How Not to Run a Bookstore
March 27, 2008 1:17 PM   Subscribe

The Demise of Borders Books. Once calling itself a collection of individual stores and denying it was a chain, Borders, begun in 1971 by brothers Tom and Louis, is in deep financial trouble.

Competition from discounters like Walmart and Amazon, as well as rival Barnes & Noble, certainly factor into its current situation, but a number of bad business decisions and worsening employee relations are also to blame. After building a multimillion dollar distribution center and launching their own online store in 1998, Borders eventually abandoned both and let Amazon take over their web operations.

Then in 2001, the chain underwent a restructuring that eliminated most of its community relations staff and began culling its once-prized inventory. The culture shifted from one of "book people" to Category Management, a grocery store-like model of marketing research financed by vendors. But as Borders is finding out, what works for other retailers does not translate well at bookstores.

disclaimer: I worked for Borders for several years, and so am somewhat intimate with its history.
posted by malaprohibita (119 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bummer. I always prefered them to Barnes & Noble.

I assume the UK Borders, including the big one in Charing Cross Road, are also under threat?
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on March 27, 2008


Independent book sellers rejoice, all 9 of you left.
posted by plexi at 1:30 PM on March 27, 2008 [12 favorites]


In a way, yes. I believe Borders is looking to sell off their UK holdings.
posted by malaprohibita at 1:31 PM on March 27, 2008


I used to like Borders until Waldenbooks became part of it--and somehow it all became a chain quasi-bookstore. Barnes & Nobles is still excellent but who knows for how long?
posted by Peach at 1:33 PM on March 27, 2008


Good old Powell's is still going strong out here in Portland!* They even have expansion plans.

*Don't move here.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:33 PM on March 27, 2008 [18 favorites]


Aha, I'm a bit behind the times: Borders Group Announces Sale of Borders U.K. (Sept 07)
posted by Artw at 1:34 PM on March 27, 2008


* but everyone says it's the Seattle that's still cool!
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on March 27, 2008


Man I am glad I up and quit that place a couple of months ago. All of my coworkers were either malcontents or people who at forty eight were just dreaming about one day making it to assistant manager. Fuck Borders, fuck them in their stupid asses.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 1:37 PM on March 27, 2008


So does this mean that all the "death of books" posts that we've been pointing to and laughing at for the last [x] years were actually RIGHT?
posted by Artw at 1:38 PM on March 27, 2008


I'm not surprised. Their book prices are terrible, so I only go to Borders when I want to buy a particular book right now, and damn the cost... and almost every time I do, they don't even have what I was looking for.

I buy more coffee from Borders than books, to the point where my main thought on this story was "no, not my precious Seattle's Best!" Considering how many books I buy, that's bad news for Borders.
posted by vorfeed at 1:38 PM on March 27, 2008


Dang. This means that I need to use that Borders gift card that's been moldering in my wallet for the last three years.
posted by ooga_booga at 1:42 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Very unfortunate for what was once a great bookseller. Word on the street is that B&N is looking to buy them out but they're waiting for things to get worse so the price drops. That would not be a good thing for American book culture.

I knew it probably wasn't a good sign when the not-for-profit publisher I work for got a request from the new CEO asking for a donation for his favorite golf charity. That was his first email to publishers. Nothing about how he would restructure the organization, but a request to fund his golf tournament. But what does one expect from a guy who's never sold a book in his life and whose previous job was running Macy's.

Category Management blows. Nothing says race to the bottom quite like category management. Books are stocked based on marketing budgets. All ordering centralized so your store has no idea what your community reads, only what sells consistently. Chicken Soup for the Soul volume 236b. And while I'd like to pin this all on that asinine concept, allowing Amazon to run their Web site probably had much more to do with it. Talk about dumbest moves in 20th century retailing.

I've never been a fan of the chains but of the two, I used to prefer Borders for breadth of selection. That's completely a thing of the past. Even their original Ann Arbor store is a shell of what it once was in terms of selection.

Yes, this is very sad indeed. Before you know it we'll be just like Canada where the two major bookselling chains are also owned by the same company. Ask a Canadian if they think that worked out well for them.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:43 PM on March 27, 2008


People following the credit crisis will probably recognize the name of Border's activist shareholder, Pershing Square Capital. That's William Ackman's fund. The same guy who has been hounding the Fed about the financial guarantors (MBIA and Ambac, specifically). Here's a NYTimes article on the topic with a link to the 20-page letter he sent to the Fed and others.

Pershing Square also holds a big stake in Barnes & Noble.
posted by mullacc at 1:47 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


At last... all the stars have aligned for me to purchase a national bookstore chain all my own for just a song and a dance, and furnish it with arcana, hookahs, and blank-eyed acolytes. If you thought the Harry Potter Midnight release parties were fun, just wait for the Midnight Cthulhu parties complete with a reading by the undead author and playful games like "Ring around Shub-Niggurath," "pin-the-tail-on-the-Great-Old-One," "Shoggoth-Shoggoth-Yugg," and "Tag, You're Sane!"
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:48 PM on March 27, 2008 [19 favorites]


As vorfeed said, in the past decade I've only bought from them when they had something available that I was too impatient to wait 5 days for from Amazon. Places like Borders fill the intractable void between real library and coffee shop. Every time I've gone there, there seemed to be far more people just sitting around chatting and browsing through a stack of books that they had no intention of buying whilst sipping a starbucks-y latte than actual customers. Real libraries shouldn't really be coffee shops, so I don't know where that leaves Borders or its kin in the mix.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:49 PM on March 27, 2008


Your favorite book store sucks.
posted by AspectRatio at 1:53 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to go to Borders a lot when I first moved to my current town. It was the only bookstore within walking distance of my house and it had good coffee. The barista who made that coffee was a cute and tough-looking girl named Amy. She had a tattoo of a cross at the base of her thumb, always made my double-short latte the same way (which is to say, correctly) and never cracked a smile. I nursed a crush on her until the Borders Cafe sold out to SBC and she got canned. DAMN YOU, BORDERS, FOR DESTROYING MY CHANCES WITH THE CUTE BARISTAS YOU USED TO EMPLOY! ALSO, DAMN MY CHRONIC SHYNESS AND SOCIAL LASSITUDE!

A Mom-n-Pop bookstore opened up just down the street from Borders about six months ago, ready and waiting to feed on the corpse of corporate mistakes. There's something ironic there, but I'm not smart enough to point it out to anyone.
posted by Pecinpah at 1:55 PM on March 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


I worked at one of their larger stores for about three years in the mid-90s. It's really quite sad to see what's happened to them, since they (initially, at least) tried to embed their stores in the communities in which they were located and required their staff to be informed about the books and music they were selling. You had to take and pass a book test (authors, title, genres, etc.) and booksellers were encouraged to specialize in a particular genre/section of the store. You could also apply to be the community relations and corporate account/library rep. Stores were also allowed to set up their own unique window displays and end caps. All in all, they really gave each store an amazing amount of independence for a retail operation.

I still try to patronize them since their back list tends to be wider and deeper than that of the Barnes and Nobles superstores in my area, but the chain as a whole has really gone downhill over the past 10 years. A lot of questionable business decisions, combined with a steady erosion in the independence and resulting uniqueness of each Borders store (particularly the superstores) have eliminated much of what made Borders special.

It's too bad, really. I still remember trips to Borders #1, the original "mothership" store in Ann Arbor. The love of books pervaded the store and you could tell the staff loved working there.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:56 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


The sad part of this story happened years ago as far as I'm concerned. The original Borders in Ann Arbor used to be the best goddamn bookstore I'd ever seen. They had a huge, carefully-chosen inventory and these incredibly well-read and book-obsessed employees; it was like if the ideal funky little bookstore of your dreams had somehow swollen up to Barnes-and-Noble size.

The changeover to retail-as-usual may have been made official in 2001, but it had been happening unofficially for years before that, and it was depressing as all hell.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:57 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


But the recent merger between Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets, the two largest sellers of organic and natural foods, has given some analysts hope that a deal between Borders and Barnes & Noble might pass muster.

The merger of a couple of niche grocery store chains, versus the merger of the two largest bookstore chains? I just don't see that being the same. Competition for the organic and natural foods is still maintained, to some extent, by larger food retailers. I don't think the same applies here. I think a better suitor would be a general merchandise chain (Wal-Mart, Target) or an online retailer like Amazon (with whom they are already associated).
posted by Doohickie at 1:57 PM on March 27, 2008


(Ah! Howdy, longdaysjourney. How 'bout that preview button, eh?)
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:57 PM on March 27, 2008


I kind of knew things were going down, though, when they closed Borders #(something less than 50) here in Fort Worth last year.
posted by Doohickie at 1:58 PM on March 27, 2008


elwoodwiles: Good old Powell's is still going strong out here in Portland!* They even have expansion plans.

*Don't move here.


A year or so ago I was absentmindedly listening to the radio here in Providence and they were talking about people moving here post-college and someone referred to Providence as "the Portland of the East Coast." I had five seconds of shock followed by a minute of howling laughter. Real Billy Connolly inner laughter stuff.

As to Borders... well... I like going there to buy coffee and read a stack of magazines or book of essays that the library doesn't have, other than that, I won't miss them. They were better when I got here, even as recently as 3 years ago. I've noticed a real drop in quality the last year or so, but that may be me just paying attention to it.
posted by Kattullus at 2:02 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Meh. Bookstores are a thing of the past anyway. I love books (I probably have more books than I do DVDs, and I have a lot of DVDs) and I love reading but the last time I went into a bookstore (a Borders, funnily enough) I only went in there because my girlfriend had won a gift card from there and we figured we might as well use it. I buy all my books online and I suspect many more people are doing that too.

Borders and other bookstores are dying not because of category management and other strawman arguments; they're dying because the internet is the best (and often the cheapest) way to buy your books. I don't buy the argument that their demise will hurt "book culture" in the US, or anywhere else for that matter. As long as people are still buying books, they will still be reading them somewhere.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:03 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just don't see that being the same.

Whether it's the same or not is irrelevant. The "analysts" say it's the same, and that's what matters.

Merger-and-Acquisition strategy, brought to you by the same people that decided Category Management was genius! Yay!
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is unfortunate, as Borders has by far the best children's section of any bookstore. Barnes & Noble's children section sucks precisely 19 different kinds of ass, beginning their selling of Thomas train toys and ending with the fact that 90% of their childrens books are Nick Jr or Pixar merchandsing tie-ins. Guess what, pre-K kids probably shouldn't be watching Spongebob Squarepants.

Border's carries educational books, workbooks, and a much wider variety of picture books. They always have decent discount books as well.

Borders went wrong by devoting too much of their stores' floor space to music and DVD's.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Borders isn't failing because of "category management" Borders is failing for the same reason every retailer fails. They over expanded into lots of places where the densities and demographics didn't add up to a high enough level of sales relative to the costs of setting up and running the store.

One might argue that both Borders and Barnes and Nobles current failings are more an argument that suburban big box bookstores don't work in a lot of places rather then some statement on the value of "category management" Stores like the Borders only embraced that concept when they realized the economics of just selling books weren't going to work at a strip mall outside Peoria or Denton.

I think there are a lot of questions out there about the Activist Shareholders plans to fix the business. Doesn't seem to really address the core problem of overexpansion and structurally low store productivity.
posted by JPD at 2:09 PM on March 27, 2008


The books I buy for myself I get on ebay or from amazon, because I know what I want. But when I buy books as gifts, I have to hold them, look at them, read half the book in the store (except maybe Post Secret books).

I'll miss Borders.
posted by francesca too at 2:12 PM on March 27, 2008


This sucks, as I have a large nice Borders store two blocks from my house and go there often.
posted by mrbill at 2:12 PM on March 27, 2008


I do not speak in my official capacity as a Borders employee when I say David Schick needs to shut his big fat stupid yap with all this junk about how great a merger would be.

Me, I wanna go private.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:13 PM on March 27, 2008


Consolidation of the two largest bookstore chains would hurt book culture. It restricts choice and access and increases price. But yes, the internet can help lessen the impact. I still can't believe Borders asked Amazon to sell books online for them.

Hey fox, listen. Me and the other hens were talking and we think your intense interest in our eggs makes you perfect agent to represent our productline. What do you think?
posted by Toekneesan at 2:15 PM on March 27, 2008


The original Borders in Ann Arbor was great. I was pissed that the chain it became was a union-busting outfit, but at least they had good stock. Then they stopped having good stock.

I still love bookstores, dammit. The internet is only easy for me if I already know what book I want to buy. I want to browse across hundreds of titles nicely set out for me in a row by subject, take one down, leaf through it, put it back, and wander to a different section. I know that in theory you can do all that on the internet. I can't. It feels wrong. That's stupid, but true for me.

I can't order shoes online either.
posted by kyrademon at 2:15 PM on March 27, 2008 [5 favorites]


"Me, I wanna go private."

Good luck getting financing for that, unless one of the Activists does it, and believe me, then you don't want to be private. Slash and Burn.
posted by JPD at 2:15 PM on March 27, 2008


Bookstores in neighborhoods and walkable urban areas will probably continue to do fine. It's the ones in smaller strip malls that are going to be the first to go. People want to reduce their driving for reasons of time, fuel prices and congestion, so the winners will be big boxes, really major malls, places you can easily get to from where you are, and the internet. A lot of businesses in relatively superfluous strip malls are probably going to be the big losers in years to come.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:24 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


My first trip to a Borders - I had previously only been to Walden's and Dalton's - was so eye-opening and exciting! They had more books, sure, but they also had clerks besides the grumpy ladies behind the register, and magazines I hadn't heard of, and couches! And science fiction!

By today's standards that store is quite small, and I haven't been in there in a decade. No music or coffee! Just books! All the books I could ever read, all the books I could ever want! Time enough at last!
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:29 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Your favorite book store sucks

Wrong. My favorite book store is fucking awesome. Suck it, not-Portland.*


* No, seriously. Don't move here. elwoodwiles is right. You'd hate it here.
posted by dersins at 2:31 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Borders went wrong by devoting too much of their stores' floor space to music and DVD's.

Ironically, with the closure of Tower Records and the slow death of my local independent music store, Borders is one of the best places around to go music shopping. It totally sucks for music shopping, but it's still one of the best places for selection.
posted by LionIndex at 2:34 PM on March 27, 2008


My impression having visited Powells is that, despite being somewhat obnoxious, dersins is in fact completely correct.
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on March 27, 2008


As a Powell's employee, I'd like to say that not only are we still independent, but we are located conveniently near a vegan strip club.
posted by mrnutty at 2:42 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Previous Powels discussion
posted by Artw at 2:44 PM on March 27, 2008


This news doesn't upset me. Borders was never a good bookstore. Not in the last 15 years that I had ever been inside one anyway. Borders and Barnes and Nobles are to books as what Blockbuster is to movies. Shitty titles for shitty prices sold to you by people who don't care about what they're selling. Although, when you don't have the cash to spend, these places do happen to be good for stealing your next obligatory birthday present from. And I don't know about you guys, but I'm certainly not going to contribute to the dying population of real locally owned/independent bookstores by buying books through an internet retailer like Amazon. In Oakland and Berkeley there are still a number of fantastic bookstores around that I'd gladly contribute my hard earned dollars to, Moes and Pegasus immediatley come to mind, and everytime I visit my hometown of Portland, OR I make it my personal mission to visit the great Powell's Books. They also have a website and a very friendly customer service line. In SF they have an amazing bookstore called Green Apple Books. I guess what I'm getting at is that a little internet research, or a gander at any local phonebook, and I'm sure that each and every one of us could find a local bookstore within a feasible distance. I'm going to ride my bicycle to one after work today. Let's all hold hands now. Awesome.
posted by anoirmarie at 2:44 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Back in the late 1990s, I used to browse the music section of the local Borders and goggle at the CD prices: everything that was not a new release was $15, $16, $17, even $18 for a single Bonnie Raitt album (for example). Can any other Mefites report on their CD pricing in the 21st century?
posted by Lord Kinbote at 2:45 PM on March 27, 2008


I first went to Borders in the 70's in Ann Arbor, Mi. I loved that store so much! I had no idea they had become a chain until the 90's. I have wonderful memories of the Ann Arbor store, but I can't say I will weep when (if) they cease to be a chain - they rarely have the book I'm looking for.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2008


The only items I used to buy at Borders were an occasional quarto coffee-table book from the liquidation tables out front for 75% off list price.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 2:47 PM on March 27, 2008


Y'all can move to Ashland. We have a small independent bookstore that has not closed. It has a cat named Orlando.
posted by everichon at 2:51 PM on March 27, 2008


I went to see John Krakauer at a Borders in the 1990s, while he was doing the book tour for "Into the Wild."

He had a slide projector, and the capacity audience was waiting with bated breath to see slides of the bus, the parents visiting Alaska, some of the people interviewed for the book and other photos, most of which he took himself. But the Borders middle-management types wouldn't let him turn out the lights, or even dim them, because, well, just because them's the corporate rules. Krakauer, already a very intense fellow, fumed through his entire reading and there was no slideshow.

As far as I'm concerned, Borders' only value to me is feeding the pipeline with what will become used books at my favorite local stores. Fuck 'em.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:56 PM on March 27, 2008


Can any other Mefites report on their CD pricing in the 21st century?

These CDs you speak of - you can play them?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:57 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


* No, seriously. Don't move here. elwoodwiles is right. You'd hate it here.

He's not kidding. We'll set fire to your SUV. All our parking spaces are marked "compact" and you'll get door dings if you try to park in them anyway. We'll zone your McMansion out of existence and our already-high property taxes are indexed according to tackiness. What few big box stores we have are permanently blocked by protestors. We only have one Hooters and it's staffed with crossdressers and trannies. Those few of us who drive will tailgate you for hours if you have one of those DVD players over your back seat, because we want to see the end of the movie. We communicate only by WiFi, even with the person sitting next to us. You'd really, really hate it here. We're so smugly urban-hip we make that I'm a Mac guy look like a beerbellied superfan tanked up on domestic light beer with his naked upper torso painted in team colors. And speaking of beer, all of ours is the consistency of Malt-O-Meal and has twigs in it. You would really, really hate it here. Children are born connected to their mothers with white iPod headphone cables instead of umbilical cords. Just stay away for god's sake.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:57 PM on March 27, 2008 [27 favorites]


Did I mention my Canadian friends from England are moving there? I’ll be sure to pop by a lot.
posted by Artw at 3:01 PM on March 27, 2008


or an online retailer like Amazon (with whom they are already associated)

Amazon has stated on many occasions (well before the super fun past week) that they have no interest in moving into physical retail channels, if for no other reason than that they would no longer have any argument for not charging sales tax online. And the Borders/Amazon relationship is ending soon as we're taking back e-commerce operations.

Good luck getting financing for that, unless one of the Activists does it, and believe me, then you don't want to be private. Slash and Burn.

Highly probable slash and burn at the hands of an activist is still way better than the definite slash and burn that would be the only possible result of a B&N merger.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:02 PM on March 27, 2008


You're all wrong about why Borders failed and why every bookstore/record store/ comic book store is bound to fail in the near future. Owning information is a thing of the past. This ain't the 1700's when if you wanted to read books you had to buy them and place them on your old shelves and read them with your monocle. This is the future baby! Information is everywhere. If you buy a book or an album or anything, then you are just living in the past. You can't own a book. A book is everywhere. Owning a book is like buying a copy of a sunset or of air. It is ridiculous. In the future we experience content, we don't buy moldy old copies of it. Get with the times people!
posted by ND¢ at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, I hate to defend Borders after their anti-union shenanigans, but their business model, I must admit, did seem to present about the best case scenario with regard to the sort of bookstores that might succeed on a wide scale, in the U.S. at least.

Sure, Borders stores aren't Powell's in Portland, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for copies of the Portland Powell's to spring up in all the Muncie, Indianas around the United States. I can't escape the fear that, national-bookstore-chain-wise, Borders was about as good as we're likely to get. I'll be sad to see it go.
posted by washburn at 3:06 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Google maps 37Signals with Flickr iPod.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:06 PM on March 27, 2008


Thank fuck, and good fucking riddance. Fucking predators.
posted by mattoxic at 3:08 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Category Management blows. Nothing says race to the bottom quite like category management. Books are stocked based on marketing budgets. All ordering centralized so your store has no idea what your community reads, only what sells consistently.

Chapters, the only book chain left in Canada, moved to category management in 1998. I remember it well, as that was when I (who ran the fiction department of one flagship store, which sold $3M in fiction a year), the product manager and the community outreach manager all got shitcanned.

Immediately thereafter: all ordering done centrally, stock diversity halved overnight and quartered the next night. This was just after they destroyed 95% of the independent bookstores in the country, meaning that if you wanted something unusual -- and this was before any online shops were popular or useful -- you were fucked. And because the company, which at the time accounted for 70% of all book sales in the country, started returning all of these quirky books and all of their overstock to the publishers, the publishers found themselves with a sudden influx of product that was virtually impossible to sell, and with millions of dollars in credit owed to Chapters.

It came this close to killing the Canadian publishing industry.

And then Chapters opened up their own distribution warehouse, virtually destroying the Canadian book distribution industry.

It got a little worse (if you can believe it) after Indigo bought out Chapters and more square footage got devoted to useless little knickkacks: wrapping paper, boxes full of shiny stones, and so forth. And Indigo's principal is a noted censor.

It's gotten a little better in the last ten years as a few more independents come on the scene and we have several good online sources available to us. And by any measure, the big-box Chapters stores are now struggling. More competition, fewer book buyers, less diversity, weaker periodical sales, fewer must-have gift books (there may never be another cash cow like Harry Potter).

And I, for one, won't shed a tear if they fall.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:16 PM on March 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


My partner and I have had the idea that something was wrong with Borders when our local (northern Utah) set up a MASSIVE holiday display for the "Twilight" series of books (in case you don't know, they are black books with red flowers or something on the cover). Anyway, this display was huge and shaped like a giant pyramid thing. There must have been more than a thousand books on the thing.

We went back in there a couple days ago to read magazines and drink coffee and noticed that the book display has sold approximately 5 books since Xmas. It's the biggest display in the store, easily, and kind of embarrassing in its current role of "Monument to Central Planning Failure."

Who knew Mormons don't read vampires?
posted by crazy finger at 3:19 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


The sentiments expressed in this thread are alien to me. Here in Chicago, the Borders stores always have a better selection of the books I want to read than Barnes & Noble. Plus they're always giving out coupons, which B&N does not do (general purpose ones, anyway). I got a B&N gift card for Christmas, and spending it was hell because every time I figured out what I wanted the local stores didn't have it. I finally had to just buy online, so I had to root around their website for an additional book so I could avoid paying shipping and handling.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2008


Who knew Mormons don't read vampires?

I beleive they write vampires.
posted by Artw at 3:25 PM on March 27, 2008


But I have been to Portland, Powell's does kick ass, and yes, I may very well be moving there in the near future. Mwahahahaha.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:26 PM on March 27, 2008


Lets ALL move there.
posted by Artw at 3:28 PM on March 27, 2008


Is Powell's hiring? I'll gladly move back to Portland to work for almost nothing selling books in a city that never sees the sun.
posted by anoirmarie at 3:35 PM on March 27, 2008


After a McCareer working in megabookstore chains (as well as smaller independents), I reckon I own some 700 books occuping every room in the house.

I've read in-full 10%, cracked not more than 50%, the vast majority being impulse acquisitions due to employee discounts and access to galley copies. At any given time, our "employee holds" shelves were filled with tomes we were saving up to purchase, that occasionally required me to find excuses for, as in "it's the perfect gift for [insert name]", etc.

This fed my reading *must! buy!* habit to an unwholesome degree through the 90s when after leaving the job, I suspected it might continue through internet shopping and amazon's drop-dead discounts. Thankfully, the habit abated, though I still have B&N to thank for helping immerse me in more unopened, potential gifts (just needing a little dustoff) than I'll ever give away, loan out or sell, much less actually read, in my lifetime.
posted by skyper at 3:40 PM on March 27, 2008


It should be pointed out that Powell's has had some major union problems themselves, btw. I think in general they're pretty darn good to their people (last I heard Shiatsu is covered by their insurance policy), but there has been a bit of friction in the past.

Powell's developed their own very fine Web site, to their credit, and I understand they have recently doubled their own internet warehousing and distribution capacity. They are smart people and they only promote from within. So those moving to Portland hoping they'll hire you, be prepared to start at the bottom.

But I wonder if scale will change them the way it changed Starbucks, Borders, Pep Boys, or Whole Foods. Chains that changed significantly when they went from regional to national and then international. In some ways I think I'd prefer Powell's stagnate for a while. It's a treasure because it's a product of a place. A specific place. It might not work in Ann Arbor, for example.

Speaking of Ann Arbor, shout out to Shaman Drum. There is still an awesome bookstore there.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:20 PM on March 27, 2008


.
posted by 517 at 4:21 PM on March 27, 2008


Category Management blows. Nothing says race to the bottom quite like category management. Books are stocked based on marketing budgets. All ordering centralized so your store has no idea what your community reads, only what sells consistently. Chicken Soup for the Soul volume 236b. And while I'd like to pin this all on that asinine concept, allowing Amazon to run their Web site probably had much more to do with it. Talk about dumbest moves in 20th century retailing.
As someone who spent a fair chunk of his professional life implementing category management systems for grocery chains, I think you're missing the point. One of the biggest goals for category management is increasing margins. One of the most important tools it brings to the table is the idea of tailoring a given store's selection to the local market, even tailoring a given aisle or section's mix of product (hence the 'Category' in 'Category management').

The real problem is that the methodologies that CM brings to the table, and the limited support tools that have been built for it to date, are a really bad match for industries outside of the grocery world. Regarding margins, grocery chains aren't racing to the bottom -- they're already there, squeaking by on quarter-percent margins and knife-fighting with Walmart for every box of Cheerios. That's one of the reasons they've all jumped onto the organic bandwagon: at least for the moment, margins are a lot higher and Walmart hasn't elbowed in yet. In addition, the vast majority of the merchandise in a grocery style chain cycles very quickly. It's food, and even canned goods have to move off the shelves relatively quickly. (That $99 bottle of champagne? The store stocks two of them, and they collect dust until New Years Eve each year. Everything else has to fly off the shelves or it hits the clearance bin in weeks, if not days.)

When you try to apply the tools and ideas optimized for those kinds of environments, you naturally skew towards high-volume stuff and sacrifice the idea of having a large back-inventory. The tools for CM (and they mostly suck at present) are heavily dependent on the judgment of the person running a given category (say, the sci-fi section). If they're not given latitude, and the CM stuff is treated as just another way to optimize merchandise throughput, the results are definitely going to suck. I just think it's a wrong-tool-for-the-job issue, rather than a 'Category Management is horrific' issue.
posted by verb at 4:24 PM on March 27, 2008 [9 favorites]


the internet is the best (and often the cheapest) way to buy your books.

Well....

Efficient, maybe, but what has efficiency to do with books, or any other kind of art for that matter? It's the experience as much as anything I'm after (more so in used bookshops since the commodification of the sellers' trade). I'm after the look, the feel, the smell of a bookstore, I like the serendipity of finding a title I never knew expected but is sitting right there on a shelf. I like the thrill of the years long quest for a specific title and the moment of its discovery at a good price. I find the used bookstore in particular one of life's great pleasures, how you can graze, take a title down, pull it out, look for interesting or annoying pencil marks, see how many copies are on hand and how that compares to other used bookshops visited. The actual buying is almost secondary.

But then, I've got a romantic streak.

(which is not to say that abebooks.com has not pulled a whole lot of my free cash flow over the years. Cause or effect, I don't know, but I do miss the old ways.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:26 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Borders...

I too was an early adapter of Borders back in the 70's at the original (and only store) in AA. It was a great place to go, I would spend hours in the map section (don't ask!).... Eventually they moved the Ann Arbor Store to the old Jacobson's building, and, to be honest, even though it was bigger, it started going downhill at that point...

They recently opened a "concept store" here in Ann Arbor... I stopped by the other day...after all the hype, the only difference I noticed was shorter shelves.....

Thank God that Zingerman's, the Ark, and the Michigan Theater haven't gone global, I would move my ass to Columbus!
posted by HuronBob at 4:32 PM on March 27, 2008


Geez, calm down, people, I HAVE NO INTENTION OF MOVING TO PORTLAND.

Hee.

Anyway, this bums me out. I especially do not look forward to the local gloating that will go on when Borders closes. Oh, teh drama.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:32 PM on March 27, 2008


I'm sad to see them go. It's true that the quality of their stock has been declining for a number of years now, but they still carry many books that I rarely if ever see at B&N. The religion, history and philosophy sections show the greatest margin of difference. I first saw the NYRB series of reprints at Borders, don't believe I've ever seen them at B&N. And once many years ago I saw Sepich's study of Blood Meridian at Border which I foolishly passed on because the cover was dog eared. It was already a rare book at the time.

Setting that aside, am I the only one who thinks Powell's is over rated? It's been a while since I was there and they had a huge selection but I thought the quality of inventory was pretty poor. It reminded me a lot of the Strand. I've visited there on occasion over a fifteen year period and I was never impressed with their offerings. I suspect that they employ too many bibliophiles at part time and the new stock is picked through a dozen times over before it ever gets on the shelf. The best used book stores I've been too are all fairly small ones in California. I can't remember any names but I've been surprised by how good some stores in small towns on the coast are. The Bay area of course, has several. None of them are long for this world. The internet will (has) hurt the Used & Rare market muchlmore severely than the retail.
posted by BigSky at 4:32 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


While I can't say I'll be sad if they close, it'll be a horrible thing if they merge with Barnes & Noble. One fiction buyer would have an incredible amount of power over what's featured or even just carried in stores.
posted by drezdn at 4:36 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Someone up above mentioned Green Apple Books, which had to have been my favorite of all the little eccentric bookstores in San Francisco by far when I had the fortune of living there. They had everything under the sun in terms of both new and used books, and you could just spend hours in there wandering and getting lost in the pages.

Borders has its boosters and its detractors, but there's one thing that's of little doubt, which is that its loss will be a huge gaping crater in the middle of downtown Ann Arbor. Borders is an institution there (arguably even more so than Pfizer was). Liberty Street will never be the same.
posted by blucevalo at 4:38 PM on March 27, 2008


Borders and B&N are useful for a number of purposes:

1) Browsing newly released books. Book review papers like 'New York Review of Books', 'New York Times Book Review', Washington Post Book Review', etc.. are like crack cocaine for me and so I love to read the newest and latest reviews and then go to the store and browse through the book. Nicely displayed by the front door. They don't have every book, but there are new books there that I've never heard of so it goes both ways.

2) Bargain bins. Better deals than available online. Remainder mark, but who cares when it's $3 to $6 for a hot title that was selling full price 12-18 months ago. Can't even buy it that cheap on the Internet (when shipping is factored in). It's a constant surprise what shows up in the bargain bins (B&N seems to have a large one but doesn't cycle over as fast, Borders is smaller but changes quickly).

3) Social hang-out.
posted by stbalbach at 4:54 PM on March 27, 2008


Before you know it we'll be just like Canada where the two major bookselling chains are also owned by the same company. Ask a Canadian if they think that worked out well for them.

Chapters: we don't have what you're looking for.
Indigo: we also don't have what you're looking for.

At least there's the World's Largest Bookstore.

And not that I patronized them nearly enough, but damn, I miss Micawber. At least the Record Exchange hasn't sold out yet.
posted by oaf at 5:01 PM on March 27, 2008


"World's Biggest Bookstore", you mean? The one in Toronto? Also owned by Chapters/Indigo.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:19 PM on March 27, 2008


Hate to break it to you, but the World's Biggest Bookstore? Owned by Chapters/Indigo.

It's not even the world's biggest bookstore any more, really.

At least Pages probably isn't going anywhere any time soon.
posted by chrominance at 5:23 PM on March 27, 2008


jinx!
posted by chrominance at 5:24 PM on March 27, 2008


Owning information is a thing of the past .. ND¢

At first I thought your post was a little.. starry eyed. Then it reminded me of The Book Thing in Baltimore. It is a used book "store" with, I dunno, millions of books in its inventory, except the deal is all the books are free. Take as many as you want. The owner/operator spends his free time finding caches of books around Baltimore and keeping it stocked (only open on weekends, a part-time venture). It's like how things have gone on the Internet - premium content (new books) for a price, the rest of the long tail free if you don't mind browsing and not looking for anything in particular.
posted by stbalbach at 5:33 PM on March 27, 2008


Hate to break it to you, but the World's Biggest Bookstore? Owned by Chapters/Indigo.

Really? Wow. Do they also own Loblaws, Dominion, Bell, Rogers, and Telus? Because that would explain a lot.
posted by oaf at 5:33 PM on March 27, 2008


Borders, I think, barely qualifies as a real bookstore. I think of it more as a puppy calendar - self help - magazine kiosk.

The last time I was in one, in New Jersey, I 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 5:41 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have more than passing familiarity with Powells, and it is a very good store, but really, only for new books. Their used selection is unimpressive and in general no deals are to be found. If I had to buy a new book (which I generally avoid doing whenever possible), I'd love to buy it from Powells, however.

Whomever commented above about the Strand in New York City is correct. Lots of titles, - a good store - but not a lot of soul. A good store, but you expect more from a great city like NYC and The Strand doesn't do enough for me to deliver that experience. I kept thinking, "is that all there is? Can't NYC do better than this?"

IMHO, American used bookstore nirvana is to be found in the bay area between the mighty duo of Moes in Berkeley and Green Apple in San Francisco. Many other excellent smaller stores nearby there too to fill in the gaps, such as Book Zoo & Pegasus (Oakland/Berkeley), and little Treehorn Books in Santa Rosa (north bay) is great if you get up that way.

Whatever criticism I have for Powells is limited to my preference for used book stores, only. As a small regional chain that cares about itself they blow the pants off all the majors (Borders included, but also B&N) which are unusable so far as I'm concerned. Its the difference between peets coffee and starbucks if you know what I mean. B&N don't have enough stock to get you the exact titles you want when you are willing to buy a new book, and they charge too much per book for you to buy books on a whim. It is good to browse there, however.
posted by sirvesa at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Maybe we're buying different books. The book in question that I wanted was Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick, and I got to see piles of them on the shelf at Borders while there were none to be had at B&N. :P
posted by adamdschneider at 5:55 PM on March 27, 2008


"is that all there is? Can't NYC do better than this?"

It was called The Gotham Bookmart.

but damn, I miss Micawber.

Wow, I didn't know Logan had packed it in. I've got a groaning shelf of the beautiful Black Sparrow Press editions of Wyndham Lewis that all came from Micawber. I interviewed with Fox once in the mid nineties. I think he did it mainly as a favor for a friend of my mom's since he wasn't really hiring. That aside, the exact moment I blew it was when he was testing me on title knowledge and I guessed that Enchanted Broccoli Forest was a kid's book (yes, yes, I know better now). He got a wry little look on his face and said that was "interesting".

I suppose everything worked out for the best.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:56 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Borders/B&N, Coke/Pepsi, Mac/PC, Dem/Repub (well, scratch that last one, there's still much more than a marginal difference there): freedom of choice, barely.

**

I think the core reason Borders is failing is a classic example of supply trumping demand: when the two big book chains revved up their expansions (in the 1990s), they did more than just kill off a number of mom-n-pop independents; they added more retail shelf space for more books than was ever really needed. This was obvious as it was happening: some towns (like Albany, where B&N and Borders were across the street from each other) suddenly had two giant bookstores competing for buyers, but not b/c there were suddenly huge increases in bookbuyers.

That and the fact that amazon (like Netflix did for Blockbuster) has eaten away at sales increasingly, consistently and substantially for over ten years now.

B&N also has its own financial vulnerabilities, but they were able to outwait, outmarket and outposition Borders. It was always a game of attrition between these two behemouths, and everyone always knew B&N would win. IF B&N gobbles them up (like they gobbled up B.Dalton), they will close a good number of stores. But that was inevitable: both grew too big too fast for a market (books) that is much smaller than most people realize (these chain bookstores often make more on the non-book items than they do on books).
posted by ornate insect at 6:08 PM on March 27, 2008


I'm not surprised. Borders always seemed to me like a cheap-o Barnes and Noble, with its too-bright lighting, tacky blonde wood, and locations in strip malls that seemed slightly lower rent than the ones that housed the B&N's. The selection never struck me as anything special and the shelves were often in disarray.

Of course, the ones I visited were all new stores that had opened in the late 90's/early 00's, so maybe it really was a better place back in its glory days. If so, then I'd say its over-expansion and lack of quality control were contributing factors to its demise.
posted by decoherence at 6:59 PM on March 27, 2008


My girlfriend applied for a barista position at Borders last year after working 4 thankless years as a waitress at a retirement home. She was so happy once she got an interview, because she was pretty fed up with her then-current gig, and was even more ecstatic when they told her that she was hired and that she could come in the beginning of next week to start training.

It wasn't until she quit her job and called them five times over the course of two weeks that she was told that they found someone with more experience and that she wasn't needed after all. After being told she was employed, QUITTING HER JOB, and not hearing anything from them for two weeks. It took her months after that to find stable employment, and with finances pretty tight around here they were seriously nerve-wracking ones.

Needless to say, I take this as the sound judgement of the cosmos. Borders can infinitely fuck themselves.
posted by billypilgrim at 7:07 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


And ornate insect, you're right in some fashion on the Border/B&N, Repub/Dem front: the last statistics I read, Borders by and large contributes most of it's political donations to Republicans, whereas Barnes & Noble donates more to Democrats.

So at least there's going to be one less Republican-donating corporation.
posted by billypilgrim at 7:22 PM on March 27, 2008


I'm after the look, the feel, the smell of a bookstore

Does anyone know why Borders stores smell good? Seriously. I think it's something about the wood.
posted by lukemeister at 7:30 PM on March 27, 2008


Talk about dumbest moves in 20th century retailing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:42 PM on March 27, 2008


That's a shame. Borders used to be my preferred bookstore. It was also the only place where you could find classic and foreign film on dvd AND British tv on dvd.. in a physical store (with the exception of Tower Records.. which has been closed for over a year). Now I guess there's little choice but to buy everything online. Am I the only person that likes shopping in physical stores.. and actually wants to buy books printed on paper and music recorded on cds?!
posted by Mael Oui at 8:11 PM on March 27, 2008


Verb, thanks for your defense of Category Management. My husband works in that area for a drugstore chain, and I was starting to feel like he killed puppies for a living.

That said, in the library world we have something called "Collection Development" which is sort of like Category Management, except that we tend not to develop collections of the fiddly little things my local Borders seems to sell.

People assume that because I am a librarian I must love to buy books, so I get a lot of gift cards for Borders and B&N. I never know what to buy, since I am at the library or online all the time, and can get pretty much everything I want for free.
posted by Biblio at 8:12 PM on March 27, 2008


You can give your gift cards to me, Biblio.

Also, this is kind of a bummer. Maybe I should just move to Portland.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:25 PM on March 27, 2008


I was present at anunexplained, undersea mass Metafilter migration.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:30 PM on March 27, 2008


Am I the only person that likes shopping in physical stores.. and actually wants to buy books printed on paper and music recorded on cds?

Mael Oui,

I'm with you all the way on books and magazines, and most of the way on CDs.
posted by lukemeister at 8:31 PM on March 27, 2008


Just to mention a category I know, Borders and B&N have had "political science" sections (the labels vary) but you'd seldom see an actual book of political science. Polemic, pundits, propaganda, partisan hokum, self-serving b.s. -- yeah. I guess it flies off the shelves.

You have to go to real academic bookstores (or the web) for the good stuff.
posted by lathrop at 8:55 PM on March 27, 2008


As vorfeed said, in the past decade I've only bought from them when they had something available that I was too impatient to wait 5 days for from Amazon.

Amazon Prime pretty much killed off any desire I have to overpay at either print bookstore given

a. I have no time to drive there anyway.
b. Even if you pay the extra $3.99 to overnight something on top of the Prime membership, it's STILL cheaper than the Borders or B&N copy
c. Regular 2-day shipping is free, and it isn't so often I need a book NOW NOW NOW.

In fact, the last time an editor asked me to "just go out and buy a copy, we need your comments by tomorrow," when I was up for a 2nd edition rewrite gig, I laughed at him. "You want me to what?" And then I went to search for this book, which has sold 40,000+ copies in the past few years, and Borders didn't have it. B&N shoved it onto some weird promo table with other books from the same publisher, so it wasn't even shelved into the right section. And I could think was "three clicks and I'd be done with this nonsense. Or hell, just send me the PDF!"
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:50 PM on March 27, 2008


Ask a Canadian if they think that worked out well for them.

The polite, friendly, and clean folks at Chapters gave me a discount on a book with a slightly-creased cover once, and continue to be attentive and helpful when needed. My local sainted independent bookstore employs a gaggle of ratty-haired Non-Comformity For Dummies students and suburban bohos whose only acknowledgment of my existence is watching me like a hawk lest I make off with their priceless cache of urine-soaked Thackeray paperbacks which clutter the shelves like broken buboes.

So yeah, works for me.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:00 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the mid 90's I worked in a similar type store--a small chain that sells books/music/video. The book section was, naturally, one-third of the store but we had a darn fine selection for its size. Flash forward to about 3 years ago. I visited my old store and it looked terrible. Merchandise stands, standees, and endcaps everywhere, making it hard to walk around. They ripped out a good quarter of the book space and stuck in a dismal-looking coffee shop. And the books were rather lame--almost exclusively bestsellers. It was much like the WalMart book section, which is lame indeed.

Oh, I might as well throw out the name of the place while I'm at it--Hastings. I dunno about the other stores, but one has certainly gone downhill.
posted by zardoz at 12:58 AM on March 28, 2008


If I were to jump through my office window, I would fall, unconscious and bleeding into the street, or perhaps on a cab. My dazed body would then start to roll down the street and end up at a Borders. This is partially because of my book-addiction and partially because of the slant of the street.

I must be some sort of masochist because I hate hate hate that Borders store. But still, I'm in there at least once a week buying a paperback for the gym or using some sort of giant 40% off coupon on a high priced item (Absolute editions or Inspector Morse DVD sets, usually). I'm not sure why I can't stay away! I must hate myself.

Yeah, I know I can order stuff off the internet, and do when I can be bothered to plan ahead, but internet book buying, no matter how much Amazon tries to get me to search-inside, seems only decent when I know what I want and am okay waiting for it. I have impulse bought so many loser books online while at the same time have discovered many new authors by browsing stuff at random in Borders and other bookstores.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:24 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm glad I bought all my books in the 90s. Other than browsing for coffee-table Christmas gifts, I think I can count on my fingers the number of times I've bought a new book at a retail outlet in the past decade. One was at a bookstore in Manchester, VT. Used book stores like the Phoenix in Ithaca, NY, and library book sales are teh bom.

Though I'm worried because I'm rapidly learning the library system here in MA is utter crap. They have a distributed network, but it's nowhere near as good as NJ's BCCLS ("buckles"). Every library has the same Top 40 bestseller crap and if you want anything else, you're screwed. 4,000 copies of every Tom Clancy, but no Arthur Machen (had to go out of network, which means it comes 2 months later, when you're not ready to read it, there's no renewals and a $2/day late fee. I ended up paying $16 to read a $14 book) and only half of William Hope Hodgson's "The Night Land" (seriously; it's not that big a book, and they divide it in half? And then only have one copy of Vol. 2 of 2? At one library in the whole system?). Thankfully, the latter is available online for free, but I was hoping to have a paper copy.
posted by Eideteker at 3:40 AM on March 28, 2008


Is there a NetFlix for books?
posted by Eideteker at 3:43 AM on March 28, 2008


The polite, friendly, and clean folks at Chapters gave me a discount on a book with a slightly-creased cover once, and continue to be attentive and helpful when needed.

This doesn't change the fact that they think that you can cram Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams into half of a bookcase and call it a "theatre" section.
posted by oaf at 4:44 AM on March 28, 2008


I like Borders, but only shop there using the ubiquitous coupons they are always e-mailing me (40% off CDs, 30% off books etc...). They trick you by only giving discounts off the list price, but I still get a better deal than at Amazon. I like to browse books and you can't do that as well on the internet, so I use Borders as a place to hunt for books then order them online if it is cheaper.

What still cracks me up about book stores is when they offer to order me a book that they don't have in stock. Do I look like I've never seen the internet? Why do I need you for that? I suppose that is helpful for some percentage of their customers, but it still makes me laugh.
posted by genefinder at 6:13 AM on March 28, 2008


Just to mention a category I know, Borders and B&N have had "political science" sections (the labels vary) but you'd seldom see an actual book of political science.

Well, it's not like they could sell more than one copy of Poole and Rosenthal a year, or Becky Morton's modeling book.

You have to go to real academic bookstores (or the web) for the good stuff.

Nah, you have to go to MPSA or APSA and get them for free or at a steep discount.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:03 AM on March 28, 2008


Good riddance. I can't think of many things I hate more than a chain bookstore. Maybe Portland.
posted by gordie at 7:49 AM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


How well is B&N doing these days? Recently they've shut both their Astor Place location and their Chelsea location in NYC. They didn't move them, they shut them down.
posted by JBennett at 8:18 AM on March 28, 2008


Since there are a lot of Ann Arborites here - good god, people, is there a non-used bookstore here that a) doesn't suck and b) doesn't cost an arm and a leg? Shaman Drum is nice and all, but eeegad, my wallet. And Borders, yeah. It's become a Borders like any other.
posted by bettafish at 8:53 AM on March 28, 2008


What still cracks me up about book stores is when they offer to order me a book that they don't have in stock. Do I look like I've never seen the internet? Why do I need you for that? I suppose that is helpful for some percentage of their customers, but it still makes me laugh.

There are older people who aren't good with the internet that like to have this option, as well as people who are so devoted to their local store that they'd rather wait a few days and buy it from there than order it online.
posted by Locative at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


What still cracks me up about book stores is when they offer to order me a book that they don't have in stock. Do I look like I've never seen the internet? Why do I need you for that? I suppose that is helpful for some percentage of their customers, but it still makes me laugh.

Most places will let you order a book without committing to buy it (the exceptions would be stuff from extremely obscure publishers or academic books). So, unlike shopping online, you can see it without putting money upfront, and you can see the condition before you purchase it. Plus, in some instances stores will get their orders in quicker than "super saver shipping" on the internet. Additionally, you could pay in cash when it comes in, if you're the paranoid type.
posted by drezdn at 1:04 PM on March 28, 2008


Interesting reading for a Friday afternoon. I wish I had seen this thread earlier.

I worked for a Borders flagship for almost 9 years. The number in my handle is my old store number, for the many former Borders booksmellers posting in this thread.

I have such mixed feelings about the possible demise of Borders. When I started there in 1997, it was still the "old" Borders. The corporate culture was still very influenced by the old hippies who ran the mothershipl, some of whom had become esconced at Corporate headquarters. As others have pointed out in this thread, the stores were allowed to be very individual and community oriented. The booksellers were smart, educated, interesting people, who all had other, interesting things going on in their lives - music, art, acting. The selection in our store was beyond compare, and we would compete with each other as to who could be the most accurate "human TLU." (Title Look Up is the Borders inventory database.)

Then came The Grocer. Greg Josefowicz. He destroyed what was left of the old corporate culture, gutted the community relations staff and budget, and instituted all of the standard Big Box bullshit - scripted interactions with customers, uniformity of "customer experience," "upselling," data gathering, and yes, category management. The book knowledge test was scrapped in favor of the psych test which indicates whether you'll be an obedient little drone who won't steal. So many of us refused to give in and we kept slogging on because we still loved *our* store fiercely, we loved books fiercely, and we loved each other fiercely. But all of that is gone now, and there's very little left to miss either in the stores, which are mere shells of their former selves, or the people, who are not the kind of people that were hired 10 years ago.

The potential financial demise of Borders makes me sad, but I've been mourning the death of its soul for some time now.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:19 PM on March 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


What still cracks me up about book stores is when they offer to order me a book that they don't have in stock. Do I look like I've never seen the internet? Why do I need you for that? I suppose that is helpful for some percentage of their customers, but it still makes me laugh.

In addition to the points made by drezdn, there's no shipping cost, and usually, the book *will* arrive in the store within two days, which is much faster than Amazon unless you're upgrading the shipping.

One other note I wanted to make - regarding the political party donations. Those stats supposedly reflect donations by a company's employees as a whole, but in reality they only reflect the donations made by people at corporate headquarters. Trust me on this, booksellers making 8 bucks an hour are not making political donations, and if they are, they are not doing so in an amount sufficient to offset the thousands their fatcat corporate overlords are giving.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:26 PM on March 28, 2008


What still cracks me up about book stores is when they offer to order me a book...

A while back, at the Barnes & Noble in NYC (Union Square) I noticed a sign taped up behind the help desk. Clearly, it was directed at the B&N employees, and it said:

Please do NOT suggest that the customer "look for it on Amazon"!
posted by R. Mutt at 1:52 PM on March 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


"Since there are a lot of Ann Arborites here - good god, people, is there a non-used bookstore here that a) doesn't suck and b) doesn't cost an arm and a leg? Shaman Drum is nice and all, but eeegad, my wallet.

Well, there's Dave's, if you don't mind the stolen books.

But yeah, Afterwards is gone, isn't it? And Wooden Spoon used to be the best spot until they got forced out.

But you'd probably do better heading out to the Cross Street Bookstore in Ypsi, where they never have what you want but always have something you didn't know you wanted (I still regret not picking up the coffee-table sized Test Signals for Television Repair book they had).
posted by klangklangston at 3:24 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I think of all the awesome bookshops we used to have pre-Amazon, look at the state of the newspaper industry, and wonder at the amount of time I drip into the internet ... I kinda wonder if it was all worthwhile. Then I search for something on Google.

Change is a bitch.
posted by bonaldi at 7:27 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


LOL! R. Mutt, I used to work at that store! The sign didn't happen to be on the fourth floor, did it?
posted by Vavuzi at 7:28 PM on March 28, 2008


For what it's worth, the sole Borders outlet in Singapore is in a fantastic location, offers decent prices, long hours (closes at 11PM or so) some great service and... no lattes. That is to say, all the Starbucks/ Coffee Bean's are all outside; there are mostly regular bibliophiles inside.

Bigger collection in Kinokuniya or Page One (especially for them non-English Asian or European titles), but yeah, the Singapore Borders is perfect for weekend night-owls like me.
posted by the cydonian at 8:32 PM on March 28, 2008


Shout-outs to Longfellows in the real Portland (suck it, smug hipsters), and Kramerbooks in DC. Both proof that bigger is not better in bookstores.

Incidentally...

Theorem: The big-box mega expansion format is a Ponzi scheme, and is ultimately doomed. All stores will collapse until Walmart is the only one left, and then it too will collapse.

Please prove, showing your work.
posted by rusty at 9:20 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Vavuzi, I saw it at the 1st floor desk.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:13 AM on March 29, 2008


Sad, sad. sad. I'm going to email the people I still know there and ask them if this was/is really necessary.
posted by Vavuzi at 6:41 PM on March 29, 2008


Thanks for your comment, ereshkigal45. You did a great job of fleshing out some of what has been lost. And I couldn't agree more about Josefowicz. What a disaster.
posted by malaprohibita at 6:46 PM on March 29, 2008


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