As I was updating AAR Saturday, Scarlett came downstairs and said, “I have a sad.” (Kids today aren’t sad anymore, I guess. they have sad). It turns out she’d just discovered what I already knew: Borders was officially through. The closest one to our home was already gone anyway, a casualty of the April carnage (and apparent last ditch attempt to save the company). But all of us still occasionally shopped at one in Park Meadows, a mall about thirty minutes away. Both stores that we frequented always seemed to be full of people – and not just people drinking coffee; there was always a line to buy books too. On a global level, there clearly were not enough of them.
I’m sure I’m part of the problem. Since getting a nook color for Christmas, I buy virtually all my books from Barnes and Noble, and nearly always in the electronic version when possible. When it isn’t possible, I usually go to the brick and mortar B&N right by my work, or order online with free two-day shipping. I used to buy more from Borders, but their Web site and shipping took forever, so I tended to use them only if I had a really good coupon and wasn’t in a hurry.
Without realizing it, I reached a tipping point recently. Have you seen those newsletters from booksellers that alert you about books you might be interested in? Last year, I subscribed to a number of those. Imagine my surprise when I opened a Borders newsletter with the subject line “New from an Author You Love.” It was announcing a James Patterson release. (Do I really need a newsletter to know James Patterson has a new book out? He always has a new book out.)
Inside the e-mail, I found this: “Since you’ve bought something by James Patterson in the past, we thought you might enjoy this new release: The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King — a Nonfiction Thriller, available now. Get it at a Borders store near you, or buy it now at Borders.com and enjoy it in no time!”
Sheesh. You buy one James Patterson thriller (hey, it was on sale), and they think they’ve got your number. I also got similar messages announcing new books by P. C. Cast, Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen, Stieg Larsson, and others. At least those made sense. I also subscribed to newsletters from Amazon and B&N, not wanting to miss out on news books or discounts. Of course, I also checked the recommendations on Amazon and B&N (“Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”).
AAR’s Ellen Micheletti was recently mourning the sad passing of a Waldenbooks in her town in Kentucky. I well know the feeling.
Until about five years ago, there were two malls in my area — Tysons Corner in Virginia and Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland — that were the best places to find romance novels. The B. Dalton in Tysons and the Waldenbooks in Maryland were part of what used to be ubiquitous mall chains.
What made them so special? For a while there — and I’m talking five or more years — each store was lovingly tended by people who knew and cared about romance. Books were shelved face out, letting publisher art departments do their job by inviting the reader to pick up a book and read the back copy. Books were also shelved on a regular basis so it actually paid to check back in frequently to see what new treasures might have arrived since my last visit.