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…”).
After years of troubling reports, it appears that Borders could indeed be on the verge of catastrophe.
After what should have been a profitable holiday season, the chain missed payments to publishers and has been trying—without much success, as reported yesterday by Publishers Weekly—to negotiate terms. Publishers are, quite understandably, tired of playing ball. To make matters even murkier (and financial matters usually are), it was announced late on Thursday that Borders secured new financing which may buy them some time.
A few days ago, the Washington Post ran an article that explained more clearly than any piece I’d read before exactly what happened to the once glorious Borders empire.
I won’t attempt to summarize the article here since it’s such a lucid account of exactly how the company got itself in this pickle, but it’s hard to imagine the blindness of company executives who failed to grasp the importance of the Internet (crucial mistake number one) and eBooks (crucial mistake number two). I mean, heck, who knew the Interwebs was going to catch on? And eBooks? Who’d-a-thunk dedicated readers would so eagerly embrace an easier and faster way to get their hands on the books they love?
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.
We’ve all heard for a while that Borders is in trouble. Word has it that Thursday was a big lay off day for the Ann Arbor-based company.
First of all, my sympathies to everyone affected. The economy is a bitch.
Secondly, a knuckle sandwich to Borders boneheaded management that is responsible – just as much as the economy – for the sad developments.
I’ve been a Borders slave for years. Together with Barnes and Noble, they successfully drove out of the market the mall chain bookstores that pretty much used to define “romance friendly.” In the hands of Borders and B & N, romance was ghetto-ized to small spaces in the back in the corner in the dark and treated like an embarrassing aunt nobody wants to have over for dinner but everybody suddenly adores come will-reading time.