The Epic Failure of Borders

I am a bibliophile. I devour books, hundreds of them a year. (Although, a majority of those books are plays.) I have a large stack of books from the Chicago Public Library system that is sitting on top of the bookcase I brought from home to house the fraction of books that I own that I brought with me.

Because of my great enjoyment of reading, one of the first things I did after moving to Chicago was try to find good bookstores. So far, I can say that Seminary Co-Op Bookstore in Hyde Park is a great place for scholarly books and Unabridged Bookstore in East Lakeview has a very nice selection, in addition to carrying a Kurt Vonnegut novel that I haven’t read yet, which is a large feat since I am a huge fan of Vonnegut’s writing.

But sometimes, the nearest Borders will suffice.

For starters, going to Borders is much more convenient for me than going to Seminary Co-Op or Unabridged Bookstore. They have a large selection of magazines, so when I want to pick up the latest issue of American Theatre or Time Out Chicago or The New Republic, I can go there. I also happen to have a Borders reward card, which means that I get weekly discount coupons, in addition to a regular discount with my purchases. This came in handy when I went out and purchased a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook because I ended up paying considerably less for it than the list price is.

But Borders is also an epic failure of a bookstore.

Earlier this summer, Borders decided to start a new marketing scheme for teenagers called Borders Ink. What this means is that there are now gawdy cardboard chandeliers hanging from the ceilings of your friendly neighbourhood Borders. Why would Borders do this? Well, because teenage girls are really into that because of Twilight (*feigned interest*) and so now there’s the advent faux Goth culture. There’s also the fact that from a casual observation, teens are really into fantasy novels.

But this is more than just a teeth gritting marketing strategy. In addition to being able to buying young adult novels in the young adult fiction section, you can now buy Twilight tie-in merchandise and action figures for things I’ve never heard of and Pocky.

Yes, you can buy Japanese food that you can find at Jewel-Osco at a bookstore.

There’s also the inherent fact that Borders does tend to sell items that are not related to books. I’m not referring to the fact that they sell DVDs and CDs; I have no problems with that. I’m referring to the fact that you can buy all sort of stuff like Lego sets at Borders.

Sure, this new marketing strategy may work for Borders, but what about those who want to buy books?

On Wednesday, Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon was doing a reading at the Harold Washington Library Center. I wanted to go to this event and as soon as I got out of classes at 4:20, I dashed towards the Red Line to get to the Loop.

As I was on the train, I remembered that there was going to be a signing afterwards and I decided that with the extra money I had that I would go and buy a copy of Chabon’s latest book, Manhood for Amateurs. I got off at a stop and walked into Borders.

I looked at the table for new releases. I searched the area at the front of the store for the book because it is a new release from a notable author and therefore, reason would dictate that it should be there. I eventually turned to a clerk, who was mildly scared for some reason, and asked her where it would be located.

She looked on the computer and said, “We don’t have it. We might have a shipment coming in.”

I raised my eyebrows and thanked her, but still astonished by what she told me. They might have a shipment coming in. As I waited in line behind people that were waiting to purchase Twilight merchandise. How could a major chain store not carry the latest book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. It’s not like I was looking for a book by a nobody—and, quite frankly, Chabon is more important than Stephenie Meyer in my book because he can actually write.

But that’s when it hit me. Borders seems to no longer be that much in the business of selling books, even though they are a bookseller. The advent of Borders Ink tells me otherwise, as does the table of Japanese stuff that is crowding the drama section at one Borders. All too often, writing has become more so about making money, getting the movie deal. Not telling a story, be it a true one or a fictional one. And the booksellers have to turn to selling items that are tie-ins with the film versions of books because that what people will probably buy.

(I should point out that I was able to buy a copy of the book in question prior to the reading. And, although I’m not finished with the book, it is very good.)

I’ll still go to Borders to buy magazines or maybe to buy a book to use those nice coupons. But maybe when I really want a book, the trek to Hyde Park or East Lakeview, which isn’t that much of a journey, but it seems like it as the weather gets colder, is worth traveling.

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3 thoughts on “The Epic Failure of Borders

  1. Huh. Borders has turned into MTV, which once upon a time used to air music television.

  2. Yes. That is actually a very good analogy.

  3. Borders first epic fail was around 2003(?) when they fired all of their sales staff and offered to hire them back at a MUCH lower wage. The staff at Borders was the BEST bookstore staff I’d ever come across. The staff new the books because they’d read the books. Sure, the staff in the Tech area would cover for the history person during lunch, etc. and you would get, at a minimum, the service you do now but mostly you’d be told exactly which book you should be getting or whether the one you wanted was schlock or not. What has happened to Borders is an example of “Bigger” not always being “Better”.

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