I will also miss Borders if/when it goes under. I worked at store #29 during fall 2009 and really enjoyed it.

One problem that you didn't mention was that when the stores were reorganized to make the front of store larger, it wasn't always done properly. In my store it involved moving half the store from the first floor to the second floor. This was so sloppily done that it was very difficult to actually find anything. I think Borders offers a level of customer service that you cannot find in most B&Ns, but in our store it was absolutely necessary: if the book wasn't a bestseller you needed an employee to find it for you.

Another problem that arose in regards to the inventory system were "discretionary pulls." We did not have anywhere near as much shelf space as we needed (especially in Genre)and were given permission to pull extra books to add to the monthly RPL going back to the warehouse. Most of the decisions made did not use much discretion. We did not check to see if we were pulling part of a series, just the date the book had shipped. If it had been on the shelf for more than 1.5 years, then it was going away.

In support of recent Borders employees - everyone on the floor at my store knew their stuff (that being said, there was a guy working at an airport Borders Express who didn't know "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck. I had to step in and help the two girls who were looking for it.).

The Brillig Blogger said...

Good to have a mention of the "discretionary pulls." Borders seems to have a lot more of those than B&N, it didn't help that the move from separated shelving of mass markets from hards/trades was more efficient than the mixed shelving, and then it could take forever to reorder and then replenish a discretionary pull that the store was supposed to be carrying. If store 29 in Tysons Corner, VA (a relocation of one of the earliest books-only Borders) was only doing discretionary pulls of books on the shelf for many many months, it was doing better than stores like Columbus Circle in Manhattan that are constantly sending back the entire Simon Green or Tanya Huff selection, kind of just because.

Mr. Nixter said...

After having heard rumblings about possible Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings by Borders, I find it ironic that the Home Shopping Network (HSN) recently featured a tablet PC pre-loaded with 25 books from the retailer. Would anyone else be as skeptical as me as to the continued viability of the chain to supply subsequent books to readers via this venue?

The Brillig Blogger said...

Kobo, which is the company that underlays the Borders e-book store, will continue to be in business even if Borders is not. The storefront might look different if it doesn't have a Borders brand, but the store will be there.