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Borders bankrupt
February 16, 2011 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this morning, announcing it would close about 200 of its 650 or so remaining stores.
posted by stbalbach (212 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't understand why having higher prices, poorer customer service and worse web presence than Barned and Noble didn't work out for them.

Opinion based on two nearby Borders stores. YMMV.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


So, not closing the book after all. "Just" reorganizing.

Chapter 11 ≠ Going out of business.
posted by chavenet at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2011


Gotta keep innovating your business model or stuff like this happens. Curious to know why other brick and mortar competitors such as Barnes & Noble have survived.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2011


Well, this kind of sucks. I live 50 minutes from a bookstore and it's a Borders.
posted by circular at 8:53 AM on February 16, 2011


Do you know what this means? Going out of business sales! Woot!
posted by happyroach at 8:54 AM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


I wonder if that includes the stores they've already closed recently, or if it's 200 additional stores. It's a pity, as I dislike Barnes & Noble. However, I admit to scoring an armload of maps and cookbooks at the most recent closing in Atlanta, at the 75% off price. it did make me feel like a vulture, though.
posted by catlet at 8:54 AM on February 16, 2011


I think I'll scoot over there today with my 50% off coupon, while it's still good.

Borders really does suck though. High prices, bad service, worse selection than Barnes & Noble, in my experience.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was wondering if they had already done this a while ago. The store near me has a new releases shelf, and then a bunch of other shelves with so little to choose from they're more like theater props. A whole store full of the "who would ever buy that?" 99-cent bin, but at cover prices.

There's never a line at the cafe, though, which is nice.
posted by ctmf at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2011


I'll always have a fond memory for one of the Borders that opened on the west side of my city. The buyer there initially stocked every Mute, Creation, Editions EG, and many other awesome labels' complete CD catalogs.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


:( I always liked Borders more than B&N. I think because they actually carried UK Discworld imports.
posted by kmz at 8:57 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a sortable list of the initial 200 stores closing - up to 136 may be added according to the filing.
posted by mikepop at 8:58 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


WSJ's list of Borders closings.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:58 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do you know what this means? Going out of business sales! Woot!

Not as much of a bargain as you might suppose. My Borders membership discounts regularly knock 40 to 60% off the price of a book; you'll be lucky if an inventory fire sale gets as high as 40% before the publishers simply recall their stock.
posted by Iridic at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pretty soon all we're going to be left with is Amazon. I mean after Barnes and Noble, who's left? Here in San Francisco, I think there are two Borders and a few independents.
posted by shoesietart at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: The buyer there initially stocked every Mute, Creation, Editions EG, and many other awesome labels' complete CD catalogs.

And charged $5 above the price you'd find elsewhere, right? Seriously, local music shops have better prices than Borders, which is ridiculous. You'd think that the economies of scale would work in favor of Borders. Maybe they're banking on being a known brand, or friends and relatives buying you gift cards you'll have to spend, one way or another.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:00 AM on February 16, 2011


Curious to know why other brick and mortar competitors such as Barnes & Noble have survived.

I think their strategy boiled down to "hope Borders goes under first."
posted by Iridic at 9:00 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't often go to the big box bookstores (though I may have to soon as yet another of our few remaining local indy bookstores will be closing shop next month) but I have to say my town's B&N has NEVER had a book I went in to buy in stock, while the Borders has every time (we're talking non-franchise science fiction, contemporary novels, and programming reference books). I understand I'm an outlier compared to the big box desired customer base, but it still amazes me that the to me superior store is failing. Also, feeling a little sentimentality for the original Borders store I used to go to back in the 80s when visiting friends in Ann Arbor.
posted by aught at 9:01 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


> And charged $5 above the price you'd find elsewhere, right?

No, they were the same price as the (few) indie stores in town.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:02 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


poorer customer service

I dunno about that. Until recently, the Borders near me had a 100% VITAL thing that my B&N didn't: Computer search kiosks.

Then they screwed it up by "helpfully" expanding my search for me beyond the store walls into stuff I could order. DU's Law of Computer Retail: When it moves from Engineering to Marketing, it degrades.
posted by DU at 9:02 AM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Pretty soon all we're going to be left with is Amazon. I mean after Barnes and Noble, who's left? Here in San Francisco, I think there are two Borders and a few independents.

Would there be any precedent for this kind of thing allowing for more smaller shops opening up? Do the economics just not work? I stopped visiting B&N a few years ago after getting screwed on some returns and due to crappy service, and have been visiting used stores much more frequently since.
posted by Big_B at 9:02 AM on February 16, 2011


On a weird sociological note, the Borders in my hometown was, for a long time, the one gay-friendly place to hang out - a large LGBTQ section, a few out staff members, and a smattering of queerfolk hanging out in the cafe. It was a strange little wildlife preserve in the middle of the otherwise very WASPish east side.

But the store began slowly pulling out their stock a few years ago (starting with the music section), and it's become an increasingly more spacious cavern for bestsellers and second-tier evergreens. And along with the stock goes the customers, of course. It's reeked of Retail Death ever since, and I've expected it to be gone every time I've visited.
posted by mykescipark at 9:03 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


it's tough trying to spend off those gift cards online. basically, they tell you something is in stock, so you order it and use your gift card, then they wait a day or so and send you an email telling you it is really out of stock and that you have to wait like ten days to get a new gift card in the mail with the refund amount. and the stuff that shipped is way overdue.

so yeah, take the gift cards to the store.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:04 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with aught on this; as far as big box bookstores, Borders always seemed to have a better selection of the Not-Tom-Clancy type books I read. I hope they aren't closing Broad Street.
posted by Mister_A at 9:04 AM on February 16, 2011


All you people complaining about high prices are doing Borders wrong. You sign up for the free reward card, and then you get an email basically every day with at least a 30% off any book coupon, sometimes 40% or even 50%. That's more than enough to come in under Amazon, and you walk out with your book.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:05 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, it looks like the closings on the WSJ list are, at least in Georgia, not the stores that have already closed (Peachtree at the connector, Perimeter up by Wal*Mart, etc.). So, an additional 30% to be shuttered.

(Note: if you need retail furnishings, the closure sales here were "Everything Must Go," including shelves, ladders, desks, wall units, and pretty much anything that wasn't made of concrete or carpet.)
posted by catlet at 9:05 AM on February 16, 2011


You sign up for the free reward card, and then you get an email basically every day with at least a 30% off any book coupon, sometimes 40% or even 50%.

I don't like to play games. I'll take the internet option, thank you.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:06 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Would there be any precedent for this kind of thing allowing for more smaller shops opening up?

From the always pithy Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog:
Yesterday, at Tools of Change... the Indie bookseller panel was asked about what will happen when Borders goes bankrupt or closes some if not all of their stores.

Their answer was, it will leave a hole, and a smart bookseller can help fill it, through doing what those indie booksellers already do: building communities locally and online, and offering something unique that’s more than just selling books.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2011


I don't understand why having higher prices, poorer customer service and worse web presence than Barned and Noble didn't work out for them.

Don't forget the shrinking selection of actual books and the ever-growing aisles of random trinkets. When I go to a bookstore, I want to see a large selection of novelty ice cube trays and iPhone cases.
posted by verb at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have to wonder if Amazon will start letting prices for physical books drift upward now that its competitors are folding. More money for them, plus a little more pressure on the consumer to switch to the high-margin digital model.
posted by Iridic at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not as much of a bargain as you might suppose. My Borders membership discounts regularly knock 40 to 60% off the price of a book; you'll be lucky if an inventory fire sale gets as high as 40% before the publishers simply recall their stock.

Actually, the Borders near my work announced its closing during this past summer, and took its discounts from 10% all the way to 75% on basically every book in the store before it shuttered. Naturally, the longer you wait for deeper discounts, the worse the selection will be. By the time I hit the philosophy section when it was at 60% off, all that was left were 200 copies of desperate pop-culture crossover books like "Twilight and Philosophy" or "Hannah Montana and the Existential Crisis of Sarte." Next time I'll go earlier at 40% and hopefully score some real books.
posted by shen1138 at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I stopped going to my local Borders after they chopped their computer section in half, B&N seems to have a better selection anyway.
posted by pineappleclock at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems crazy to me that we still even have chain bookstores. It seems so inefficient to try to jam thousands of books into a building hoping that you'll have the right ones for your customers.

Used bookstores I can see - they are taking in stock from people who are uninterested in being booksellers and carrying rare/unusual/esoteric stuff.

But book storage barns? I don't see what else they can do to save this business model.
posted by davey_darling at 9:09 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Holy crap - according to that WSJ list they are closing ALL the Chicago stores. (at least every Chicago store that I know of.) Also the Evanston store.

That means the closest major bookstore to me will be the Barnes & Noble in Evanston.

I severely dislike this.
posted by dnash at 9:09 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to wonder if Amazon will start letting prices for physical books drift upward now that its competitors are folding.

I think you can count on that happening. It may be more subtle than that in terms of cookies controlling variable pricing that know where you're located and if Amazon has physical competition where you are.
posted by aught at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Chapter 11 ≠ Going out of business.

True, but Chapter 7 is still very much a possibility. If they can't fix their fundamental problems Chapter 11 is just a stopgap.

(Disclosure: until very recently a Borders employee)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2011


(Note: if you need retail furnishings, the closure sales here were "Everything Must Go," including shelves, ladders, desks, wall units, and pretty much anything that wasn't made of concrete or carpet.)

Neat! I'll have the check out the one on Cobb Pkwy to see if I can score one of those rolling wall ladders. That would look great propped up somewhere in my apartment.
posted by Maaik at 9:11 AM on February 16, 2011


I watched all of the indies shut down, one by one, when the deadly duo landed in town. Well-organized collections and thoughtful selections vanished to be replaced by the Borders model. Sure, we will have a horror section: King, Koontz, and Saul. Endless varieties of coffeetable books, self-help books, books to give as gifts — books to be bought by people who do not particularly like books.

One store near me is closing. When? I shall gather together my friends, throw Basil Poledouris extended Conan soundtrack into the CD player of one of their SUVs, and we shall ride upon that ugly box with pillage in our black hearts, our weapons a sharp eye for the percentages and a fistful of cash. Not even the espresso machine will be spared.

Tonight we ride!
posted by adipocere at 9:12 AM on February 16, 2011 [34 favorites]


Borders really does suck though. High prices, bad service, worse selection than Barnes & Noble, in my experience.

Complete opposite of my experience. I don't dislike B&N, but the Borders I've been to have better selections (particularly of technical books), better service, self-search kiosks... and a certain je ne sais quoi that makes them one of the few retail experiences that I actually really like. I've also found that if I shop carefully and use the Borders Rewards service, I can not only beat B&N but even sometimes Amazon prices.

But mostly, they're one of the very few commercial spaces that feels like a third place to me, and I really hope one of my regulars doesn't close.

I will say this bad thing about them: they are horribly behind on the e-reader thing. I've never picked up an e-reader in their store that was compelling, and many of them just flat out seemed crippled if not broken. I also don't think they had any clear idea of how to give e-reader revenue to their stores. I'll bet on top of the competition, this is the straw that's forcing the bankruptcy reorganization of the camel's back.
posted by weston at 9:12 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Pretty soon all we're going to be left with is Amazon. I mean after Barnes and Noble, who's left? Here in San Francisco, I think there are two Borders and a few independents.
posted by shoesietart


You are kidding, right?
right?
posted by vacapinta at 9:14 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Good. Having gone to college in Ann Arbor, and having spent many happy hours in the actual, original Borders when it was the ONLY Borders, I'm glad to see this abomination die. yes I know chapter 11 doesn't necessarily mean death.
posted by spicynuts at 9:14 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


books to be bought by people who do not particularly like books.

Ahhh thanks you for summing up my utter disdain for big-box book stores.

The only thing I prefer brick-and-mortar stores for is it doesn't have the stress of watching books on my Amazon Wishlist go out of print, and suddenly jump to $300 for a used copy by the scalpers.
posted by Theta States at 9:15 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Holy crap - according to that WSJ list they are closing ALL the Chicago stores.

The three-decker on State Street survives, as does the Schaumburg store where my mom works, thank god.
posted by Iridic at 9:15 AM on February 16, 2011


I also don't think they had any clear idea of how to give e-reader revenue to their stores. I'll bet on top of the competition, this is the straw that's forcing the bankruptcy reorganization of the camel's back.

John Dvorak - "Are eBooks Killing Borders?":

... this reminds me of how adult movie theaters were put out of business by pr0n VHS tapes which were replaced by pr0n DVDs which were made obsolete by the Interwebitubes.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2011


But book storage barns? I don't see what else they can do to save this business model.

On the other hand, my favorite places to buy books near my town are both actual barns out in the country, stuffed to the ceiling with books (used, of course), and they both have been in business at least 20 years.
posted by aught at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm really bummed about this.

I love my local indie, but I've never had anything but good experiences at my local Borders as well.

Through the author's lens: They've never stocked too many copies of my book, but have been really good at helping readers find them. Borders employees around the country were always really excited and happy to let me autograph books when I was in town.

This is going to have huge implications for the publishing industry...Publishers Lunch is reporting that Borders owes big-name pubs somewhere in the ballpark of $230 million, broken down as follows:

Penguin $41.1 million
Hachette Book Group $36.9 million
Simon & Schuster $33.75 million
Random House $33.5 million
HarperCollins $25.8 million
Macmillan $11.4 million
Wiley $11.2 million
Perseus $7.8 million
F+W Media $4.6 million
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $4.4 million
Workman $4 million
McGraw-Hill $3.1 million
Pearson Education $2.8 million
NBN $2 million
Norton $2 million
Zondervan $1.9 million
Hay House $1.7 million
Elsevier Science $1.6 million
Publications Intl. $1.1 million

Expect this to have ramifications in terms of advances, willingness of other booksellers to take on debuts and midlist books, and more.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


The three-decker on State Street survives,

(looks closely again at list... damn I do need reading glasses, don't I.)

Whew. Well, that's good.
posted by dnash at 9:17 AM on February 16, 2011


The Borders Rewards cars apparantly killed the company. From the "announced link:
Borders introduced its own rewards program in 2006, but it was initially free, unlike Barnes & Noble’s paid program. Big coupons distributed through the Borders Rewards system didn’t generate new foot traffic. “Customers that were normally coming in and buying things started coming in with 30 and 40 and 50 percent coupons, and at that point I thought they killed off their core business,” said Dykhouse, a former manager at Borders’ Arborland store.
posted by stbalbach at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2011


There was a time in the nineties that Borders was a sweet, reverent and irreverent temple to the written word. I remember in South Miami going there on a Friday evening and seeing high school students sitting in the aisles reading. They payed local folk musicians to perform. They sponsored poetry readings. At the poetry reading for Banned Book Week, I was the only poet to show with a poem that should have been banned... I named it "Without Borders."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:20 AM on February 16, 2011


I work in an office in Columbus Circle, attached to the mall. There's a Borders right there, and I spend a lot of time in it. Not the *best* bookstore in NYC, but the most convenient to me.

One thing that just makes me NUTS there is all the teenaged kids sitting on the floor eating, talking trash, doing all the stuff that teenagers do in the graphic novel section. It's like the damn Peach Pit for high school kids in Hell's Kitchen/UWS.

I know, I know, my lawn, I know. But it's still really aggravating. I doubt the people clogging the graphic novel section will migrate in from other stores, but CHRIST is it annoying.
posted by chinese_fashion at 9:20 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yesterday, at Tools of Change... the Indie bookseller panel was asked about what will happen when Borders goes bankrupt or closes some if not all of their stores.

Their answer was, it will leave a hole, and a smart bookseller can help fill it, through doing what those indie booksellers already do: building communities locally and online, and offering something unique that’s more than just selling books.


What planet are they living on? Certainly niche bookstores can thrive but I don't want to have to go to six different bookstores to shop. I love romance novels. (no snarking, please) I don't think there's a single indie bookstore that sells them in San Francisco. I think Green Apple sells used ones.

I love indie bookstores and think they provide great service and often have the most interesting writers visit but most indies just can't provide the breadth of choice of a Borders or B&N.
posted by shoesietart at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2011


My two favorite Borders experiences:

Standing in line behind a young teenager who asks the salesperson about "a book about the road or something... I'm not sure if it's fiction or not... but it's about a writer?". The salesperson knew immediately that this must be the new Charles Kurault book about his Sunday morning travels tv show. When I suggested that the kid might be looking for On The Road, well...

I once asked one of the clerks for help in finding a certain book. The book had been on the New York Times Bestseller List for a few weeks, so I mentioned that it had been...."on the bestseller list for a month or so".

"Really?" he said, pulling a sheet of paper from the desk. "Nope, not on the bestseller list". At this point, I pulled the NY Times List clipping from my pocket and showed it to him. "Huh, I don't know about that", he said as he showed me his sheet of paper. Across the top it said something like:

"BORDERS BESTSELLERS OF THE MONTH!"

Of course, they didn't have my book anyway.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Happy to see the Folsom store isn't on the California list, and that Provo and Downtown Salt Lake seem to have escaped the Utah closures.

Big coupons distributed through the Borders Rewards system didn’t generate new foot traffic.

I can see how that would be a problem, but I'll say this: I used to waffle between supporting my favorite retail experience and saving money by using Amazon before I signed up for the rewards program. After, it was never really an issue.
posted by weston at 9:23 AM on February 16, 2011


Another note on the Barnes and Nobel comparison: B&N has three different segments, B&N Retail, B&N College, and BN.com. Guess which one is actually making money. It's the college stores, of course, almost making enough to offset the losses from the other two. The question of whether Borders or B&N had better retail offerings is only a minor part of the financial picture. B&N has other businesses to support its retail book stores, Borders doesn't.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:24 AM on February 16, 2011


Customers that were normally coming in and buying things started coming in with 30 and 40 and 50 percent coupons, and at that point I thought they killed off their core business...

And ponying up $20 bucks for the "Rewards Plus" progam gave you a constant extra 10% discount that stacked with those coupons. And a point system that knocked five bucks off of every hundred dollars you spent. Plus free freight if you ordered off the website...

[Checks shipping status of Adam Levin's The Instructions]

...so, yeah. I don't think the company ran the spreadsheets on that one.
posted by Iridic at 9:25 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Borders really does suck though. High prices, bad service, worse selection than Barnes & Noble, in my experience.

I started working at Borders in 1994, when it opened in Ft. Worth. I was part of the first crew to work there; a bunch of really smart, diverse, mostly college-educated types. We had a Masters of Ed. working the kids section, several local musicians in music, a film school grad in video, along with others like an aspiring opera singer and a retired postal clerk who had a magnificent handlebar mustache. Local signings and events were not dictated by corporate.

Before the store opened, we were brought in to help set up shelves and put out stock in our assigned sections. We were told all about the Borders philosophy, started with the Ann Arbor store, where selection was king, customer service was excellent, and bookseller knowledge was highly valued. You had to pass a basic test of book-familiarity (matching authors and titles) during the hiring phase. Your section was your fiefdom; you were expected not only to take care of stocking but also to come up with ideas for titles to order, and even create display ideas and promotions, which you then pretty much did yourself with foamcore and exacto knives or whatever else you could think of. I myself ended up doing the giant Christmas wreath for the first holiday season, and as sci-fi was partly my domain, I made sure our graphic novels and RPG games were well-displayed. When I had romance for a while, we had a lot of fun dressing up our giant Fabio standee.

We also got 30.00 free book credit every month, and could run a tab of up to 200.00, and of course a generous employee discount on top of whatever discounts were in place. You could also "check out" new books just to read them if you didn't want to buy them.

Pay and bennies were crap of course; it was retail. But I loved that job. I wore out the knees of my jeans and the tops of my shoes kneeling down to straighten and reshelve all day. I dazzled customers by being able to guess what title they wanted on the smallest of clues. But I was surrounded by books all day long, and everyone else there loved books, and until Borders came along, none of us had ever seen a bookstore that size with that kind of selection.

Then Kmart bought Borders and it all went to hell. I think it's a testament to the love and dedication of many longtimers there that it's taken this long for it to go under.
posted by emjaybee at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2011 [75 favorites]


Just more dead retail space in the sprawl...

This is getting ridiculous...

Looks like I might have to stake a claim... build my phantom DC... tap some dark fiber...

Yes...

Yes...
posted by PROD_TPSL at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2011


That's too bad. It really was my favorite place to grab a few books I'd never buy, then sit in a comfy chair and loiter for a couple hours.

And I did buy a book there once in a while.
posted by ignignokt at 9:28 AM on February 16, 2011


I work in downtown Providence, RI, and there's only a Borders in the big mall, and a used bookstore nearby. Near my house, there's only a Borders, plus a B&N a little farther (20 minutes) away. Neither are on the chopping block, but they've also had that Air Of Doom about them for a long time.

But I *like* going to bookstores in person! I still straighten the shelves as a walk along, and it's been 25 years since I last punched a B.Dalton timeclock. I *like* finding stuff I didn't know about. And I *like* the rush of indulgence of walking in with a gift card, knowing I will walk out with something new!

If Borders goes under, I will lose access to that, which makes me sad. Borders isn't exactly an ideal bookstore -- but then what is, these days?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:28 AM on February 16, 2011


I don't think there will be a renaissance of successful indie stores to fill the gap. Book selling is a low margin business, with Walmart and Costco and grocery stores (according to a talking head at NPR yesterday) selling most of the books.

Plus, there's the internet, which had pretty much killed the profit in technical books (if there ever was much of one).

You could say that Borders and the big independents like Cody's who have struggled and died made bad moves, but its much more likely for a bad move to kill you when the business you are in is changing quickly.

I would like for independents to succeed, but I think that the changes that killed them in the first place remain.
posted by zippy at 9:29 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


A (completely unsubstantiated) theory I've heard was that B+N was quicker to jump on the ereader bandwagon.

Being totally ereader illiterate, I have no idea if this is true.
posted by HeroZero at 9:29 AM on February 16, 2011


As the former employee of a GOOD bookstore that was put out of business at least partially by Borders I will happily dance on Borders' grave.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:29 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can't say I'm surprised. My town has a Borders and a B&N. About 60% of the Borders is devoted to dvds, toys, greeting cards and gifty gewgaws. There are few actual books there, so first choice for browsing is always the B&N (which is pathetic in its own way, but at least the cookbook section is decent).
posted by philokalia at 9:31 AM on February 16, 2011


I'm dumbfounded that the store on West End in Nashville is not on the chopping block. It has crappy selection, crappy service, and always seemed like it was just limping along waiting to be put out of its misery. On the other hand, the larger Borders in the wealthy suburban county next door is on the ax list. I'm not sure how that store could have been considered an underperformer other than that it's within a mile and a half of a Barnes and Noble.

In any case, if the Nashville Borders had closed, that would have been the disappearance of the last remaining non-used/non-indie bookstore within county limits. (The only B&N inside the county limits shut down when the 500-year flood happened in May, and the only other chain bookstore, Davis & Kidd, declared bankruptcy in November and shut its Nashville store shortly thereafter.)
posted by blucevalo at 9:32 AM on February 16, 2011


First Waldenbooks, now Borders. I imagine B&N isn't far behind.... not to mention the thousands of mom & pop bookstores that they put out of business.

I blame Amazon, though the real blame falls on me, because I can't help but be tempted by Amazon's cheaper prices.
posted by crunchland at 9:34 AM on February 16, 2011


But on the bright side, your local library still stands ready to meet your reading needs!
posted by orrnyereg at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


vacapinta - I don't disagree that there are indie bookstores in San Francisco but a huge number have closed over the last several years. Books Inc has taken over some of the places that closed and has several locations now. However, a lot of the places on that list are either niche places, places where books are secondary to the business, used bookstores and some have closed.
posted by shoesietart at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2011


Pretty soon all we're going to be left with is Amazon.

For ordering over the Internet you'll also have the option of Powells and Book Depository. Support your non-Amazon-juggernaut wherever possible.
posted by cmonkey at 9:38 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think there's a single indie bookstore that sells them in San Francisco.

I'm fairly certain that the Books Inc. (a local chain) at Opera Plaza has a section.
posted by rtha at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2011


I remember when the Borders in Richmond, VA opened. It was the summer I worked at a Barnes & Noble store, back in 1993 or 1994, I think. B&N hadn't started adding music, movies and coffee bars to its stores, so when that Borders store opened, we ended up losing a ton of business that summer. That Borders is on the list of stores to be closed. Can't say I'm going to miss it.
posted by emelenjr at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2011


they're closing the one in mishawaka - bummer - now, i'll have to go to ft wayne or ann arbor if i want to go to one - and by themselves, they're really not worth the trip

sometimes i've found something interesting that barnes and noble doesn't carry, but it was plain to me that the stores in mishawaka and ft wayne have been struggling

they opened up a small outlet store in the kalamazoo mall before xmas - not a good selection at all and it only lasted a month
posted by pyramid termite at 9:40 AM on February 16, 2011


B&N stores will eventually perish as well. Tiny specialty shops, some run out of the back of vans, catering to the bound paper fetishist will spring up. Mass market John Grisham novels, once tossed to the gutters, recycled and pulped will be obsessively cataloged and cherished.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:41 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Obama has failed to protect our Borders.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:41 AM on February 16, 2011 [31 favorites]


Aaaaaaaaaaand, the only store in JAX is gone. Damn. Many a fine Aphex and Mogwai purchase was made there. They also had a great computer book section last time I was there.

JAX still has Chamblin's and the new Chamblin's Uptown location in the city core.

If you're ever in NORFLA, Chamblin's is very much worth the visit...

Mr. Chamblin own's his properties outright.

It's own of the reasons he's survived. There is also a dedicated community around him and his stores.... they are always packed.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 9:41 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


All you people complaining about high prices are doing Borders wrong. You sign up for the free reward card, and then you get an email basically every day with at least a 30% off any book coupon, sometimes 40% or even 50%. That's more than enough to come in under Amazon, and you walk out with your book.

Why don't retailers just charge the price for something, instead of marking it up 300%, then making their customers jump through hoops to keep up with membership cards/points/whatever in order to get the item at face value? The Randall's grocery store in my neighborhood does this. I had to sign up for a "Randall's card" that I have to present every time I buy something in order to get it at the same price that the HEB across town sells it for every day. I s'pose the market department tells the execs that it drives customer loyalty, but it also drives customer annoyance.

Me, I'll not miss Borders too much if they go all the way under. If I can find it used, I'll grab it at Half Price. if not, I'll order it from my LOCAL, INDEPENDENT book retailer, who is happy to order anything that's in print, if they don't have it in stock. I'll pay an extra couple bucks a book to keep local folks employed, who run a quality store, because that matters to me. I gave B&N a couple hundred bucks for SAT study guides last year as my kid was getting ready for college, because kids forget that they need stuff NOW, and B&N does have a shelf full, but I felt kinda dirty doing it, knowing that if I'd had a few days, Book People would have tracked them down for me.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:42 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am very sad - Borders is my second-best source for Russian books I don't already own, after Half Price Books. They're closing both of the "real" Borders in town, and I can't help but wonder if "store #2" (near my favorite spice store, my favorite camping store, and a Max and Erma's - the latter two closed ten years ago) really was the second one. Sniff.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some stuff I want to buy from Amazon. Free two-day shipping for the win...
posted by SMPA at 9:43 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why don't retailers just charge the price for something, instead of marking it up 300%, then making their customers jump through hoops to keep up with membership cards/points/whatever in order to get the item at face value? The Randall's grocery store in my neighborhood does this. I had to sign up for a "Randall's card" that I have to present every time I buy something in order to get it at the same price that the HEB across town sells it for every day. I s'pose the market department tells the execs that it drives customer loyalty, but it also drives customer annoyance.

It also lets them track your purchase history to resell to data mining and consumer marketing firms.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2011


A link to Chamblin's Bookmine for the curious.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 9:45 AM on February 16, 2011


Just wasted a bunch of time looking at Wikipedia's list of defunct retailers in the U.S. Feeling oooold. To be fair, I only go to many chain stores to browse or try out gadgets and see if they feel good in my hands before buying at the cheapest price online.

I still buy clothes and food in person though.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 9:45 AM on February 16, 2011


As much as I hate to see any bookstore close down, my local Borders really wasn't a bookstore anymore. A few years ago they actually took most of the books off the main floor and put them upstairs; the main floor was reserved for iPhone cases, greeting cards that played music, coffee mugs and cheap plastic gift items. I stopped going there; it was too depressing to walk into a bookstore and not see any books.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:46 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


D'oh. Borders is one of those stores that's nice to have in concept, but not in practice. When browsing, I usually end up just taking pictures of books that look interesting so I can later pick them up on Kindle or Amazon. Given the disastrous times I've had trying to actually buy a book from the store nearest my work (The School Street store in Boston, sadly not the one closing) - once they could not find the book I had requested, even though they sent me the "We have it held for you!" email, because nobody could be bothered to open up the boxes of books in the basement - I'm not surprised they lost the fight to Barnes and Nobles.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:47 AM on February 16, 2011


rtha - I haven't checked Books Inc Opera Plaza since I moved back to SF last year. It used to be a Clean Well Lighted Place but while I was gone it was bought by Books Inc. Stacey's on Market closed (and they carried romances). The Rand McNally store closed. Get Lost Travel Books just closed. These were great places.
posted by shoesietart at 9:49 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to love going to Borders, but looking back, they had really awful timing on a lot of different things, and just got overextended.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:50 AM on February 16, 2011


Borders hasn't been operating in the UK for some time now, and I haven't even visited Cambridge in years, but I still feel irrationally sad about the closing of the Borders there. It was huge and the only shop in the city that kept London hours (til ten most days, and around sixish on Sunday which was later than anywhere else). I probably spent more time there than anywhere else while I was doing my degree, certainly longer than I spent in all the libraries put together. At the time I was increasingly consumed by self-hatred, and Borders' impersonal, uncaring vastness offered an anonymity that allowed me to keep going. Nobody ever seemed to notice that I'd been there for hours, sitting on the floor between the aisles and reading crap in an indiscriminate fashion (some of which turned out to be good - I have Borders to thank for my ongoing affection for Batman comics). It felt like disappearing, like stepping into a different kind of space or somewhere outside of space altogether. At the time I had very limited internet access because I was still attempting to do all of my computing on an ancient six-inch-thick laptop, known as 'The Brick', that ran Windows '95 noisily and effortfully. Later, when I got a fancy speedy laptop and a wireless connection and started spending endless hours browsing passively and pointlessly, I recognised the feeling. Like the internet, Borders seemed to exist in a nonphysical realm, one where your concrete instantiation, your body itself, became immaterial. It made me feel as if it was possible not to have a self, to be a thin, contentless 'I' floating around and absorbing information, without social ties or plans for the future. For that reason, it's difficult to really take in that it's gone, that it was always just a building owned by a business that's gone bust. Don't get me wrong - for all my browsing I bought plenty of books from Borders. But it felt like the shop was attached to this numinous nonspace, the cash registers on the edge of the void. Maybe they didn't so much close it as cut the ties that connected it to this world and let it float away. And maybe the bored, disaffected till staff weren't too careful when they made the last trawl around the shop to kick everyone out before closing, and somewhere far out in all the nothingness there's a lonely, lost, depressed nineteen-year-old who's going to be reading a tacky self-help book with a mixture of irony and fascination and disgust forever. Maybe.
posted by Acheman at 9:52 AM on February 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


I think the only book that I purchased at a box store in the past 8 years was a Lonely Planet guide to a place I that was traveling to in two days. Otherwise, Half-Price Books and internet are the only logical options for me.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:55 AM on February 16, 2011


People, people: why are we talking about the sins of Borders vs Barnes and Noble when we all know who the real enemy of booklovers everywhere is?

That's right, Books-a-Million. Shudder.

No seriously. Clearly, you yuppies have never experienced living in a town where this is the closest thing to a bookstore available, or you would not be complaining. Books-a-Million's stock (assuming they know what they have in stock, which is rare - I am not sure these people even do inventories) largely consists of as many different versions of the Bible as possible plus kitten calendars, and I have never in my life met bookstore employees who knew less about books.
posted by naoko at 10:02 AM on February 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


It's going to be really interesting to see what the Internet does to the rest of the retail market.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 10:04 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"If they think they can just correct a few things on their balance sheet and sell off a couple stores, they’re probably going to be the next Circuit City"

Possibly, but there is a key difference: CC fired all of their long-term knowledgeable sales/floor people and re-hired cut-rate wall-mart rejects. It was a major PR disaster that they never recovered from.
This action seems to me more like what K-Mart did a while back, and they turned it around quite sharply and bought out Sears.
But, we will see.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:05 AM on February 16, 2011


I grew up with Borders. I remember the first store in Ann Arbor and spent a lot of time there. This was before there was a second store let alone 100’s I knew people who ran the place then and some who ran it later. The IT was seriously fucked up in the late 90’s, something they really never could get hold of . The Borders I knew…. These guys made librarians look lost. Theses folks were writers and historians and could order anything and point you to anything and tell you were to go IF they did not have it. The place was a writer/researchers paradise with just some old chairs here and there.

A link to for the curious Chamblins bookmine

OMG, I have several books from Chamblins, not a bad place, prices a bit high, treated book scouts ok.

and the hell with 'Books a 1000s'. The only one i ever set foot in, the manager never heard of Roland Dahl...it got worse.
posted by clavdivs at 10:06 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I feel the same inexorable slide about bookstores that I felt about taking photos with actual film, and about buying music on vinyl, cassette, or CD. Books are more digital, and beyond that, Amazon really is a better music and bookstore than any I have ever been to in my life, except perhaps Amoeba Records (and at one time, Tower Records on Sunset Blvd). Amazon is not perfect, but it is easy, and I can go and buy something there at any hour of the day. I love bookstores, love comic book stores, still love going to Amoeba when I'm in L.A., but the justification for bookstores keeps dripping away, a drop of justification, every single day. It depresses me, but it's a fact.

Now, if you told 1996 me about Borders suffering, I would gleefully exclaim "great!" because at the time what I tried to do was support my local amazing bookstores: Midnight Special, Opamp Books, and Hennessey+Ingalls (all in Los Angeles). Midnight Special went out of business ultimately. Bigboxing screwed it up for them, and now digital distribution and online sales are screwing up that now.
posted by artlung at 10:11 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


+1 re: Books-a-Million being a depressing excuse for a bookstore. Worst of all possible worlds.
posted by artlung at 10:12 AM on February 16, 2011


I'm sad that the Borders in Bolingbrook (my hometown) is closing. Boo! At least Oak Brook and Wheaton, the two locations closest to where I live now, are not closing.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:16 AM on February 16, 2011


I am not surprised that the one in my neighborhood is closing. It was the 6th (!) bookstore in our neighborhood and I could not believe that we could support another one, especially since most people's allegiances lie with one the independents. They had a good magazine selection but I never once found a book I liked there. Even the kids' section was inferior to the much smaller independent store in the neighborhood.
posted by mai at 10:17 AM on February 16, 2011


Wait, KMART bought Borders? Well, no wonder.
posted by Xoebe at 10:20 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Borders has been dead to me for years, ever since they changed their rewards system. You see, for childrens' books, they used to have a "Buy x# of Books, Get One Free" punch card. My then-very young son spent a little over a year saving up his allowance to buy new books and collecting punches. He finally gets the final spot punched, we return to Borders a few days later so he can redeem his card for a free book and the counter staff tells him "Nope, we discontinued that program. No more free books." No mention of that policy change when we were in there three days before. No happiness when I spoke with the store manager. No happiness when we visited the other Borders store in town.

I can put up with a lot of retail shenanigans but pulling the rug out from under my 7 year old? Die in a fire, Borders.
posted by jamaro at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


On a weird sociological note, the Borders in my hometown was, for a long time, the one gay-friendly place to hang out - a large LGBTQ section, a few out staff members, and a smattering of queerfolk hanging out in the cafe. It was a strange little wildlife preserve in the middle of the otherwise very WASPish east side.

So the Borders in my hometown (Grand Junction, Colorado) is slated for closure. I'm not surprised -- in the last year or so, they've seriously reduced the number of books they stock, and, as others have noted, seriously increased the floor space devoted to stuffed animals and chocolate bars.

Let me offer something of a defense of large chain bookstores. In my town, growing up, there were only a few places to buy books --- an independent bookstore on GJ's main street, and then a Waldenbooks and a B. Dalton, both in the mall. All of these places were horrible places to buy books, for various reasons. The two chain bookstores were small, and didn't have much to offer in the way of selection for anyone who wasn't interested in bestsellers or business books or romance novels. The independent bookstore was not much better. Now, I've shopped in many wonderful independent bookstores over the years, and try to buy books at them whenever possible, but there is nothing in the phrases "independent" or "non-chain" that guarantees quality. Sure, the stock of books might be carefully hand-selected by the owners, but that can also mean that what they stock is as conservative and exclusionary as the town it's located in itself. For someone who was getting a stronger sense each day of how different they were from the people that surrounded them (as a young agnostic queerling who hated driving and hunting), the store that, in all rights, should have been a refuge for me wasn't. One time, I was looking at some book in there -- I don't even remember which one, now -- and word got back to my mom via a friend of hers who knew someone who worked there, that I had been looking at it. God forbid if it had been some sort of controversial book.

When I graduated from high school, the chains began to move in. First was a store called Hastings, which is a large music/books retailer that they have in places in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and in my town. It didn't have the largest selection, but what they did have didn't, at the time, seem particularly targeted to the GJ demographics. There were all these...weird books all of a sudden, on sexuality and the sort of history that wasn't what was taught in schools, and other religions. The staff wasn't totally anonymous (it's not that big a town), but neither did they seem to pay too much attention to what you were buying. It was great. I still have my copy of By By Another Name that I bought there, when I was 19. Nobody at the checkout counter cared.

After I graduated from high school, I moved away to better cities with better bookstores, and got to experience what good independent bookstores were like. But I moved back to my hometown for a few years in the early 2000s, and by that time, GJ had a Barnes and Noble, and, later the Borders that is now closing. At this time, I could buy any book I wanted on the Internet, and I no longer cared what any clerk thought about what I was buying. But I noticed how much better these two places made my town, by giving weird people a place to read and hangout, and possibly discover books or magazines that might speak to them. Sure, there's Amazon for that, but it's different, I think, when you discover something on the shelves right there in your own town, where you might least expect it. The anonymity of shopping in a large store and selecting from a stock of books picked by a computer in New Yotk or Ann Arbor might, in some cases, be a lifesaver.

So, while I haven't bought anything from the Borders in GJ for a while (I tried, really, this last Christmas when I was town, but they had cut back the selection to basically nothing), I will be sad to see it go. It (and the B&N which is still doing okay, thankfully -- the Hastings is still there, but seems to devote more and more of its stock all the time to Christian books) and other stores like it provided a link to the outside world and a "third space" which people in smaller cities, suburban areas, and other places really need.
posted by heurtebise at 10:23 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


All these stories about why Borders is going under, and who's going to take the crown, and the sad state of struggling indie bookstores - they all overlook the elephant in the room.

Which is that people do not read books.

How can you make a living selling something that ^80% of Americans did not buy even one of last year? Something that 1/3rd of Americans NEVER buy after high school?

The amazing thing is that there's still a publishing industry at all, given how small its customer base is.

My point being, everyone who cares about books and reading should go buy a book this afternoon. Doesn't really matter where.
posted by ErikaB at 10:26 AM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


the manager never heard of Roland Dahl

o_0
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on February 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


Their books were seriously overpriced. Why should I buy from them when I can buy from online bookseller and pays ten bucks less? I know. Saw the price of a book they were selling that I had bought the day before online. This is one serious reason they are folding.
posted by Postroad at 10:29 AM on February 16, 2011


How can you make a living selling something that ^80% of Americans did not buy even one of last year?

---

The $16.6 billion estimated by the US Census Bureau for 2009 retail book sales also includes the other non-book goods sold by those retailers, but doesn't include Amazon and other mail-order sellers.

I suspect that Amazon grosses more money selling books than B&N does selling kitty calendars. But let's say it evens out...

A $16 billion market is small compared to other forms of entertainment. But it seems that there is some kind of living to be made catering to it.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:33 AM on February 16, 2011


I used to work in the café of a Borders and, well, I'm not surprised. The whole focus of the sales staff while I was there was pushing those Rewards cards. We were supposed to offer a card to every customer and our numbers were tracked as to how many of our customers used the cards.

In the café, this was particularly hellish. No one buying a $2 cup of coffee wants the stupid card. Nor do they want to take an extra 15 seconds and look up their number in the database if they don't have the card on them. And they ESPECIALLY do not want to take 35 seconds and sign up for one. I won't divulge how we cheated, but when it came to the point where we were told that our hours would be cut if we didn't get our numbers up to a certain percentage, cheating was the only way to do it.

This was years ago, but still, to have a sales strategy so focused on customers using the Rewards card and counting on that to increase sales... yeah, not surprised it didn't work out for them.
posted by sonika at 10:33 AM on February 16, 2011


> My point being, everyone who cares about books and reading should go buy a book this afternoon. Doesn't really matter where.

Or even better, go to a library and make a donation to their Friends of the Library program or equivalent. One problem with the rise of giant retail/internet bookselling is that people tend to then operate in silo library mode, buying up books that they might just read or skim through once and then sell to a used bookstore or otherwise get rid of. Meanwhile, the local library sits unloved and full of lowlifes looking at pr0n.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:33 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, g*d, B. Dalton. How many times was I lost at the mall with family, just wishing the whole thing away, then spotted a B. Dalton, and thought "Refuge! Books!" only to be utterly disappointed by not even being able to find worthy browse fodder while the others shopped. Hideous, miserable little store.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:34 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't have any fond memories of Borders, but I eagerly await the sidebar-able epigraph that this sort of memorial thread inevitably produces...
posted by the painkiller at 10:39 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, the larger Borders in the wealthy suburban county next door is on the ax list. I'm not sure how that store could have been considered an underperformer other than that it's within a mile and a half of a Barnes and Noble.

The factors behind which stores are closing probably also take into account the cost of the site leases. Locally, the Borders in the swanky uber-upscale mall with tons of foot traffic and the highest retail rents in our area is closing while the Borders in the crappy bigbox shopping center that's already lost 2/3s of its tenants is staying open.
posted by jamaro at 10:39 AM on February 16, 2011


Pretty soon all we're going to be left with is Amazon.

This is absolutely true. In fifty years it will be Amazon for e-space and Wal-Mart for meat-space and that will be it.

Mark my words. You'll recognize the signs of the inevitable when Amazon buys NewEgg in… you know, I've probably already said too much.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:42 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rats! They've axed the store nearest to my parents' home in OC, which had by far the best literature section of any bookstore in the area. Granted, OC is terminally short on great bookstores, what with the closing of Acres of Books in '08.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2011


And all restaurants will be Taco Bell.
posted by jamaro at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Borders in the early 90’s were pretty great. My wife worked at one and the employees loved the company, loved books and knew them. She went to work there just because she loved the stores so much. We used to mock B&N for not being a real bookstore and it’s sad that now it seems like more of a serious store than Borders.

What happened is that Borders went public. The corporate system doesn’t work, there is no incentive to run quality long lasting companies. For years I’ve always used the example of Borders to show why the system doesn’t work, and now we come to this.
posted by bongo_x at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


My medium sized city now has no general interest bookstore within the city limits. B&N closed both stores within the last few years, a regional chain Joseph Beth closed last year and now the only Borders is closing. I won't really miss them since they never ever actually had the book that I was looking for and I'd end up having to order from Amazon anyway.
posted by octothorpe at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2011


> In fifty years it will be Amazon for e-space and Wal-Mart for meat-space and that will be it.

No way. Costco!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2011


Granted, OC is terminally short on great bookstores, what with the closing of Acres of Books in '08.

Acres of Books was in Long Beach, not Orange County...which really just emphasizes your point that Orange County kind of sucks for bookstores. When I really need my fix of bookstore-related awesomeness, it's either 100 miles south in downtown SanDiego or up to Iliad Books in North Hollywood. In the short term, though, I've got a lot of gift cards to spend in a hurry; I get them as rewards from my credit card (you get $25 in Borders gift cards for $20 worth of reward points, so I've got like $100 worth).
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:50 AM on February 16, 2011


The only utility of big box bookstores is as a place to entertain kids, or perhaps for the bathrooms. The two are of course often related utilities.

I haven't purchased an adult book in a physical bookstore in years. Don't miss it either.
posted by spitbull at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2011


I feel lost as though we are aboard a spaceship run by a computer whose memory cards are being pulled, one by one.

Daisy... Daisy... give me your answer do...
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


not "The Song of Roland:" ROALD. It was worse, he was looking for the book "Willy Wonka" and was perplexed they did not have it in stock.

What happened is that Borders went public.

yup.
posted by clavdivs at 10:53 AM on February 16, 2011


How can you make a living selling something that ^80% of Americans did not buy even one of last year? Something that 1/3rd of Americans NEVER buy after high school?

"Total U.S. book publishers' net revenues reached $40.32 billion in 2008, up 1.0% over 2007, while 2008 unit sales reached nearly 3.1 billion, down 1.5% over 2007 ..."

So, I don't know who's buying them and what they're doing with them, but someone wanted 3.1 billion books in 2008. That seems like it might be a large enough demand to keep some kind of industry going. And 2008 was a hard year for a lot of industries -- I think the full report predicted that unit sales would go back up in 2009 and 2010. Not sure if that turned out to be true.

Here's the interesting thing, though -- we publish something like 40 times as many books each year as we did a few decades ago. So income per book might be dramatically lower, unless you're selling one of the few bestsellers. And that might favor warehouse models like Amazon over browsing models like Borders. It also might favor books with relatively little investment in editing and copyediting and typesetting and art and so on, which--ironically for a time when we're making so many books--is bad news for my friends who like having jobs actually making books.
posted by jhc at 10:53 AM on February 16, 2011


Speaking as a former employee of an independent book and record store chain in DC that was systematically destroyed by Borders (they would basically use us to scout out locations and neighborhoods then open up stores a block or two away), I say good riddance and fuck em.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:04 AM on February 16, 2011


I asked my local Borders to order me The Song of Roald the Headless Thompson Gunner, and they looked at me like I was crazy.
posted by zippy at 11:09 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Expect this to have ramifications in terms of advances, willingness of other booksellers to take on debuts and midlist books, and more.

Based on what we witnessed in the photo industry after Ritz Camera filed, this is dead-on.

As much as a major competitor filing bankruptcy initially seems great for competitors, the wake of owed money can be devastating for small players. If publishers push back as they recover from the loss (which some might have to do), things will get uncomfortable pretty quick.
posted by pokermonk at 11:12 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The factors behind which stores are closing probably also take into account the cost of the site leases.

More importantly -- "Give us concessions or we'll close." The upscale mall with lots of traffic and full occupancy says "Bite me." The desperate mall with 2/3rd vacancy grovels to keep the store open so the property doesn't look even worse.
posted by eriko at 11:28 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I worked for the original Borders back in the 80's. To get hired you had to pass a test and have a reasonable knowledge of literature and publishing. Management and owners - still the Borders brothers back then - were passionate about no tchotchkes, no cards, no gifts; just books and magazines. There are a fair number of people still working at the flagship store who were there in the 80s and have an amazing knowledge base but the downtown Ann Arbor store is now full of gimmicks, stationary and other random junk with far fewer books. It's still a good store compared the mall ones though. They lost sight of their original business, got locked into horribly expensive long terms leases for their big box stores, misread the importance of the internet and lost their soul but once they were a really good company focused on serious depth of knowledge and stock. Given the size of their debt and the massive changes they'd have to make in their core business and the rest I'll be very surprised if they survive in the long term. It's a great shame.
posted by leslies at 11:35 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I grew up in the worst sort of exurb, and going the OG Borders on Broad Street was like going to Oz. I didn't even have access to a public library- for a child like me, who read a book a day from second grade on, it was like being constipated. I was an adult before I knew Borders was a chain.

But we are a sprawl-riddled nation awash in retail space. I think we're just trimming some fat, here.

I have a 3G Kindle, and I'd let you have my laptop before I let that thing go. It's the best.

I'll be shocked if we have any brick and mortar media stores at all in fifteen years.
posted by Leta at 11:45 AM on February 16, 2011


What Borders did right, from a music buyer's perspective.
posted by edwardvielmetti at 11:49 AM on February 16, 2011


Borders used to have very high bookshelves, maybe eight feet tall and filled with a huge variety of books for each subject. The last time that I was at one, the bookshelves were all very short and half the books were placed in the shelves face-forward instead of spine forward so that they took up more room. There seemed to be about a fifth of the number of actual books in the store that there used to be.
posted by octothorpe at 11:57 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, naoko, you invoked the demon Books-A-Million. In the mid-90s, I lived in Athens, GA. "A fine small college town with a good university press," I hear you say. "You must have had a difficult choice between many quality bookstores."

Nah. We had Books-A-Million, and their Joe Muggs Coffee Cafe in the local mall. We also had Jackson Street Books, a great used bookstore, but when I was writing tech books, nobody in town carried them except the university bookstore. The day Borders opened on Alps Road, I ran into every faculty member in my (small) department there. When Barnes & Noble opened out on the Atlanta Highway, same thing.

Sure, e-books are great, but for a lot of us, the loss of a place to touch books is to be mourned. For me, reading is a physical experience as much as an intellectual one, and I often buy hard copies of books I first enjoyed on Kindle. I'm sad about Borders closing; I find B&N ridiculously impersonal and difficult to navigate.
posted by catlet at 11:58 AM on February 16, 2011


I worked the overnight restocking shift at Borders for a summer. It was pretty much the greatest job I've ever had.

I watched the sunrise every morning.
I got as much Coke and as many expired bags of chips as I wanted.
I helped build a 20 foot tall tower of hardcover Harry Potter novels that nearly killed a man when it fell.
I threw stuffed Sponge Bobs half way across the store aiming at other stuffed animals.
I watched Married with Children reruns during the 3am lunch break.
I helped hang mirrors that looked like they might be 2 way or otherwise security oriented, but really were just $5 mirrors on walls.
I worked with some really interesting people with interesting life stories.
I got to play 1 CD a night of my choosing over the store sound system.

You do not want to be in charge of organizing the Children's section.
All the "porn" in the store migrates to the back corner section every day, and has to be reshelved to its appropriate place every night.
Monthly store inventories are a bitch to do.
You really can move around entire full shelves and build other shelves and completely change the layout of a store over a single night.
posted by jermsplan at 12:00 PM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


In the café, this was particularly hellish. No one buying a $2 cup of coffee wants the stupid card. Nor do they want to take an extra 15 seconds and look up their number in the database if they don't have the card on them. And they ESPECIALLY do not want to take 35 seconds and sign up for one. I won't divulge how we cheated, but when it came to the point where we were told that our hours would be cut if we didn't get our numbers up to a certain percentage, cheating was the only way to do it.


Ugh, I feel terrible, because I get coffee there all the time and don't use my card. Fuck. I will have to start doing this now.
posted by hellojed at 12:09 PM on February 16, 2011


Wow, they just opened a store in a converted funeral parlor on St Charles Avenue in New Orleans. It was really nice. A stand alone store, surrounded by ancient oaks tinseled with Mardi Gras beads, a world away from an anonymous strip mall. The local independent bookstores would be serving free champagne tonight, if they could afford to keep the lights on past 7.
posted by four panels at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


hellojed: Don't feel too bad. Our specific store was managed by a team of monkeys and jerks. I have faith that other stores have saner policies, but yes, it does indeed help your barista if you remember to dig out the wee card.
posted by sonika at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2011


And I can't say this with complete certainty, but I would imagine that other places do indeed track their customer card use similarly, so really, any place you go regularly if you do have a card - it will help the salesperson out if you remember to scan it.

(Not saying get all the cards, even I don't do that, but if you do have a card - scanning it is helping out the peon behind the register in addition to also selling your soul and creating a database of your deepest darkest thoughts and all of that.)
posted by sonika at 12:13 PM on February 16, 2011


Unlike most retail goods, books are pre-priced. Retail markup on books is usually less than 100%, unlike many other retail goods. So, when you say "Higher Prices" you really mean "Not Discounted." I owned a lovely independent retail bookstore, and sold it well before Borders moved to my town. And I was incredibly thankful not to be a bookstore owner when Borders opened their great big store with huge inventory. And grateful again to not be a bookseller when Amazon, with discounts and massive inventory became the default for many book buyers.

I love books and bookstores. There's nothing like being able to browse, to see what's new, see the covers, the range of titles from an author, to read the jacket copy, and a sample paragraph, and then to notice the author on the shelf below. You can go to Borders, or to another analog bookstore, and stack up a bunch of titles, and read the first few pages of each, while enjoying a cup of coffee. Internet bookselling has some nifty things, but none of it is nearly as nice as browsing a real bookstore. Amazon makes suggestions, and some of them are likely generated by publishers paying Amazon to suggest their title. People who bought Shockwave Rider probably also bought Vernor Vinge, but I've been recommended some books that seemed paid placements(which is legit, if so labeled). Just be careful, that copy of C.S. Forester and the Hornblower Saga you buy for your brother will be skewing Amazon's recommendations to you for months.

Maybe there will still be bookstores in big enough cities. Maybe my grandkids will have the chance to discover wonderful books by serendipity. Independent booksellers offer independence; an outlet for books where decision are made locally and individually. It's a shame about Borders, and an even bigger shame that my old bookstore, an institution in my town, closed 2 years ago. Change happens, and things are changing fast.
posted by theora55 at 12:16 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Song of Roald the Headless Thompson Gunner, and they looked at me like I was crazy.

I'm willing to bet the clerks still looked it up and the spell checker sputtered
"Thompson sub-machine gun? /The Hunter S. Thompson text of headless ball turret gunners?/ A song by Nick Cave?
posted by clavdivs at 12:20 PM on February 16, 2011


Yeah, my experience is very similar to other former employees, most particular emjaybee's. I loved working at Borders (this was the mid-90's). I started at the Princeton store, and then moved over to a new one in Bucks County, PA, when it opened. I helped work the sort on that--almost all the new staff did, which was great, because you got to help build the sections that were your specialty. I built the classical CD section from the ground up, got to say what went where, how we organized it, the whole nine yards. My manager let me go to Kinkos and blow up clip art of Beethoven and Mozart and then draw cartoony headphones on them to decorate the walls. Borders was one of the first stations to offer full-CD listening stations (unlike the low-fi 30-second digital samples that B&N invested in at the time), and our music manager was cool with us opening up CDs that weren't in listening stations for customers to preview the music before they bought it.

When Brian Jacques (RIP) came to town, I got permission to build a big Redwall replica, using shipping boxes that I covered in newspaper, then spray-painted with brick red paint and that speckled-stone stuff. Little stuffed hedgehogs and squirrels kept watch from the battlements. Jacques loved it, and stayed a solid hour and a half past the time he was supposed to to ensure every single kid got their book signed.

Unlike the stuffy, under-educated minimum wage slaves who worked at B&N up the road, Borders was staffed with really smart people who were passionate about their specialties, and who took great pride in really helping people. I personally loved nothing more than the customers who would come up to me with those "Do you know that song... by that guy... I think the album has a blue cover..." and actually being able to figure out what they were looking for. I loved being able to read a customer, based on their musical preferences, and make recommendations for new music that they'd really like. At night after we closed, we'd pick some great CD and blast it while we closed up the registers and cleaned up our sections. On Christmas Eve, two hours before closing, the GM would always play the Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol CD.

We had in-store music every Friday night. We had poetry readings. We had in-store children's book character appearances, which always drew a ton of kids. We had various support groups meet in our cafe.

The employee credit, as emjaybee mentioned, was the best goddamned benny I've ever had in retail -- $30 house credit that accumulated each month, and a $300 house charge limit, so basically you could charge up $300 worth of stuff and then sit tight for 10 months and then start up all over again (this made Christmases a breeze, btw. Heh.).

But I got tired of working evenings and weekends, and eventually made the transition to a regular white collar 8-5 job. I kept up with a number of my friends and colleagues there for a while, but eventually drifted apart as you might expect. I went back to that old Borders a couple years later and was devastated to see that the music section had been utterly gutted. Classical was a fraction of what it had been, and 90% of it was the crappy cheap Naxos discs.

It's a shame. All of this is a shame. Borders had such a fun, funky spirit to it, and it's really sad to see this happen, as inevitable as it was.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:20 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah sonika, I guess the guilt comes from having to push credit cards when I worked for Target. Because our store was in the middle of nowhere it seemed like ringing stuff up was secondary to selling these fucking cards. So I kind of know what it's liked to be tracked.
posted by hellojed at 12:24 PM on February 16, 2011


I worked at a Borders outlet store in Ohio for about nine months. Awesome job. We were a small but varied group of people, each of whom had their own particular area of interest, which the manager was careful to put us in charge of. The feel of the store was very different from the "real" Borders stores. We didn't have the latest and greatest bestsellers, pretty much by definition. The collection was quirky, especially the CD collection. I ended up spending most of my paycheck at the store, of course. When I started working there, I owned maybe two dozen CDs. By the time I quit, it was about five hundred. Pretty much every CD cost $4.99, and then we'd get the employee discount, which was a straight 33%. EMI's Maria Callas recordings, classical guitar to die for, and the jazz....sigh.

If that 7 year old had come to our store, none of us would have refused to honour the card. That's just horrendous. Possibly, if "Corporate" was being unreasonable, the manager would have keyed in a different discount. But we made sure our customers walked away happy, most of the time. Unless they were looking for the latest James Patterson novel, or the like. Then we'd call and check which store was closest to them that still had it in stock.

Now "Corporate," they were a whole different story. There was John, who was some kind of regional manager type, and clearly just didn't care about books or music, or anything but the chart of the Borders stock price that he had up on the door of the employee lounge.

But the regular store staff was awesome. We had poetry readings, and the most awesome guest lectures. My favourite of all time was when Bill Scharf, octogenarian opera lover and local resident, talked to us about Jussi Björling and Beniamino Gigli. We happened to have a bunch of CDs in at that time featuring these two and Bill came in and was waxing lyrical about them. So the manager suggested he give us all a talk. And a week or so later, we had this fantastic treat. Bill had heard these two great tenors in person, and I can't begin to recreate the joy his face was transfixed with as he shared what he knew with us.

Of course, the whole time I was working there, I was also feeling huge amounts of guilt about being the employee of a big chain, regularly brought home to me by the everpresent stock price chart. So I have mixed feelings about this news. Mostly a huge wave of nostalgia.
posted by bardophile at 12:29 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Borders were in the UK for 10 years.

Then they arrived the books, CDs and DVDs were all at least 10% cheaper than elsewhere.

By the time they died, they were a place to go to if you wanted to browse stuff before you bought it on Amazon. In the last few days they had 50% off on everything and I was still checking online and finding it cheaper at Amazon.

They should have had the advantage of impulse purchases that I always find at Fopp, but that went when they replaced half the IT section with Windows for Dummies. Making all the CDs full price (when the supermarkets were selling them for half that) wasn't a great move either...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 12:30 PM on February 16, 2011


I worked for Borders for a few years, from mid-'90s until 2000. Here's what made it great:

1) The selection. Borders had WAY more books than B&Ns of comparable size, and -- believe it or not -- more music titles than Tower, particularly in the non-rock categories. We had nearly everything. And if we didn't have it...

2) We could order nearly everything under the sun, and get it way faster than other stores, thanks to Borders distribution centers and automated systems, which became the model for Netflix and Amazon. This system was actually designed -- I was told -- by one of the Borders brothers, and was fantastic. Touring one of the distribution center in 1998 was like looking into the future.

3) The employees were knowledgeable and smart. While B&N was hiring 18-year-olds, the Borders where I worked (3 of them, in different parts of the country) hired mostly recent college grads and college students. I was the music manager, with a degree in music history. That made a big difference to music-loving customers. English Lit. degrees were common.

Someone above said that what went wrong with Borders was that it went public. That was only part of it. The main problem was that all the people who were with the company in the beginning -- the people who actually cared about it, like the Borders brothers and the early executives -- cashed out and moved on. Their replacements were a bunch of MBAs who never worked in a bookstore and didn't understand what made Borders better than B&N. In their minds, Borders WAS just like B&N, so they slowly started undoing everything that differentiated the two.

I left at the tail end of 1999 because I saw the writing on the wall. In the next 2 years, they drastically cut inventory and staff, and dicked around the remaining staff. At the same time, poor managers hired other poor managers, because few of value were left (and with dropping wages, they weren't going to attract anyone decent).

I still have friends who work at several different Borders, and they all have the same story: Shuffling of deck chairs while the ship sinks. Good ideas are abandoned in favor of more of the same. At this point, Borders music selection is surpassed (in my area) by B&N, and there's limitless crap between the customer and the core product: books. It's a shame.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:30 PM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


The Song of Roald the Headless Thompson Gunner, and they looked at me like I was crazy.

If this is a touchstone for cultural ignorance, I suppose I'm just another philistine.

I remember looking for classical music at both the Sam Goody's and funny little local shops in the early 1990s, when you were likely to be asked "Ralph Vaughan Williams? Is that a group?" At first I laughed and laughed about this phrase, eventually I came to realize that while there are in fact some cogs in various retail machines who don't care at all about the product being moved around them, most people have knowledge limited to one domain or another. The clerk who didn't know a thing about RVW might have known more about punk than I've ever cared to find out.
posted by weston at 12:32 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


And they had a piano in the store, near the starbucks.

There was a sign on it telling you not to touch it but there was nothing implying it was ever used to anything official. That just depressed me...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 12:34 PM on February 16, 2011


Lots of people are assuming that B&N will be next, but Borders closing some stores is good for them, it means they're the only large physical bookstore left in many markets. Also, B&N is selling lots of ebooks and lots of nooks... the nook color is a surprisingly good and hackable android tablet for the price ($250).

I personally miss all the independent book and music stores, but I'm pretty old...
posted by Huck500 at 12:35 PM on February 16, 2011


Chapter 11, same as in town.
posted by tzikeh at 12:40 PM on February 16, 2011


The main problem was that all the people who were with the company in the beginning -- the people who actually cared about it, like the Borders brothers and the early executives -- cashed out and moved on.

Alas, the same can be said for many companies in many industries.

I think B&N took care of their future better then Borders did, and won't go down the same way, if at all.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2011


I personally miss all the independent book and music stores, but I'm pretty old...

They're not completely gone, at least not in my area, but they're not as numerous as they used to be.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2011


The main problem was that all the people who were with the company in the beginning -- the people who actually cared about it, like the Borders brothers and the early executives -- cashed out and moved on.

Bingo. That type of service is cannot be franchised.
and to make the situation a little less dim. The orignal store had a cat, well in the 70s' it did, Xeno/Zeno or Micheal. He stayed near the stairs alot. and man, they had all the best free literature stuff, like two racks of it.
posted by clavdivs at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2011


I didn't even realise that the Folsom store was a Borders until weston mentioned that it wasn't closing. Even though I go there every month or so, for some reason I thought it was a Barnes and Noble. They're pretty much interchangable in my mind, except I guess Borders has more tchotchkes.

I don't suppose Borders filing for Chapter 11 means that the kobo is going to get even cheaper, does it?
posted by elsietheeel at 12:55 PM on February 16, 2011


I loved working at Borders (this was the mid-90's). I started at the Princeton store

Oh whoa, I worked at the Princeton Borders for a few years late 96 to sometime in 98 I think, before I went to the Reading, PA store.

posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:59 PM on February 16, 2011


The main problem was that all the people who were with the company in the beginning -- the people who actually cared about it, like the Borders brothers and the early executives -- cashed out and moved on.

Alas, the same can be said for many companies in many industries.


Yes, nearly all industries. But generally the replacements actually understand what makes the company they are now running different from and better than others.

I forgot something in my screed above: Every Borders store in the late '90s had a Community Relations Coordinator (CRC) who booked local musicians and authors and entertainers and artists to come into the store and do their thing, whether it be signing books or selling artwork or performing. This was one of the first positions done away with in the Great Restructuring.

Another part of that restructuring, BTW, was shifting management around on a regular basis. Had I stayed, I -- a guy with a music degree and years of experience managing music stores -- might have been moved into managing the cafe. Meanwhile the cafe manager, a former chef with years of cafe management experience, would have moved into books or music. The whole thing was dumb and careless.

AFAIAC, Borders went belly up in 1999. The company that's declaring Chapter 11 now is just a dried-out husk. Good riddance.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:03 PM on February 16, 2011


I came to Ann Arbor in 1986, when there was still only one Borders store and it had the up-only escalator. My mother, who taught at Michigan State, would drag her graduate students to talks at UM, then take them to Borders to show them a bookstore with a linguistics section. Every payday for years, I dropped money in that store - some months, more than I did on groceries.

(montage of pages falling off calendar)

About five years ago, I discovered Jeeves & Wooster (I know, I'm a late bloomer). I went to Borders, now moved down the block into a converted department store. No Wodehouse to be found. They offered to order it for me, but I shrugged sadly and declined. A tiny piece of my heart broke that day.

So today's news? Sad, but no surprise.
posted by shiny blue object at 1:20 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


As far as I can tell, Books-a-Million isn't really a proper bookstore -- it's a remainders/liquidators storefront. Not that I've been in one in a couple of years -- it's not worth it.

Honestly, I won't miss Borders too much, anymore. I missed it when I moved north, to a place where the mall Waldenbooks was the only bookstore, but that version of Borders is long gone. I live close to AnnArbor, and used to love going downtown and poking around in the main store -- I'd almost always find something I didn't know I wanted. I don't think I've been into the downtown store for over a decade, and haven't been into either of the other AA stores since before Christmas, despite their convenient locations. And I wound up doing most of my christmas book shopping at B&N, because they actually had the books I was looking for in stock! (and fewer tchochkes to walk past to get to the books).
posted by jlkr at 1:21 PM on February 16, 2011


After working for Borders/Waldens for 6+ years I was making $7.10 an hour. This was in the mid 90s.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was being turned down when I applied for an assistant manager spot.

I was born to be a bookseller. I can still recall customers tastes decades later (I worked seasonal help a few years back at the the Ames, IA Waldens and could still remember all the regulars).

If there was any money in books I'd still be doing it.

When I retire I plan to open a bookstore. I also plan to not retire until I don't need an income. I'll be happy to cater to two or three regulars.

I have mixed emotions about Borders. Three years ago they weren't paying much better than when I worked there. It was a thankless job. You got paid less than most jobs that have tips. I'm still bitter that I couldn't make a living at it. Quitting that job so I could pay my student loans and eat was one of the first times I ever felt like a major failure. I blame Borders for the lack of a living wage. Part of me is glad to see them having troubles. The other part of me still loves books, loves what Borders once was and could have been, and wished they would have won out over B&N.

I could go one for days about books and Borders, but this isn't my blog.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:45 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Richfield
800 W. 78th Street
Richfield
MN


I'd be out a job if I'd stuck with Borders! Good thing I dumped that dying industry and went to a Newspaper!
posted by cjorgensen at 1:50 PM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I haven't been to a Borders in years, but in my experience, Borders stores really did seem to carry fewer copies of the standard entry-level and pop books in a given field, and more of the advanced and specialist-oriented books.

Buying a book online, via Amazon, is great, if you know the quality of the book in question; if you don't, and want to at least flip through a book to understand an author's basic angle of attack-- and particularly if you're comparing several books--, having a chain of stores such as Borders (or at least the pre-Kmart, Borders That Was) that both carries a) a fairly large selection of new books (unlike most indie stores) and b) unusual books (unlike B&N) is a good thing.

From this perspective, Borders' passing/downscaling/etc. is not such a good thing.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:07 PM on February 16, 2011


.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:11 PM on February 16, 2011


I came to Ann Arbor in 1986, when there was still only one Borders store and it had the up-only escalator.

Before 316 South State, they had a shop at 209 State St. Two rooms upstairs and Iggy Pop rented those rooms before that.
posted by clavdivs at 2:19 PM on February 16, 2011


Another former Border's employee here (mostly at the North Austin store that closed years ago). My sections: Crafts, Decorating, Pets, Nature, Art, Film. I still identify dog breeds from my memories of those book covers. The staff at my store were all book lovers; we knew our niches and could identify a book based only on the color of its cover and a word from the title. Havn't thought about some of those people in years, but they were a bunch of characters. We had spaghetti & card nights regularly. Damn shame what happened to that place.
posted by tingting at 2:26 PM on February 16, 2011


Borders were in the UK for 10 years.

Then they arrived the books, CDs and DVDs were all at least 10% cheaper than elsewhere.


There was that - although in London Borders was competing against a far wider range of sellers, from the specialists to the much-missed Cheapo Cheapo Records. But there really was a lot more to it. Borders opened in the UK when I was not that long in London, and lamenting the lack of anything like the Borders in Union Square, Manhattan - not necessarily a place to buy heavily, but a place to pick up a pile of books and magazines from a huge selection, sit down and work out, through methodical browsing, what to buy and what to return, while drinking free refills of coffee and not realising that it was 11pm. It was the pub for loner bookworms.

Borders in Oxford Street did a great job of replicating that experience, and for a while it worked really hard to organise events (I saw Kristin Hersh for the first time live at Borders) and host poetry groups, book quizzes and the like. It really was a shell of its former self by the time it went into administration, but after home and work I probably spent more time in Borders at the end of the 90s than anywhere else.

I'd noticed the same sort of transition to a cafe and stationers that also sold books in the US and UK Borders. Reading this thread, it does sound like there was a definite change in the culture, and that seems like a shame. Whether selling coffee to loner bookworms would have been a sustainable approach, I couldn't tell you, mind.
posted by DNye at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2011


Borders has some decent stores. They try to do the "community" things like music and poetry and signings. They've let charities have gift-wrap tables by the doors and provided free gift-wrap, so that the charities could set out a donation tin and make some money off the holiday rush.

But they made a number of poor decisions. One of them was the Rewards program. I am all for that kind of thing, as it can be a mutually beneficial relationship between customer and retailer. Sure, Rite-Aid, I'll carry your little barcode tag, and get my prescriptions from youinstead of X, and in exchange you will give me substantial discounts. But much as I love books, I don't want to get an email every other day about it, and I don't want to print anything. Especially not in addition to carrying the little card around. The Rewards program was just a symptom of their general insensitivity to internet and social media tie-ins that they could have taken on a long time ago when the writing started to appear on the wall. They were all set up, if only they had looked beyond spam.

Also, people, go to the library. I hear they have some books there. ILL is your friend.
posted by zennie at 2:47 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


What Borders did right, from a music buyer's perspective.

I remember when the author of that piece, one Ms. Jessica Webster, worked at the even more awesome music retailer across the street from Borders #1, the late, lamented Schoolkids Records. SKR suffered a similar but smaller scale fate, expanding too much, diluting the knowledgeable staff & wide ranging selection.

In SKR's case--other than the questionable financing of the expansions--it was a change in return policy from the manufacturers & retailers that changed them overnight. I remember watching them die as by a thousand papercuts.

I've been doing the same with Borders. Once my favorite destination shopping point in (what passes for) Downtown Ann Arbor, it became less and less about The Book and more & more about The Marketing. I knew a few of the buyers and a few of the long time employees of #1, and my younger son worked for a time out at BINC, the Phoenix Drive corporate home. By that time, one could already see the slow decline of the Titanic, aimed straight at the iceberg and unable to turn.

They were slow to adopt an online presence and ultimately only had a shell of a presence, while (iirc) Amazon itself fulfilled and profited from the online sales.

I went into #1 last week and paid full price for a book. Well, I had a gift card that someone gave me at Christmas 09 that I had not yet spent. I declined the clerk's offer to pay for a rewards program that I likely would not use. (The books I usually buy are not ever in stock there and are sourced through Alibris or A1 or Powells and shipped to my door).

Their once robust music section took a dive after Tower proved that you couldn't count on the students to pay for music in this sadly-tooooo-college of a town.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:47 PM on February 16, 2011


That's not what we meant when we requested closed borders.
posted by davelog at 4:44 PM on February 16, 2011


I worked for Borders for about 5 years at two different stores. I met pips there. I led a union drive there, too. I have very mixed emotions about this.
posted by jonmc at 5:15 PM on February 16, 2011


darth_tedious: I haven't been to a Borders in years, but in my experience, Borders stores really did seem to carry fewer copies of the standard entry-level and pop books in a given field, and more of the advanced and specialist-oriented books.

When I was in high school, the (gone since January) Borders on Michigan Ave in Chicago had a bizarrely robust math section. It persisted, but started to go over the last couple of years. I never figured out why, but I was always pleased. Who would ever expect to find UTMs in a Borders?

I can't help but think having an okay selection of technical books is a good move for a bookstore. Cody's was within a hundred yards of two use bookshops (only two doors down from Moe's). The only reason I ever went in was if I'd struck out at Moe's or to browse math books. I never quite figured out what killed Cody's. Presumably they were getting more foot traffic than they thought and were betting loads of (richer) people weren't going to Telegraph because of the parking situation. Had they moved downtown instead of Fourth Street I think they might have had a hope in hell. But the last time I went in Cody's (on Shattuck), the math section consisted of some SAT review books. I never even found the math books the one time I actually made it to Fourth Street.
posted by hoyland at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2011


I learned on the radio yesterday that they were closing the three stores here. I also learned that they have three stores here.
posted by sanko at 5:26 PM on February 16, 2011


Pretty soon all we're going to be left with is Amazon.

Yup. One of the few big, in-town retailers here in DC is rolling up it's tent down on K St. We lost our home-grown retailer, Olsson's Books and Records, folded about 3 years ago, contributing to the liquidation of student culture in Georgetown.

At about the same time all of the small Art theaters disappeared, replaced by identical clothing and houseware stores. Georgetown now has only a B&N and a large, anonymous theater under the freeway.
posted by vhsiv at 6:05 PM on February 16, 2011


And they had a piano in the store, near the starbucks.

There was a sign on it telling you not to touch it


At the one in Folsom, people occasionally wander in and play it. There's one or two guys who are actually pretty good. I think there's a sign asking people not to put food or drinks on it.

It also occasionally gets used at music performances... a couple of weeks ago I was wandering there on a Friday night and there was a good jazz combo playing.

Like I said earlier, mostly my Borders experiences are pretty good.
posted by weston at 6:13 PM on February 16, 2011


I'm wondering how it will affect Australian stores. Until a few years ago, Brisbane only had Bookworld and Dymocks, stores dedicated to self-help books, bestsellers and discount cookbooks. (Admittedly, Dymocks had a slightly larger literature section). Borders has been a breath of fresh air for us; even the sheer size of the store is overwhelmingly awesome compared to the cramped and understocked other stores. I have bought more books from Borders in the past couple of years than I have in my whole live, to the point where I let my library membership lapse. One store even attempted a monthly book club, with books like "Confederacy of Dunces". A relative shining star in a previously vacant market in Australia.
posted by chronic sublime at 6:38 PM on February 16, 2011


I loved Borders, and used to make it a point to stop there on my trips home to pick up some books (Books in Japan are up to twice the U.S. cover price or more, worse now with the yen being so strong). I have, like people have said, noticed how crappy it's gotten, and I was pretty sad about that, but had still intended to drop in when I go home for a week next month.

Years back, I worked at Coopersmith's an offshoot of Waldenbooks, and it was one of the best jobs I'd ever had. When B&N opened in our mall, our store closed within sixth months. After that, I tried to get a job at Borders, and they had, in addition to the application, a paper test filled with questions about books and their authors. I was a pretty good employee at my bookstore, and I could regularly figure out what book someone wanted from just a few random hints, but that test killed me. I could answer maybe a fifth of the questions, and when the manager looked at it, he told me not to feel bad, since they'd had Phd students in English lit who'd failed the test. I did not, of course, get the job.*

Recently, yeah, they've gone to shit, but there was a time when they had incredibly knowlegeable staff, and a huge selection. Sometimes the staff would notice a book in my hand, then engage me in conversation about it, and give me recommendations for similar authors. I miss the old Borders.

*Coulda, shoulda, woulda file: Coopersmiths, a part of Waldenbooks, was owned by Borders, and as an employee, I was given very thick envelope that I never bothered to open, thinking it was just a bunch of corporate nonsense that wouldn't have interested me. It was actually the guide for employees to get stock in the company for the ipo, which if I recall correctly, went very, very well for Borders. I had a chance to get Borders stock, but never even opened the envelope. Not one of my proudest moments.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:00 PM on February 16, 2011


I think we're entering a period of transition where curation and in-depth knowledge is being traded for seemingly infinite selection and the reign of the popular. This isn't a opportunity for new stores, ebooks make that a very foolish proposition.

I think it's worth noting that not only are indie bookstores going the way of record stores, but the problems Borders is experiencing don't even necessarily provide opportunities for B&N, at least not the brick and mortar side. Have you walked into a B&N recently? Most of those I've visited have nooks on display within twenty feet of the front door. Their physical bookstores aren't their focus anymore. Next stop, platform wars. In less than five years, most of the users on this site will probably rent or have a platform dependent license for more new book content than they will own. Library budgets are being ravaged, and the value of a collection is being scrutinized. Both on a public/institutional level as well as personal libraries and collections. Times are tough, bookstores and libraries are against the wall, and we're all dangerously counting on the cloud for any and all of our textual needs. We don't need to own it when we're pretty sure it's out there. I'm Feeling Lucky *click*

A bigger concern I have is for what I call book places. One of the most important differences between books and music to me is while both books and music are really about the content, much more than an album ever was, a book is a thing. Sometimes its beauty is more about its form than its content, and it's hard to make arguments about time-shifting and space shifting, as were made for music about an object that is incredibly portable and durable. Physical books are almost anti-ephemeral. Books are also seeds of communities. GLBT, film folk, philosophers, physicists, poets, science fiction fans, they find each other in bookstores and libraries in a way that is tangibly different than online communities do. These are values we shouldn't surrender. With the advent of the Espresso book printing kiosk and the introduction of a significant ebook licensing market, my concern turns to not to the book, which will survive because of its ingenious design, but instead my concern is for book places. It is for the libraries on the front line of state and local budget chopping blocks, and the indies, and even for the Borders. Places that once reminded us of where accumulated knowledge has brought us, and served as homes for the reading communities that exist where we live. Important things happen in those temples—Serendipity, and discussion, and curation happen. Things aren't arranged by popularity there, instead they are collected and arranged for clarity. The people these places attract and the communities they build, those are my concern as we lose our book places.

I have a rather radical ideal for what I think could save both libraries and bookstores. They need to merge. Libraries need to add an option. They need to both lend and sell books. We have these book places in our communities already. I only wish they might see that it is actually in their community's, and in their culture's, and even in their own best interest to promote book ownership.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:12 PM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Borders made me buy a Kindle.

The one near me, once upon a time, had a huge science fiction section, with a good mix of new release hardcovers and paperbacks. I love browsing "the stacks" at a bookstore, as I've long since sucked the science fiction section of the nearest library dry. Borders, at Providence Place, the nearest "big box" retailer, had seven or eight rows worth of science fiction. It was glorious.

Then, one day, looking for something new to read on the train... the section had shrink to less than three rows, mostly vampire romance soap operas.

Don't gotta tell me twice. I bought a Kindle, and discovered I rather liked the little e-reader.* This means I need to spend more time online tracking down things I might like to read - but on the other hand, I haven't been suckered into buying a turkey because of snazzy art and a snappy back-cover blurb the book couldn't live up to.

* I could do without the physical keyboard and forward-back buttons - I'd like the gorgeous e-ink display to have a touch-screen section with a virtual keyboard, and swipe forward/swipe back to change pages.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:17 PM on February 16, 2011


Borders was the only place to socialize in downtown Fairfield, Connecticut. used to ride my bike there, read comics, drink coffee, and come home. I'll miss that place
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:42 PM on February 16, 2011


A relative shining star in a previously vacant market in Australia Brisbane.

There are plenty of good bookstores in Sydney. The only Borders here are in far-flung megamalls - Hornsby, Chatswood - and the suburban hellhole that is Westfield Bondi Junction. Frankly, I don't know how they survive. They are no cheaper than buying the same damn book from Ariel, or Berkelouw, or the Darlinghurst bookshop, or finding a copy at Elizabeth's. As for their ever-growing real estate devoted to random crap: if I need wrapping paper I'll buy it at a stationery store. If I need a USB-powered thingamajig for a gag gift I'll buy it in Chinatown. If I need to find the latest John Grisham for my dad's birthday I'll be buying the $14.88 copy from Big W, where the staff expertise and overall ambience aren't going to be in any way inferior to that at Borders (where they shelve Lauren Weisbeger novels under "literature" and have a whopping three shelves devoted to science, yet a whole aisle of self-help books). As an added bonus, the Big W will likely have fewer screaming children left alone to "play" or sullen teenagers camping out in the magazine section.

I find it interesting that Borders' cafes are always Gloria Jean's. They both sell really average products for not-at-all-competitive prices with completely indifferent service.

(Anecdote: I spent a Christmas working at a Borders Gloria Jean's. We had a mezzanine level overlooking the checkout and at one point I counted 80 people in line, like cattle, clutching copies of Twilight and whatever self-help book Oprah was shilling that year. Borders books: the new cheap candle/scented soap for lazy gift givers. At least they have a decent return policy.)
posted by jaynewould at 7:46 PM on February 16, 2011


Is this something I would need a Borders in town to care about?

I keed, I keed.

Although the nearest Borders was over 30 minutes away, I used to go when I could. It did seem more like a reader's bookstore than any of the other chains, especially since the most excellent local indie bookshop was sold to its employees and became the Harlequin Warehouse. (I knew it was doomed when I showed up one day with my book budget in hand and had no conflicts in keeping inside it at all, when every prior trip involved half the time spent in the store debating which of the treasures I had found HAD to come home with me,)

So, all I have for dead tree books in town is Waldens and this place (Yelp review that shares some of my concerns - They have no online presence) and the library (which keeps way too much stuff on short term loan, in my less than humble opinion.), all of which has led (along with the ability to read in the dark) to my rabid love of ebooks (originally on PalmOS and now on a Linux (Jolicloud) netbook).

Did I make a nesting error?
posted by Samizdata at 8:02 PM on February 16, 2011


There's a lot of negative that can be said about Borders (and B&N), but I'll take them over not having them as an option. Both stores killed the few independent shops in my area, so they're the only bookstores left in an area that is oversaturated with just about every other sort of store or business. Amazons (and other big and small online stores) are great, but there's still something to be said for being able to go in a physical store and handle books. The joy of discovery, for one. Amazon's always recommending goofy things to me like books about the art of Kung Fu Panda (I have no idea what I bought that inspired that recommendation), so I rarely find new books that appeal to me through the site. I can't seem to train it correctly at all.. But, when I go into Borders, I usually have one book in mind, and end up with a stack of all sorts of brilliant things I don't need. Actually, my wallet will probably appreciate Border's disappearance, since I never have a similar experience with Amazon. I don't care if I'm the only one still buying real books and cds. I have no intention of ever getting an ebook reader or mp3 player. What a useless waste of money (unless I become a traveler/commuter or something). I will stop buying any new books/music before I lower myself to electronic stuff. On the plus side, my family has complained about how many books and cds/records, etc. I've hoarded away. Looks like my stash will need to sustain me for the rest of my days.

So, how can we find out if our beloved Borders will be closing (before finding it all boarded up)?

OH NO! MY BRITISH MAGAZINES! ARGHHHH. That's the only place I can buy my UK music magazines! Fuck you, "better modern world".
posted by Mael Oui at 8:11 PM on February 16, 2011


I think we're entering a period of transition where curation and in-depth knowledge is being traded for seemingly infinite selection and the reign of the popular.

I disagree -- the opposite is happening. We're moving into a time when curation and in-depth knowledge is a precious commodity because it will help us deal with the seemingly infinite selection.

The popular is the popular. So long as Sam's and Costco are buy books by the pallet, Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown will never have to worry where their next meal is coming from. The popular has always been and always will be the popular. Literary minded people will frown on them and they'll keep right on selling.

But right now there's never been a bigger value in curation. That's why Oprah has sold a bajillion books -- she's curating this sea of fiction that her viewers eat up. They can't be bothered to sift through the Quasi-Literary Fiction With Lots Of Death And Sadness And Maybe A Little Redemption section of Barnes & Noble, so Oprah does it for them.

And Oprah's the tip of the iceberg. LibraryThing and GoodReads do something similar, only it's the crowd doing the recommending. But we also read blogs like Smart Bitches, where the authors also do a level of curating. Heck, Amazon's recommendations? Same thing.

Curating is about to be a huge tech buzzword. It's not over. It hasn't even really begun.
posted by dw at 8:13 PM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Then Kmart bought Borders and it all went to hell.

I don't think so. Kmart bought a lot of businesses and ran them into the ground, but I really don't believe Borders was one.

Nthing all the good memories of what Borders was once like, including the original location.

I stopped going there a long time ago. My brother kept going, but would gripe about how they were screwing it up. And now our closest one is closing.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:14 PM on February 16, 2011


I'll pay an extra couple bucks a book to keep local folks employed

Do Borders and Barnes & Noble only employ commuters?
posted by John Cohen at 8:18 PM on February 16, 2011


"I disagree -- the opposite is happening. We're moving into a time when curation and in-depth knowledge is a precious commodity because it will help us deal with the seemingly infinite selection."

Can I favorite this harder? I keep clicking, but it doesn't go any faster.

A lot of the comments about Borders' demise emphasize that the loss of curatorial voice was one of the things that killed Borders' appeal. When they started sacrificing the emphasis on knowledgable staff who were passionate about their areas of interest and expertise, they started to blend in with every other bookstore, including Amazon.com. At that point, they were competing on price and selection alone and their emphasis shifted quickly towards piles of bestsellers and aisles of novelty ice cube trays.

Borders' demise isn't proof that curation is dying, it's proof that without that element, it's just a contest between two product fulfillment centers.
posted by verb at 8:33 PM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm wondering how it will affect Australian stores.

Apparently, the Australian stores have different ownership, and only share the name, so they should be fine.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:40 PM on February 16, 2011


So, how can we find out if our beloved Borders will be closing (before finding it all boarded up)?

mikepop posted a link upthread to a sortable list of stores targeted for closure.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:43 PM on February 16, 2011


I don't think so. Kmart bought a lot of businesses and ran them into the ground, but I really don't believe Borders was one.

Yes, I'm sure its decline in quality and staffing had nothing to do with it being sold to Kmart; it was just a coincidence.

To give Kmart credit, keeping what made Borders unique and good might have been beyond the capability of any large chain owners; they just don't think that way. It was a fragile bubble of goodness washed away by a sea of meh and stupid. It happens.
posted by emjaybee at 8:56 PM on February 16, 2011


Do Borders and Barnes & Noble only employ commuters?

I didn't phrase that well, and knew it at the time. What does stay here with an independent local retailer is the profit, and the chain of management that controls things like displays, promotions, purchases, etc.

Most importantly, for a community, for one the book-buying decisions need a local focus. I'd much rather they be locally tuned by people that know the town, then being handed down from Corporate, across the country.

Book People pretty much features the local and regional stuff near front of the store, and it's always my first stop, no matter where I'm headed, once I go on in to the store. I don't think that a national buyer, in charge of stocking 850 stores across the country is going to know jack shit about what UT press or A&M press have put out of local interest, and whether it's worth reading, or even if they knew that it would be within their purview.

I don't know how much control local managers at Barnes and Noble have over local book purchasing, but from what I can tell by walking through one is basically, not as much as Book People.

Local and regional writing is incredibly important to a community I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, but its promotion and dissemination seems to be one of the things that's suffering at the hands of the chain book retailers like B&N & Borders.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:56 PM on February 16, 2011


There's a blog, Shelf Awareness, that highlighted some other reasons for Border's failure, such as the attempt by KMart to merge Borders with Waldenbooks, which apparently didn't go so well.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:15 PM on February 16, 2011


Zeus, that post also highlights a topic that I've ranted about in the past -- the concept of Category Target Pricing, something that was brought into Borders when it was acquired. I worked in the grocery industry for about half a decade, implementing software tools to manage CTP, and it's an interesting approach for certain industries but terrible for books, at least IMO.

I could just be imagining things, but Borders' drift towards a generic retailer rather than a bookseller feels like a symptom of that particular methodology. CTP doesn't distinguish between bolts, leather jackets, candy bars, mops, or canned beans. Product is product and you use algorithms and data to finesse the mix and ensure that you stock just enough of what customers are buying. You can also use it to spot (and emphasize) high volume products that would be otherwise ignored.

That kind of approach makes aisles and aisles of blank journals and novelty items seem very appealing, and it makes investing in the expertise of your front-line staffers very unappealing. Again, I can't say that I know the whole story, but it certainly sounds like what would happen if someone tried to apply a model that's been successful in a razor-thin-margin commodity-driven industry like Grocery sales to something like book sales.
posted by verb at 9:32 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Er, it's a bit late -- "spot high volume products" should be "spot high margin products."
posted by verb at 9:34 PM on February 16, 2011


I suspect I'm talking to myself now, but I just realized with some dark amusement that "Former Jewel Foods Executives" were credited with bringing Category Target Pricing to Borders. The CEO of my old company, coincidentally, was a data wonk at Jewel Foods...

Small world.
posted by verb at 9:39 PM on February 16, 2011


Maybe the general lesson is that models for success in some industries can only be taken so far in other industries. Or, metaphors can only stretch so far.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:48 PM on February 16, 2011


I'm wondering how it will affect Australian stores.

Apparently, the Australian stores have different ownership, and only share the name, so they should be fine.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:40 PM on February 16 [+] [!]

It appears you spoke too soon. This really sucks. Angus and Robertson too
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:54 PM on February 16, 2011


This might be somewhere in the thread already, but in case it isn't:
Borders Group, Inc, Case Administration Website

Do a lot of companies make this kind of site when they're restructuring? Because I think it's kind of cool.
posted by merelyglib at 10:16 PM on February 16, 2011


Yes, I'm sure its decline in quality and staffing had nothing to do with it being sold to Kmart; it was just a coincidence.

I wasn't questioning your evaluation, emjaybee, I was questioning your facts -- I honestly didn't recall that Kmart had ever owned Borders (and living in the area where both companies were/are based, I thought I would have remembered it). But Wikipedia says you're right and I'm wrong, so ... never mind. Sorry.
posted by pmurray63 at 4:53 AM on February 17, 2011


I was wondering if they had already done this a while ago.

Borders went down in the UK at the end of last year.

I find it hard to be sad about chain bookstores, simply because I longed to live somewhere that had one. I grew up somewhere with a population of 100,000, which is not a tiny place in the UK. I go back to visit my mother, and I want to buy a book to read on my way home - I have a choice between a tiny WH Smiths, smaller than the one in the station where I catch my morning train, that only sells misery memoirs and the current best-sellers; The Works, a remainders bookshop; charity shops. It's been like this for about fifteen years, since the store where I ordered Sweet Valley books as a kid closed. In the days before Amazon (I moved away to university in 2000) - if you wanted to read, say, Generation X, you had to get the train to Manchester and go and buy it from Waterstones. I went to the US in '99 and saw a Barnes and Noble for the first time - I could not IMAGINE seeing this range of books. They had a whole section devoted to Wicca, and another purely for graphic novels, something which again I needed to go to the nearest big city and/or a specialist bookstore to get. And that was before I realised you could just sit down and read one without someone asking you if you intended to pay....

I rarely buy new books - I read too quickly to buy novels full-price, so I only pay retail for reference books at the moment, and I love second-hand books and the fact that there's a history behind them, a previous owner dog-earing the pages in the bath before you, and that finding what you want is much more of a challenge than going into Waterstones and just picking it off the shelves, and my copy of The House Of Pooh Corner has a gay Valentine dedication on the flyleaf from 1971, and my copy of The Night Watch has shiny swirly lettering on the front, and you don't get that on an e-reader doohickey now. But I miss Borders for the magazines. I could get off the tube on the way to work, pop in and spend a bit of time wondering how many copies Railway Modeller sell before selecting my copy of Cross Stitcher. Now the only place to get hobby magazines is WH Smith, who carry fewer and tend to be a depressing experience. The Borders I used to visit every time I came to London in the 90s is now a TK Maxx. Same building, same retail space, but there's something less enticing about cheap clothes than there was expensive books.
posted by mippy at 5:09 AM on February 17, 2011




Sad, but the tragedy kind of sad; Borders remade itself into a losing proposition. I have very fond childhood memories of the store #2 from the late eighties and early nineties, and I greatly enjoyed living about two blocks from store #1 in Ann Arbor while I was in college. It's probably the influence of being in a college town as well as being the prototype, but the latter seemed to keep a lot of the flavor that made Borders a great place fot the first part of its arc: the selection was good, not just numerous, the staff was excellent, and it was often a bargain while holding back on a lot of the bargain basement crap that floods most of the other locations. Even then, Borders probably helped the Ann Arbor land economy squeeze Shaman Drum, easily the best indie I've ever been in, out of business.

Going into stores in the suburbs, or even the 'flagships' here in Chicago, was and is a pretty sad contrast. I more or less stopped shopping at the Borders on Michigan avenue until it had its fire sale; trying to balance my purchases between Amazon and the local indie was a much nicer experience. That said, it's too bad that the location on Broadway will close; while not quite at the best that Borders can do it still seems better than most, and the location is absolutely gorgeous.
posted by monocyte at 6:03 AM on February 17, 2011


It's also worth remembering that until only a few years ago, Borders had Amazon do fulfillment for their Web site. I remember when they first announced that partnership back in the nineties. Their logic at the time was they should hire someone who knows how to sell books online because the management felt they knew brick and mortar retail but they recognized they had no idea how to approach this new space, so let experts run this new thing. This was a terrible idea.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:06 AM on February 17, 2011


swipe forward/swipe back to change pages.

You will pry my Forward/Back buttons from my cold, dead, now extremely muscled left hand. Being able to turn pages one handed on the Kindle is a must-have quality of life feature to me. And we're not just talking masturbation here - we're talking being able to lift a pint or work out too.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:36 AM on February 17, 2011


I like paper books, the tactile feel, the lovely covers. But it's just a delivery mechanism. If what you care about is the words inside the book, the fact it's delivered on paper should not matter.

There are significant advantages to paper books (freely loanable, not crippled by DRM, not burdened with possible digital obsolescence, don't require power), but there are two critical ways digital has paper beat -- portability and searchability. Right now I can't find a book among our six bookshelves and five boxes of books waiting for new bookcases. I have, however, found multiple copies of three books because I'd forgotten we had them. On my Kindle, OTOH, I can find exactly what I purchased at any time (so long as they don't pull that deleting the book stunt again), and I don't have to comb feet of shelves looking for it (or come up with a classification system to handle it).

I understand the frustration with losing print. But you had a whole bunch of folks complaining when we went to movable type. We need to be more worried about the consequences of draconian DRM and the coming issues of digital obsolescence and less worried that you won't be able to smell the glue.
posted by dw at 7:08 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went to a local Coles Books yesterday and found a really funny book there. I had to have it. $40 there.
Went online on my phone, got it for $1.99 used (Very Good condition) +$3.99 shipping from Amazon...
posted by Theta States at 7:09 AM on February 17, 2011


shiny blue object: About five years ago, I discovered Jeeves & Wooster (I know, I'm a late bloomer). I went to Borders, now moved down the block into a converted department store. No Wodehouse to be found.

In the late 1980's, I spent a lot of time at the Ann Arbor Borders buying lots of Wodehouse, mostly UK/Canada Penguin editions. I have at least 28 of them of my shelves right now. I could also shop with my dog and get a dog biscuit at the bag check desk. And the magazine section was enormous. Back then, Borders was on the tour for prospective university faculty.

I remember when the store moved half a block away to what had been the Jacobson's department store. There was a picture in the newspaper of volunteers helping to get the books from one place to the other. One thing I really liked about the Jacobson's site, when they first opened, was that they kept the odd nooks and corners, so it felt like lots of small rooms and not a warehouse.

Things had really changed by the mid 90's, when I asked them to post some posters for the upcoming Theater Department productions and they said they weren't allowed to put local content in the windows.
posted by bentley at 7:14 AM on February 17, 2011


It's also worth remembering that until only a few years ago, Borders had Amazon do fulfillment for their Web site.

The issue there isn't that they outsourced fulfillment to Amazon (Target and Toysrus had deals with Amazon for a while) but that when they did end the deal with Amazon they didn't have a strategy for establishing their own e-commerce site. Barnes & Noble, for all the flaws in bn.com, did invest in building out and improving their site and fulfillment system so they could compete with Amazon.

Borders reminds me a lot of Montgomery Ward -- the company foundered for years while the management at first resisted the notion that Wal-Mart and Target were squeezing them out, then failed to come up with any cohesive strategy to keep the business competitive even against JCPenney and Sears. And like Borders, it seemed like Montgomery Ward spent years with people wondering how they could still be in business.

(So for the last four Christmases we'd have a tradition of spending the Borders gift cards we always got in our stockings on the day after Christmas, just in case Borders closed up shop in the days afterward. Four years we've been waiting for the day Borders would file for bankruptcy.)
posted by dw at 7:24 AM on February 17, 2011


I like paper books, the tactile feel, the lovely covers. But it's just a delivery mechanism. If what you care about is the words inside the book, the fact it's delivered on paper should not matter.

There are larger experiences wrapped around books though. The words could be anywhere, true. But no matter how hard Amazon nor anyone else tries, there's nothing like going into a bookshop where the selection has been chosen with care and thought and a bit of human quirkiness, swimming through a physical space of thoughts and ideas committed to paper, bound for our convenience.

Perhaps it's an acquired taste.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:42 AM on February 17, 2011


The Borders I used to visit every time I came to London in the 90s is now a TK Maxx. Same building, same retail space, but there's something less enticing about cheap clothes than there was expensive books.

mippy: You must be deliberately leaving out the fact that the Borders was across the street from Foyles.
Good riddance to that Borders.
And then there's Waterstones which is all over London as well.
posted by vacapinta at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2011


I love second-hand books and the fact that there's a history behind them, a previous owner dog-earing the pages in the bath before you, and that finding what you want is much more of a challenge than going into Waterstones and just picking it off the shelves, and my copy of The House Of Pooh Corner has a gay Valentine dedication on the flyleaf from 1971...

I love finding marginalia in used books, as well. My purchase of both The Odyssey and the Iliad were predicated by which copies had the most interesting notes. What was amusing was that you could see, browsing through the ten or so copies of each on display, that pretty much everyone who'd been marking those up for a class went gangbusters for a couple chapters, then slowly petered out, mid-book. None of them had any notes at all past about the 2/3's mark. Kinda sad.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:22 AM on February 17, 2011


vacapinta - ah no, in that case I mean the Borders that's now a Next or a New Look or something. I'd never found Foyles until I moved here.

No Waterstones in London matches up to Waterstones on Deansgate - all other branches of Waterstones smell of poo, wee and sick. Also, they didn't sell magazines...one of the things I love about cities is being able to buy the IHT, NYT, El Mundo or Italian Vogue on the way to work if I so choose, as casually as if it were the Daily Star.
posted by mippy at 8:35 AM on February 17, 2011


Note: I haven't read the comments yet.

This makes me sad. First because my job at Borders 10 years ago (I worked there for 6 years) gave me an in in the book world. I left when I could see the writing on the wall. (I saw some important jobs going away, and got out before things got really bad).

Second because so many jobs are going to be lost. They may not have been the best jobs, but they were far from terrible. It was a great job for students, who needed a flexible schedule.

And less bookstores means less access for readers. (I currently work for a very small independent shop). The city where I live will be losing more than 5 Borders stores. It's a real shame.
posted by bibliogrrl at 9:10 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the independent stores that shut down when Borders came to town will return and fill in any bookish void.
posted by merelyglib at 10:10 AM on February 17, 2011




"There are plenty of good bookstores in Sydney."

come to Newtown. come to Gould's Books. you may never leave
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:32 PM on February 17, 2011


…it's just a contest between two product fulfillment centers.

For the majority of American book sales to individuals, a contest between distribution centers is exactly what those individuals want from their booksellers. That and an unusually aggressive team of publisher liaisons who leverage market share to force publishers toward manufacturing and distribution efficiencies, which will probably cost jobs, create typos, and reduce the average book's archival quality. These practices, which have occasionally had other disastrous unintended consequences like an unnecessarily high ecological footprint (The books that once came into a community in one box, one shipment, now comes into that same community from internet retailers in 20 boxes and 20 shipments) or even the outsourcing of the digitization of our textual heritage to a commercial entity, should be teaching us that fast and cheap has not served books or our culture well. I think it's awesome that dw and others are predicting that curation is the next big thing among internet driven book sales. Sure, I’ve heard that too. But I want to see a model that creates appropriate replacements for physical libraries and community bookstores. Yes, there are brilliant online communities like this site, and LibraryThing, that do great things for general book culture. But the qualities they offer are significantly different than what happens where you live with your real neighbors. If you care about books and the quality of life where you live, preserving places where physical books are collected needs your help. This may not be your issue. And this shouldn’t be perceived as rhetoric about the death of the book. The imminent threat is to the places in our communities where many of us and our neighbors “only connect” with books.

dw, is Oprah really a curator, or is what she’s doing really just making popular things more popular?
posted by Toekneesan at 5:17 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oprah really a curator, or is what she’s doing really just making popular things more popular?

When Oprah puts her imprimatur on something, sales skyrocket. It's well documented.

Whether she's making popular things more popular or unknown things known is irrelevant. She's a curator of culture.
posted by dw at 9:57 PM on February 17, 2011


all other branches of Waterstones smell of poo, wee and sick.

Surely not the Waterstone's in the old chapel on Broad Street, Reading? That was one of my favorite things about Reading -- which, sadly, didn't have a lot else to offer back in the late 90s.

It and the late, great Alabama Bookstop in Houston, were marvelous places.
posted by dw at 10:07 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"For the majority of American book sales to individuals, a contest between distribution centers is exactly what those individuals want from their booksellers."

Except, of course, for the people in this thread and elsewhere on the Internet who valued the personality and expert influence that knowledgeable booksellers bring to the table at many independent bookstores. The personality and expertise that many people lament the loss of as Borders transitioned into a contest between distribution centers.

I think you're missing the point of dw's comments: he was replying to someone who said that the death of Borders was the death of curation. He was not suggesting that digital curation is a panacea or that it is a replacement for physical libraries -- he observed, correctly, that it is becoming more and more necessary as the number of choices increase.

Librarians who make choices about what books to carry are curating. People who maintain news sites focusing on topics they care about are often curating. People who build recommendation lists on Amazon are curating. Oldschool Borders employees who lovingly tended their Jazz or Psychology or Comparative Religion sections were curating. Curation is important, and it grows more important as the amount of data we have access to increases.

That has nothing to do with the need for physical community spaces: that's an important but fundamentally separate issue.
posted by verb at 10:12 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mark Evans answers the question "Why is Barnes & Noble performing well as a business while Borders is near (or has even reached) bankruptcy?" on Quora.

(And a few other questions, too.)

Some interesting answers. I think it's interesting that he tends to focus on what are largely operational issues and market trends. Not that I don't think those issues would be enough, and this isn't terribly surprising given the positions he's held at Borders, but it sortof reinforces the blindness people have commented on here regarding certain kinds of value in educated staff and the community that can coalesce around a store.
posted by weston at 4:03 PM on February 19, 2011


If I may link to my previous fpp on Borders from 3 years ago.

Yeah, there's a lot of debate about when the trouble began, when "the writing was on the wall". Yes, the Borders brothers sold their business. Then K-mart bought it. In 1995 Borders became its own entity, Borders Group Inc., which included Waldenbooks. They went public. Waldenbooks management started moving into positions of power, replacing the hissy-fit hippies that were already bitching about the death of the company. Ironic that they made it easier for the corporate drones to move in and take their place.

Then Borders prospered, at least for a little while. They brought a depth of selection to areas of the country that previously had no access to such rich content. And for all those that wring their hands and complain about Borders killing off their favorite local bookstore: fuck you. Fuck you and your urban hipster superiority complex. Chances are your bookstore sucked balls and went out of business because Borders offered your friends, neighbors, and--perhaps--even yourself something that the Mom & Pop didn't. I know that Wallace Kuralt, brother of Charles, was in a world of shit before Borders moved into the Triangle. He wanted Borders to buy him out, but his debts were too risky for even Borders to assume. So in the noble name of independent bookstores everywhere, he filed an anti-trust lawsuit.

I'm not here to defend Borders. The upper management made so many terrible decisions they were just asking to fuck things up beyond redemption, and it's finally caught up with them. Bob DiRomualdo was a dick, but he knew how to promote bookstores. Next was Phil Pfeffer, whose tenure lasted a whopping six months. Rumour had it that he brought prostitutes to his office at Ann Arbor. Whether this was true or not, he seemed to be universally loathed at HQ.

Then came Greg Josefowicz. If there's one person I could pick to pin the blame on, it would be him. He gutted the stores' inventories in the name of Category Management. His philosophy seemed to be that Borders had too much selection, the poor customer was overwhelmed with choice.

Crap had already been creeping in (stationary, greeting cards, candy), but the ultimate symbol of how ludicrous things had become was Billy Bass. Borders was now in the business of selling a cornball singing fish, and it was MANDATORY (really, corporate had a minor rebellion to quash when the stores at first refused to put them on the sales floor or they were mysteriously damaged in shipping).

The rest I pretty much covered in my post from 2008. My axe is ground.


[many thanks to this article by Nathan Bomey for helping me keep my information straight]
posted by malaprohibita at 7:52 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yikes!

Well as a former owner of one of those hipster indies now out of business, I’m not sure I can agree with all you say. You are spot on about the peaks of the company. They were the very model of a modern major general interest bookstore. And under the Borders brothers they were stores to you’d want to die in. But so too was Shaman Drum, the indie in Borders' home town that shut it's doors two years ago, in spite of the fact that for three decades it competed with the original Borders, a giant Borders superstore down the block, and various Borders stores all over the Ann Arbor area, including a few experimental stores.

But the wholesale dismissal of the Kuralt case isn’t entirely fair. Perhaps you have in-depth knowledge of his balance sheets, and some special insight into his motivations, but the case was about more than him. It was about if it made sense to reward volume above all other factors. That case, for bookselling anyway, said yes, it's all about volume. And from that point on, the way book publishers and distributors treated their customers—all booksellers—changed. Ingram and Baker & Taylor and the major publishers changed their terms. Discount schedules become entrenched in volume based discounting, and no longer considered issues like the kind of store you were, or the size of the populace you served, and that is a big part of how we got where we are today. I know this because I was there. I signed the checks to those distributors and publishers, I faxed or Pubnetted the POs. I tried. But then Amazon began selling below the bottom of that discount schedule.

i.e.
Publisher “X” discount schedule

1 copy 20%
2-25 copies 40%
26 -50 42%
51 -100 45%
101 or more 50% + free shipping

When Amazon, fueled by an insane stock price that left them soaking in money, sold those books at 55% and 60% off, I knew it was over. At least for my ilk. I watched that for a couple of years before I called it quits. I kept thinking it couldn’t possibly be legal or sustainable. But I was wrong, though as much about just how long that unprecedented market capitalization would last as I was about the legality of selling below cost. And B&N and Borders both dabbled in that kind of discounting to the consumer too.

Though I have to admit, there is no Borders in this town. Closing my store had nothing to do with them in a local sense here. Though it's worth knowing that in the ten years since my store closed, it is now necessary to drive over 50 miles to get a selection that isn't limited to either under 1,000 titles, or which isn't a Barnes and Noble. It was the result of consolidated product distribution, signified by big box stores, supplied by publishing and wholesale distribution oligopolies. It was a larger phenomenon, but it hit books hard because that’s where Amazon started. For books specifically, as I’ve blathered on about before, it is in essence about a significant shift in how we perceive books and the institutions that have long promoted and collected them. Yeah, the same thing that happened to music is happening to books, and it’s really unfortunate, because so much more depends on books than music. We can all get along just fine without studios and record labels and Tower Records, but I don't think the same is true of publishers, bookstores, and libraries. These are very different ecosystems supporting very different species. It could be that we come out on the other end of this with a solid infrastructure that adds value to text—that turns writing into literature, or that supports people where you live who spends their day thinking about who might benefit from a particular book. But we’re apparently betting the farm on it, and we’re trusting the pretend bodies that really represent groups of investors to do, not what is in their best interest, but what is in all of our best interest. In the process we may be blurring what is best for us as consumers, with what is best for us as a culture. So, I worry. And I post silly little retorts on the bottom of long threads. Threads about what’s wrong with bookselling, and why indies suck. Because the problem isn’t really with the humans in bookselling, and not all the indies sucked. The problem is really something else entirely.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:59 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The recollection of my first encounter with a Borders emporium is a vivid and cherished one. It was the Jam Factory installation in Melbourne, apparently the first in Australia. I suppose this was in 2000 so, apparently, going by this thread, well into a terrible decline, but I had honestly never come across anything like it. Sure, Gould’s Books in Sydney is probably the best thing that town has going for it, but most of that stuff is old. But here, at the Jam Factory, it was new and it was outstanding. I had never been in the midst of such a sprawl of compartments for the written word. I boggled, rightly, at the rich diversity, and spent many fascinated, enchanted hours mooching about, over the years spending a great deal of money there. Of course, the Jam Factory was a bit of a bore to get to from where I was, so most of my shopping was done at the excellent Reader’s Feast in town, but still.

Returning to Brisbane in 2005 I suppose it was, I was delighted at reassurances of the existence of a Borders in such a quaint little ville of hicks. I went there, but it wasn’t the same. Of course, before leaving Melbourne, the Jam Factory store wasn’t the same either. Shrinkage of books, expandage of…tat. Just tat, really. Cheap, dollar shop tat, with a Borders markup (which I had been tolerant of for a very long time, not trusting Amazon). But this Brisbane store…wow. Little better than an Angus & Robertson. The most expensive bookstore in town, easily, and though physically the largest, also seemingly the most bereft. Out of desperation I would in and out of a lunch hour, just to sit and read the overpriced magazines, or browse the quite embarrassing collection of graphic novels. Never bothered with the staff after a couple of times, they were worse than useless. I just to look stuff up on the in-store PCs, attached to a database which was fast and accurate.

Then they introduced a new search system on their computers. A more bloated, broken, dysfunctional piece of software I have difficulty imagining. Approximately one ten-thousandth of the capacity of Amazon, but desperately slow and incapable. So, now it’s Amazon and Fishpond when I know what I want and want it cheap, or the excellent Folio Books or Pulp Fiction when I want a nice relaxing browse.

Stupid Borders. You blew it, and I won’t miss you. No lover of books will.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:27 PM on February 21, 2011


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