If Borders Can’t Make It…

Josie Leavitt - July 20, 2011

I was saddened this week to read of the total liquidation of all 399 Borders bookstores across the country. I will admit there was a small part of me that was glad to hear the news. I was viewing the liquidation as one less bookselling entity I need to factor in my business plan. But then I started to really think about it.
If Borders, with all of its stores and its immense buying power (and some would add editorial power), vast stock, publisher’s coop funds, prime author appearances, dedicated staff, and great locations can’t make it in 21st-century bookselling, how am I supposed to? The thing that hit me the hardest was the NPR report yesterday about the liquidation. They mentioned two things: the first was there are more than 11,000 people who will be out of a good job by the end of September. And part of the reason Borders failed can be best be summed up by two people, each being quoted on the NPR piece: “I go to Borders to look at the books I want, and then I order them on Amazon.” Ouch, but I’m hearing more and more bookstore owners complain of hearing this in their stores.
Bookselling modes are changing remarkably fast. The challenge for small stores, which might have more nimble finances, is how to win the market in their neighborhood, especially if that is a market that suddenly might find itself without its mega store. Clearly, there’s no magic bullet. I think we, as indies, need to be experts at our store, we need to be flexible and open new sales modes, and lastly, we need to be aware of the vast and talented workforce that will be flooding the market in the next few months and consider hiring them if we have a need.

18 thoughts on “If Borders Can’t Make It…

  1. Doret

    After over 10 yrs at Borders, the store I worked at closed in the second round. It doesn’t matter how much buying power a company has if they miss use it. There were no regional buyers which hurt. Too many bestsellers purchased not enough of anything else. Borders wasn’t focusing on local customers. During the holidays we would always get an overload of Amelia Bedelia books, like nothing new was published.
    I would get customers who wanted my opinion on kids books so they could buy them at amazon. That always hurt but I made it a point to remember when it happened and never help that person again. Also people would come in to browse books then go buy it online. Free wi fi is stupid.
    Thanks for vast and talented workforce comment.

  2. Anne-Marie

    Its been getting worse too. With the ereaders they come up to our information desk with stacks of books they want me to help them download onto their device. So not only are they not buying books from my store they are wasting my time when I could be helping someone who is buying a physical book. Having to deal with ereaders is not something I will miss–but there is a whole lot that I will.

  3. Sara

    Daniel Pink, in A Whole New Mind, stresses that those who pay attention to the personal details of business will succeed. Borders couldn’t do that well, a smaller book store can. Personally, I live right by a Borders, but I often choose to go to the local bookstore or Barnes and Noble instead. Both have better service, selection, and a great kids section. While I have ordered my share of books on Amazon, I usually only done so when the price difference at my local store is huge….children’s picture books seem to be a big culprit with this.
    Just like I disagree with people who say libraries are dying, I don’t believe small bookstores will close either! (Of course….I’m a librarian, so that may sway my opinion.) 🙂

  4. Pingback: A World Without Borders « Screaming Kettle Books

  5. Mary

    I was an associate manager of a Borders in an airport & what I learned working there & w/my amazing customers was exactly how much they loved browsing a small, well-stocked store w/friendly & knowledgeable staff. This was several years ago when all of those factors were possible while working at a Borders. The point of this Josie is that I came to believe back then that Borders was headed in the wrong direction (many wrong directions actually) by building more HUGE stores …it was not what a customer truly desired and they were so big that the customer was not engaged and therefore loyal – thus making it very easy for them to head to on-line ordering. Altho I am saddened by the demise of Borders, I actually see the possiblity of a bright future for Indies … like all ‘possibilities’ tho, the success is entirely dependent upon the integrity, creativity and knowledge used to live out of one’s vision. I’m sure you will do quite well …

  6. Kitti

    One very successful bookselling venture that I know of is McKay’s used books and media store in west Nashville. My friends who’ve gone there talk about it as tho it were a fabulous, magical place, a cross between Narnia and Las Vegas. They go in with boxes of used books, movies and music, and leave with boxes of used books, movies and music.
    I won’t go, because I’m pretty sure I’d never leave. It sounds like Faery, where you think you’re there a few minutes but it turns out you’ve been there 100 years.
    Could be a wave of the future.

  7. Norma Jean

    Borders is not closing because of Amazon but rather it has been badly managed for several years which was common knowledge among some of its employees as well as publishers and others.

  8. Rosalie Donlon

    I’ve watched Borders mismanage bookstores since they took over Walden Books and put those stores out of business. As Sara said, above, when there was a choice, I preferred independent bookstores or Barnes & Noble. Borders seems to have never heard the voice of the customer. I believe that’s why they’re in bankruptcy, more than the evolving publishing industry.

  9. Vicki

    I never shopped at Borders if I could avoid it. Borders stocked a lot of closeouts/markdowns, and didn’t have the breadth of product that Barnes & Noble or a local bookstore carry. I always said that if you went into Borders looking for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, they would have it–only if it was a movie tie-in. I’m only sad to see it go because it reduces the channels of distribution for books.

  10. Amy

    I hope some of the people who window shopped Borders but bought Amazon are seeing the connection between their actions and these struggling bricks-and-mortar businesses. I know that isn’t Borders’ only problem, and not everyone can afford Borders’ prices. But I really don’t want to have to do all my shopping online!! There’s no way my kids would be the readers they are if we just huddled around the computer every time we were going to buy a book.

  11. Lee

    For every book I download to my Nook (bought in support of brick and morter B&N), l make a point to buy at least 2 print books, at B&N or preferably at an indie bookstore. I want print books to exist for the rest of my reading life.
    I rarely shopped at Borders, but I’m sorry for many reasons that it will be gone for good.

  12. Eric Luper

    I have had this discussion with a few booksellers in my area. The fear is pervasive. Change makes people nervous, but it wasn’t too long ago that indies were worried that Borders would put them out of business.
    Why have bookstores survived all these years when people can go to the library and get books at no cost whatsoever?
    In my opinion, booksellers need to focus on what they can provide the consumer that their competition cannot. And it’s the same thing they’ve been good at for years. Of course, part of that is expertise. There is no doubt about this. But, I believe a big piece of a successful model is focusing on creating a sense of community. Whether it’s having author events (thanks for hosting me recently BTW), reading groups, writing groups, kid events, mommy and me story hours or any number of other means to create a sense of ‘group’ in the store.
    Rather than looking at the loss of Borders as a death knell, I think people should consider it an opportunity to introduce more people to what their store has to offer.

  13. Stephanie Scott

    I always compare this to the music industry. All the local music stores in my town but one – a used trade in store that also deals in used movies and video games – are long gone. Are people buying less music now that there are fewer physical stores, or are they buying differently? Pirating is a huge issue, so I guess in a sense, people ARE buying less music. But is it because the physical stores went away or b/c the medium changed?
    I’m also sad Borders is gone. I shopped there a lot until this year when I started attending book events at my local indie and bought from them instead. But still, I’m not always going to pay full cover price for a new book when I can get an ebook for half the cost. Hopefully indies will get on board with buying programs where customers can purchase ebooks through the indie (as a google ebook) for any of the non-Kindle devices.

    1. Josie Leavitt Post author

      Hi Stephanie,
      Indies are already on board the ebook train. Most stores with indiebound websites have been selling ebooks through Google for months. And several other bookstore websites now have the capability of selling ebooks as well.

  14. Doug Cochrane

    It all started when Kmart bought Borders and Walden Books. Too much debt and no real booksellers at the helm. Several years ago as a result of PBS doing extended interviews with the Pulitzer winners, I rushed out to buy The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Founding Brothers. My indie was out so I asked at the info desk of the Concord NH (state capital) Borders and was told they didn’t have them because “That’s a little high brow for this town”. I for one won’t be sorry to see them go.

  15. Karen Lucas

    I am heartbroken but not surprised. The selection at Borders has gotten much worse since the first round of store closings so that I would shop Borders online instead. Now I will support my local independent even more and only order from Amazon when I can’t get it anywhere else.

  16. elizabeth Dulemba

    The point that scares me, is when I heard about all their books being sold at steep discounts as they liquidate – basically filling the book buying quota that might otherwise be spent at indies.
    Wishing you strength, Josie. I think if indies can make it through this, there might be a stronger market for them on the other side.

  17. Sherryl

    The sign of a great bookstore is that you can’t leave without buying at least one thing (and even better when you find something great you didn’t know you were looking for!). Borders hasn’t been that experience for me for a couple of years now. I go to my indie, or a secondhand store for that these days, and use online for books I can’t get straight away when I want them.
    Borders in Australia started carrying stock the same way Target and KMart did, all the latest titles but nothing interesting, and filled up the gaps with expensive stationery and gift stuff. No store will survive if it doesn’t provide what customers want.


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