Thursday, April 1, 2010

It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Lady Sings

Well, it's been nice, writers and writeresses, but I'm afraid I've run out of things to say here at PMN. I'll of course leave the blog up as a shrine to the indispensable knowledge I've... well, dispensed to you over the past several months, and I thank you (as always) for reading. Adieu, and may our paths cross again someday!

April Fool's!

Man, I hope at least one person fell for that.

In reality, mes amis, today is a wonderful (or at least not terrible) day in the land of brick-and-mortar book sales. Borders has repaid its loan to Pershing Square, increased its net profits, and financed a brand-new line of credit, giving the tried-and-true number two a new lease on life. It's not all sunshine and lollipops—Borders' Q4 sales are still down and they'll need more than loans and credit to continue fighting their uphill battle against the Kindle and the Nook—but I think it's now safe to say they'll be around for awhile longer. (Hopefully this isn't some sick April Fool's Day joke, like the one I just played.)

This whole business concerning Borders' financial health, however, has me wondering yet again about the long-term success of the company. I suppose what I'm asking is: what does the typical Borders shopper look like? Do most people who prefer Borders to Barnes & Noble take part in the Borders Rewards program? Does Borders' aggressive e-couponing system work? &c, &c.

Prithee, inform me, Borders acolytes (or sworn enemies!): what is it about the company that keeps you coming back (/makes you catch on fire whenever you get within a fifty-foot radius)?


  1. I'm a Borders shopper. I do take part in the Borders Rewards program, and their aggressive couponing DOES drive me to the store periodically! But I also used to be a Waldenbooks employee, so that's where part of my loyalty to Borders comes from-- that and they don't charge me a yearly fee to get a percentage off new hardcovers and whatnot, like Barnes and Noble! Walden's treated me really well, so I'm sticking by them until that changes. Also, Borders is in the mall, which means I don't have to make a second trip to the bookstore in another plaza to do my shopping. And finally, I had a Barnes and Noble bookstore in college, and it soured me on them quite a bit-- they lacked a lot of the most basic titles, and their hours were WORTHLESS, which only reinforced my preference for Walden's and Borders!

  2. I'm also a Borders person, and for me the tipping point is the layout. The aisles are wider in a Borders, meaning I don't have to spend time dodging around clueless shoppers to get to the sections I want and I don't need to worry that if I pause to look at something I'll be blocking someone's way. I can also take my sister, who is in a wheelchair, to Borders without worrying that we're going to knock over a display (which we have done at Barnes and Noble).

    Past the layout, I like that Borders tends to be more friendly to debut authors than B&N. They have a better language learning selection, which is what I tend to buy when I'm looking for full price items. The books on their discount racks are closer to my interests than those at B&N. I do have a Borders Rewards card, which sometimes entices me in to the store. And it's right down the road from my house, which just seals the deal.

  3. Oh yeesh, you got me :P

    I don't shop at Borders often, but I am always pleased when a brick-and-mortar bookseller doesn't have to close its doors.

  4. Wow. I almost cried, Eric. That was just... wrong.

  5. I was a devoted Borders shopper. Note the was. Borders adopted a friendly return policy before B&N. Some of my freelance work would get me books and Borders let me return those for store credit. While B&N does that too, Borders did it first. I got a lot of stuff I wanted in exchange for stuff I didn't.

    Borders is also better at stocking Fantasy/Science Fiction, which I prefer. Also, before iTunes, it was the only place I could find hard-to-find CDs that weren't carried in a lot of the local music stores (comedy CDs like George Carlin's old stuff).

    I am a Borders reward member. I am not a B&N member because $25/year is stupid for the amount of purchasing I do. At best I could break even. At best. Borders 40% coupons contributed greatly to a number of TV series I wouldn't otherwise own, so yay for that.

    When I first moved to New Hampshire, I met a large number of people at a weekly board game meet-up that was held in the Borders cafe. Unfortunately Borders reduced its hours and we were forced to go elsewhere.

    My local Borders has suffered dramatically. The space is considerably emptier. So much stock is gone. The shelves are manipulated in such a way to try and fill the space but it's actually too open. It looks like a bookstore on life support, which is just what is is.

    The B&N is right outside my apartment, but I still chose to go to the Borders two blocks away. Since the release of the nook, I've been buying all my books as ebooks and as such have no need to go to Borders. I've been going to the cafe at B&N because it's closer. If I need a physical book, I'll still probably go to Borders, but I don't want any more physical books so that makes me a former Borders customer.

  6. Border's online site and coupons, etc. is infinitely better than B&N's. I get both. Unfortunately the Border's stole close to my home in Houston closed a couple months ago and the closest is now in the Galleria (Houston,TX) and I will not go to that place as it is a pain to find parking, etc. Their store, however, was a large one but not as well designed (in my opinion) as B&N's stores. So bottom line: their website is far superior to B&N's, but their brick & mortar stores some in second to B&N.

  7. I've been shopping at Borders for years but only joined the Rewards program a couple weeks ago. These days I buy almost all my books from indy bookstores, but when I'm looking for (for example) a good book on web development I go to Borders. I just like the atmosphere better than B&N...less stuffy? Maybe it's just the high ceilings?

  8. I totally fell for it and was sad that the very day I discovered you, you were leaving. Thanks for sticking around.

  9. I've shopped at both. I just like the atmosphere at Borders more, at least as far as my local stores go. I do occasionally use their coupons, though with the number of books I buy when I'm able to go, it doesn't do all that much.

    I agree with K. about the layout. It's just much nicer at Borders compared to the B&Ns I've been in.

    There's also the habit motive. I used to go to a store called Library Ltd. It closed down unfortunately(it was so much more awesome than Borders or B&N), and then I got used to going to the Borders store that had bought it out. When that store closed I switched to a different Borders.

  10. got me. After Miss Snark went off the air, it's at least credible. Good one. On a serious note, a friend of mine knows you and she gave me your work address. I'm coming up to say hi. See you soon.

    (Do I even need to add "April Fool's"?)

  11. If I'm shopping at the mall and need to stop in a book store, I'll stop in Borders because they're at the mall and Barnes & Noble is across the street. The Borders in the mall is about 1/5 the size of B&N, so it often doesn't have what I'm looking for.

    I should mention that I live in the middle of nowhere and both Borders and B&N are a 45-minute drive away. 80% of the books I purchase come from amazon.

  12. I will never open this blog in a small window again...*kicks herself*

    Seriously, I do have a little bit of a love-thing for Borders, even though I am 50-50 between print books and e-books, depending. They send me coupons for half-off books, okay! That is pretty much akin to sending me an EXCUSE to go buy something that I love. Not that I need one. But it goes over well with the husband, you see.

    Now if I could only get them to send me coupons for half-off shoes, we'd be all set :)

    So hoorah that they get to keep offering the love from brick and mortar!

  13. Argh! I TOTALLY fell for it, Eric. You had me broken-hearted for at least two seconds of scroll down time. Evil. Evil. Evil.

    I'm so glad you were kidding.

  14. I think I'm mostly there for the coupons, though I do think Borders tends to have a better fantasy/science fiction section. I get a 30-40-percent-off coupon every week, vs. paying $25 a year to get 10 percent off from B&N.

    I do think the Borders marketing is pretty tone-deaf, though. It irks me to receive e-mails declaring "A book you'll love!" when how can they presume that? Once, it was at least slightly targeted because it was about the newest release by an author whose previous book I'd purchased at Borders. Unfortunately, I didn't like that book, so it rubbed me the wrong way for them to presume I'd love the new one. This week's "A book you'll love!" e-mail seemed to just be their standard weekly newsletter pushing their current pick, which had zero to do with my interests. At least Amazon tends to phrase it more like "based on your previous purchases (or browsing habits), you might also be interested in this."

    Then there's that absolutely silly "handselling" program, where employees are required to push certain books on every customer, and they're never books that interest me. When I go there to use my coupons, I've learned that I pretty much have to enter through the cafe and duck down between the shelves to get to the science fiction section without being ambushed at the front door with their latest quasi-literary pick.

  15. Thank goodness. It's hard to sing properly on paper.

  16. I love our local bookstore but Borders is closer to me so I tend to go there more than anywhere else. I love their selection and the YA section, since that's what I write. Glad you're sticking around, Eric!

  17. You got me! I read in google reader and as I clicked to comment - NOOO!!! I thought - maybe?


    I've never been a fan of fat ladies, they usually sing tragedies.

  18. I'm from the UK :(

    I was devastated when Border's terminated our relationship. It was so sudden, over coffee. I'd thought things were fine, hadn't been neglectful. One day there, next day gone - just a shell.

    There are other book shops but they aren't Borders.

    Can we have before, again?

  19. I was on the verge of rushing over with tea and cookies, or wine and cheese, to soothe your fevered brow - but then I scrolled down. Whew!

    So glad Borders is sticking around too.

  20. I was a Borders person (though more for the mags than the books really) - but they closed down all the UK Borders a year ago. So - I'm glad Borders is ticking up again, but I wish they hadn't closed them all down.

  21. I was all ready to type a very witty April Fools comment and then you went and got all useful on me by posting indispensible information!

    And I'm a B&N fan, pay the $25 Member fee to get the discounts and try to prop them up. Just doing my part. Does Border's actual exist?

  22. Well, it's a humungous bookstore. We could go to Barnes and Nobles, and sometimes we do, depending partly on where we want to have dinner. Plus there's an outdoor fountain the the Barnes and Nobles plaza, very pretty except when turned off in winter.

  23. Neither Borders nor B&N has any incentive program that trumps being the most convenient. I suspect most people who shop at Borders live close to a Borders.

    If you are a bargain shopper, Borders is probably the best place to buy trade paperbacks of books that have been out for a while and are not subject to bestseller discounts. These tend to have a cover price of $14 and are usually discounted to around $11 by Amazon. With a 40% off coupon, you can get the book for $8.40, which is often the best price around for a new copy. The problem is that the coupon is only good for one item, and if I want more than one book, the rest will be the inflated list price.

    New bestsellers and movies have high cover prices or SRPs which are heavily discounted by everybody, so the coupons are less useful for these items.

    The trouble is that if a customer doesn't have a coupon or there is no coupon for a particular day, the stuff in the shelves at Borders is significantly more expensive than BN or Amazon.

    I assume that the business plan is to get people into the store with coupon or "Borders bucks" and then try to upsell on non-discounted stuff. And a lot of shoppers won't take the time to price-check between various stores to save a couple of dollars. If people just go to the closest bookstore, Borders has no reason to try to compete on price.

    But the company's problems likely stem from the significant floorspace and inventory it devotes to music. Every major music store chain has gone out of business in the last few years, so it's probably a testament to the strength of book sales that Borders is still around (in the US).

  24. My Borders eliminated its music/video department. On the one hand, that was a shame because I made several of my favorite music finds in recent years strictly because they were featured in Borders. On the other hand, they moved the sf/f, horror, romance and mystery sections into what used to be the video department and part of the music department, and they created a big new teen section in another part of the old music department. It certainly feels like they're carrying more books in those sections than they used to, with a broader selection. The genre fiction used to feel like an afterthought crammed into crannies around the general fiction, and now genre fiction has its own section of the store.

    But I'll admit that I'm more of a library person, mainly because the library is two blocks from my house, stocks the books I want, and has an adjacent locally owned coffee shop far better than anything in a chain bookstore. Free books in walking distance with better treats trumps any bookstore I have to drive to. I would probably buy more books if it were a bookstore in that location (though my reading tastes are out of sync with current publishing trends, so maybe not).

  25. My local Borders is bigger and has a better selection than my Barnes and Noble. I almost cried when I found out the smaller (but closer) Waldenbooks was closing down. I don't know where I'd go for books if Borders closed. I've been in Barnes and Noble, but they just didn't have what I was looking for.

  26. I like Borders more than B&N for the atmosphere and the customer service associates. At B&N they are all snooty and look down their nose at you, but at Borders they are always helpful. Borders was a more open floor plan while B&N's aisles were only adequate for anorexics. Plus their book shelves were tall and poorly labelled, so it took forever to find the section I needed, and felt claustrophoic to boot. There's not a Borders here, though, only B&N, Hastings, and Books-a-Million which is amazing and my number one book store.

  27. I used to love Borders, until I had a conversation that went like this:
    Me: This book you're pushing, it sounds interesting. Have you read it?
    Borders guy: Yeah, and I loved it!
    Me: Okay then. Just asking, does it have any rape or sexual violence in it? I really don't want to read about that.
    Borders guy: Nope, none at all.

    Because we're all well versed in how narrative works here, I'm sure it's no surprise that there was a graphic rape scene in there. It turns out that the book is one that every employee is required to push on customers, so now I doubt he'd even read it. The guy probably didn't want to lose a sale and risk not meeting his quota or whatever, but if the company is putting that much pressure on the employees or is supporting underhanded employee practices, I'm not supporting that company.

    On a less personal note, their inventory keeps yo-yoing. One day they'll have so little that their sections are barely worth browsing, the next they'll have so many books that they have to start stacking them on the floor, but their selection is consistently decreasing. All those rare titles you couldn't find anywhere else, you can't find at Borders either, and at least Amazon and B&N have an easier ordering process.

  28. Our local Borders just did the unthinkable--in my mind. They replaced several shelves in the children's section with games and toys. I understand times are hard, but come on.

    I love our Borders --good people work there, great discounts-- but now I will drive one mile further to our local, independent shop, where their children's section still focuses on BOOKS.

  29. yeah... I fell for it...

  30. I was a bookseller at BN and one of my good friends worked for Borders around the same time. She would always complain about sloppy management, aggravating layouts, and insensible scheduling. I, on the other hand, worked for one of the larger NYC locations of Barnes and Noble and it was the most fun I've ever had at a job. Of course this information is anecdotal but after working with so many people who truly loved books and were passionate about putting books into the hands of readers, I've decided to remain loyal to BN even after I moved away from the city and had to leave that job. :)

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