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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.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

thinking aloud, on the Borders

Two things not entirely unrelated.

I don't spend as much time in bookstores as I did five years ago, but I still spend a good chunk, and am well aware of which chains are carrying which books at which proportion of their stores. I've long thought it would be a good idea to put this information on the website, so that if somebody wants to buy Elizabeth Moon's Heris Serrano they don't go dashing off to the local B&N that is guaranteed not to have, and vice versa doesn't go dashing off to the local Borders for Elizabeth Moon's Serrano Succession, which only B&N stocks. This is finally done, and you can find here, just in time for your last minute holiday shopping. Let us know if you think it's a good idea, please. We'll also check the page view stats over time. But we need to decide if we keep and update the page, maybe snazzy it up a bit, or if eventually it will go the way of the dodo. There are some things on the website that we keep because the idea of them is right and good even if we don't have lots of views, then things like a cover gallery that we had when Steve Mancino was around and which were looked at, but which we haven't kept because none of us now really felt like updating the page. Ever. This page may stay up regardless because we can now say "JABberwocky e-book" with some titles and have a link to the sales page, but I am curious what people think of having this on the web site.

Also this week, Borders released an earnings report that was yet again pretty dismal looking. Same store sales were down by over 12%, a 10% bigger drop than at B&N. The sales drop could have them in trouble with their lenders again. Since some categories like e-reader sales increased with the arrival of Area E in early September, which is reflected for two of three months in this earnings quarter, book sales would have been off even more.

And this scares me. When I put together my buying guide, it makes all the more clear to me that on balance (and this has pretty much been the case for a while now) the typical Borders is better situated for buying JABberwocky books. This comes with a lot of caveats, of course. Because Borders is still slower to replenish inventory, the gap between theory and practice is wider. If you want to buy Violette Malan you need to go to B&N and if you need to buy Jim Hines Goblin books you need to go to Borders. Stores aren't typical. If you're in the Westfarms Mall area the Borders on one side of the street is way way better than the B&N on the other, and someplace else a bad Borders is across from a really good B&N. But where it counts the most, for the authors like Simon Green and Tanya Huff and Elizabeth Moon who have large loyal audiences in the genre, the odds are much better if you walk into a Borders that you're going to find the book you want. Tanya Huff's Blood Books, an entire set of Blue Moon Rising, Swords of Haven and Guards of Haven. The odds are better. When Borders made the mistake some three years ago now of reacting to its cash crunch by reducing the title selection at their best stores, which back then were incredible book palaces, there are multiple JABberwocky books that were killed by this. Obviously not the biggest books, but books that were selling hundreds of copies a year that dropped to 0 copies. If Borders goes, it will kill off some more. It's a fact.

Borders has real problems, no point to sugarcoating. I said here that their Area E looked pretty feeble, and it is. And because they are in a struggle, a lot of other things they talk about I fear will be similarly day late and dollar short in concept and in execution. Yet I also don't like seeing the piling on that happens when things aren't going well. As an example, the Publishers Lunch report on the results mentions the good news that half a million people have paid for a Borders Rewards Plus membership bringing in $11M in fee revenue, but then asks how much it will cost them moving forward. It's a fair question, but on the other hand this paid tier of membership is something B&N has had for years and Amazon as well. So that's where I think we go from being honest about a bad situation to piling on. And when there's something they do that's actually good, I do think their web site redesign makes for a very clean and easy shopping experience compared to or Amazon, it's hard to get any credit. Because nobody cares. Maybe nobody should. But I do. I pray for some sign that Borders is going to stabilize. And if you can find a way to give them some business this holiday season, it will be a good thing.


Lorien said...

My B&N has a vibrant SF/Fantasy section. It contains nearly a full shelf of Simon Green and Tanya Huff, and at least half a shelf of Elizabeth Moon. I guess individual store stock depends on what the customers are buying, and whether or not they have employees with specific interest in the genre. Like me. If I didn't handsell, our quantities on certain titles would be much different.

Maria said...

I don't think there is a borders anywhere near where I live. For the most part, I've moved to ebooks (about 95 percent...maybe higher). I do buy them from various outlets, although I haven't shopped ebook at borders yet. I haven't needed to...