Borders and Vampires: a bad business model

Yesterday my 17 year old son wanted to try a new dare devil thrill; he got up early and headed out to shop on Black Friday. Alex had asked me what I wanted for Christmas, which translates into “what books do you want”? I printed out a list of books that I thought would be in stock (new titles or new in paperback) as well as books by well known authors. I usually want hard to find books, but because Alex took the time to ask, and because I knew he had to shop at Borders, I tried to keep my list simple. What was I thinking? Instead of coming home with an arm full of books, he walked in the door empty handed. “You should have asked for a vampire book” he grumbled. Borders did not have even one of the books on my list! Not one! I should not have been surprised as our local Borders has slowly turned into a place to have coffee and read the latest vampire book, not a place where one finds quality literature. (Not that there is anything wrong with a vampire book, but not everyone reads this genre).

I have always had a love hate relationship with my local Borders. It started the week I moved to Carson City. The first place I shopped was Borders; I was going on an Alaskan cruise and wanted a few books to take along. It just so happened that the store manager waited on me. We talked about books and in the course of the conversation I found out the store was looking for an inventory manager. Right then and there I had a job interview and was told so far I was the best candidate. She asked me to come back in a couple of days for a round table interview with two other managers. I told her I was going away for a week, would she wait until I got back? To my surprise she said no, she wanted the position full by Saturday. Having owned a business I was a little taken aback that she would opt to hire someone based on availability. What if the inventory manager of the local Barns and Noble told her he/she would love the job, but would want to give 2 weeks’ notice? Would she have said no? I did not hold this against her or the store, but being human it did hurt a little; after all isn’t the dream of every reader to work among books?

For a long time there was a retired English teacher named Liz who worked at Borders. Liz loved books, especially science books. I loved going in and chatting with her about the latest science books. We would get all geeky-nerdy and talk string theory. A lot of times I did not walk out with a book, but enjoyed my visits with Liz so much I really did not care that I could not find what I was looking for. There were a couple of other retired people working as clerks who would go out of their way to find a book for me, and always had great recommendations. As much as I disliked living in Carson City I was happy with my lone bookstore.

Flash-forward a couple of years; starting around 2007 everything started to change. Gone were the knowledgeable clerks, Liz disappeared as did the variety of books. In their place were young people who seemed to be lost among the growing stacks of best sellers, hot titles and paperbacks. My god, the paperbacks! Half the store was over-run with paperbacks, so many that the clerks started to stack them on tables. When I first saw this change I felt sadness as the store no longer reminded me of a warm library, rather it reminded me of a garage sale on steroids. The thing that shocked me the most was how uninformed the new young clerks turned out to be. I asked one young man where I would find a Sherlock Holmes book (mystery or literature section) . To my utter dismay he just stared,blinked, and asked “who?”
Who? Who is Sherlock Holmes? Are you kidding me?? Holmes may be old school, but ever clerk should know his name.

Another time I was in the store looking for Christine by Stephen King; my son wanted to try a classic King and thought he would like this one. As I searched for the book a clerk was there stocking more vampire books. She asked me if I needed help. “Yes “I replied, “do you have more King books in the back”? She giggled and said “no, we don’t carry a lot his books”. She then went on to explain he is no longer popular and confessed she had never read any of his books but did love vampire books and would I be interested in of these titles? I asked if she read Ann Rice. Again she giggled; “no but I heard she wrote a book about vampires a long time ago”. I had to get out of there before I drove a hardback through her heart using Interview with a Vampire as a hammer (oh the irony of that fantasy).

Earlier this year after getting out of the hospital I went to Borders hoping to find a book to take my mind of my medical problems. I walked in the door and let out a silent scream. The store was wall to wall Vampire mania! There were posters, cutouts, stand-ups and row after row of Stephanie Meyer books! I had never heard of Stephanie Meyer so I asked a young clerk what was going on. Oh, Eclipse is out so we are having a celebration as everyone is really into her books”. I wanted to ask if the store had anything not written by Meyer but I knew that would just get me another blank stare so I picked up Twilight and went home. The vampires got to me at last!

The next time I went into the store was to pick up my son’s copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I had to order it even though the local high school called the store asking that they stock this book, the manger only ordered 9. He must have been too busy ordering millions of Twilight books and forgot about the demand for the other.

When I read the news that the UK side of the Borders Company was looking for a buyer I was not surprised. Today I read this article http://www.thebookseller.com/news/104804-administrators-comb-though-borders-stock.html.rss and was not surprised. After all, how can the chain survive if they only sell a limited selection of books? If all Borders are run like my local store is, I cannot fathom them staying in business. I know there are other reasons for the chain losing money, but having a limited selection of books is a really bad business model is my opinion.

In case you are wondering, here is my wish list I gave my son yesterday;

The Book of Genesis
by R. Crumb
Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation
The Invention of Air by Stephen Johnson
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
Sesame Street Old School (DVD)

Am I asking too much? I don’t think so. I visited Barnes and Nobel online this morning; the closest store to me has all of these titles in stock and at deep discounts. Wonder if they will have vampire books on display?

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

17 thoughts on “Borders and Vampires: a bad business model”

  1. Sari I have similar issues with local book shops. Borders is interesting here, in part because they have not yet lost that good library feel. Here they were sold to another big chain, Dymocks, and while they are increasingly catering for the mainstream and the heavily marketed they still carry a larger variety than many of the other retailers. Mind you in order to get to borders I have to travel for nearly 2 hours. The whole issue of declining book shops is one that really bugs me. I might try and post on this to and link to you. I miss the days when I could walk into a book shop and find both what I want but also enjoy the pleasure of wandering and finding something new and potentially wonderful.

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  2. Sharon, I would watch to see what is happening to your Borders as the UK branch is closing are the rest of us next?I too miss book stores. The economy and online stores have taken their toll on our small local book stores. We used to have several stores in the next town over; now we have one used and of course Barns and Nobel. I would love to read a post from your point of view on book stores. Maybe we can get our fellow bloggers to talk about this issue.

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  3. I work in a Borders in Oregon, and if you lived here, your son would have found every book on your list! In fact, I've read almost every one of them. Although business has suffered (what business hasn't?), my coworkers and I are quite proud of our inventory. We are all readers…and we've read Conan Doyle's books. And we carry almost every Stephen King book in print.As you can see, not all Borders stores employ 'non-readers'. BTW, we have many copies of 'Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters'. If you want good books and recommendations, feel free to call us; any of our Oregon stores. We're all booklovers here!

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  4. Hello Oregon! Wow, there is no view like the view from the Oregon Coast.Sounds like you have a nice book store;keep up the good work! Perhaps you can show your boss my blog. Then he can talk to corporate and get them to shape up our store.It would be nice if they carried new releases. Where in Oregon are you? You never know, on of my next stops I just might pop in and say hi.

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  5. B&N and Borders both have stores in my town and I frequent both about the same. I can often find the book I am looking for at one or the other, but rarely at both. And often times it is at Borders I find the lesser known titles.I go back and forth between which I like better. At the moment, Borders is edging out B&N. The staff are a bit more friendly these days and the store's closer to my house. Or maybe that's a bad thing. LOLAnyhow, my Borders has gone vampire crazy too–at least the front part of the store. It's much more normal once I get past those front displays and tables. My B&N also has dedicated a lot of space to vampires, but it's not right up front. It's in the middle of the store.

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  6. Anonymous – Oh yes; with Halloween not too long ago and now the release of New Moon, vampires are all the rage. I'm not complaining. Just an observation. I happen to like vampire tales–some of them, at least. Soon the Christmas and winter holiday stuff will push out the vampire books and trinkets. It's already beginning to. It's the nature of business.

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  7. Although these are all valid points, you should understand that the store has absolutely zero control over what titles they stock, and how many copies. It is all handled by buyers in Ann Arbor — as are all decisions on how books are merchandised and the overall presentation of everything in the store. Stores can request more copies of something, but it doesn't mean their request will be approved.

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  8. That sounds like a really poorly run store. The Borders I go to seems to have every King book out there. I don't know about the other books on that wish list, but I know that the Book of Genesis has been an extremely popular graphic novel. It's crazy how some people that rarely think about the bible get excited about it again when Crumb gets behind it.

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  9. You all make valid points; I love the discussion this had generated. What I know about our local store is that they do have some control over what they stock as I have had several conversations over the years with Liz about this. The current store manager also expressed his regret over the miss-ordering of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Someone at the high school called asking that they stock this book because the Jr English teacher told the kids they could read it to fulfill a requirement. My son's copy could have been sold many times over, yet if the teacher had said they could read Twilight, all the kids in school would have been able to pick up a copy. I could go on about the lack of books, but it would be pointless. The bottom line is that this is a poorly run store as compared to others, but yet as a company Borders is taking a big hit right now. I hope this does not mean the American Borders goes under; I want you all to keep your jobs, and I would like someday to walk into mine and find what I am looking for.

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  10. Sorry, Sari. Until recently I was the go-to guy bookseller for Borders, but the company has chosen to cater to the same type of people (teenagers and their want to be young mothers) who would be more likely to vote for American Idol than in a local election. Overall, the selection has declined, as well as the treatment of employees, driving away those who those who cared about their job and were actually qualified.PS. Nice blog.

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  11. Welcome Jake, sorry to hear you no longer hold your position. I loved your comment about voting for American Idol, because this is a perfect parallel to what is happening at my local store. I never really thought of it this way.Want Salman Rushdie? Don't look for him in my store.Want Stephen Hawking for Neil De Grass Tyson? Nope, not here either. Perhaps Borders is catering to the younger crowd now, but does this really make sense? They do not have the buying power that we "older" people do. Having just said this, I am taking Alex to B&N today where he plans to part with some serious cash, more than I plan to LOLStop by any time Jake, I would love to hear all about the book buying world. Maybe you could do a guest post for my blog?

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  12. Sorry you've had such a hard time at that store. As for my Borders, we stock all of those titles. In fact, we have about 35 copies of Unseen Academicals and we also stock tons of King and Rushdie. Yes, not all booksellers are completely book knowledgeable, but it's important to remember that it is a retail corporation first and not a library. That's why we have computers to help our sellers locate the books people are looking for. When I'm hiring an employee, a book lover is always a plus, but it's definitely not a prerequisite. I'm looking for an enthusiastic personality and strong selling skills.I personally love to read and I love working for Borders. I love my company. I do, however, recognize that we are a corporation first. I hope that you continue to shop Borders. We love our customers.And, at least until Tuesday, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is on the Buy 1, Get 1 50% off table. I know it's probably too late, but maybe?? :)Oh, and one more thing: Stephenie Meyer is not that great of a writer, but she is "it" right now. Her stuff sells. She only has 5 books total, but they make a ton of money for everyone– all retailers. She's not going away. We're all gonna have to get used to it. Especially if New Moon's record smashing ticket sales this past weekend are any indication.

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  13. I work at the above mentioned store and can tell you without being there that 3 of those titles are in stock. Wish he had asked for help. And plenty of us love books…the vampires are just what sells right now. Wish we ordered what we wanted to sell but as per all corporate retail chains, we don't pick what arrives in our store. And paperbacks are what sell in this economy…so many people tell me they don't want to spend on hardcover. Can't speak to the other comments…I thought we had plenty of King in stock. Sorry you didn't have a good experience though.

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  14. Hello to the last two posters. You did not leave names so I can not address you personally.To the poster from my local Borders,would love to know your name, so I can say hi the next time I am in. I am not sure why you think my son did not ask for help. But to be fair he did not, he simply used the Borders computer system which said the books were out of stock, which is what the system said when I checked it before I wrote the blog.This is not an isolated incident. In my blog I stated this has happened many times over the 6 years I have lived here,so much so it has become a running joke within my book group; we all feel the same, I just chose to blog about it. Thank you for writing and expressing your opinion as a Borders employee. I appreciate your time. Keep up the good work, and get some more Rushdie in would you?As to the other poster, I did pick up the Sea Monster book, it was part of my rant. I had to order it because my local Borders only had 9. My son loved it by the way, so now he can boast he has read an Austin novel.

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  15. Oregon Borders stores must be the best! My store still carries a large variety of titles, but then again, we are a large store. I understand that the vampire phenomenon can be frustrating and hard to wade through, but we cannot deny that it is one of the thing keeping our business semi-afloat! Lure them in with the vampires and then share your personal favorites! Stephanie Meyer has done amazing things for the young adult genre and jump started many teens love for reading. I would encourage you to seek out the manager at your Carson store and give them your feedback. I know that like to hear feedback like. Borders management and booksellers are under A LOT of pressure right now, but our main focus is to serve the customer and talk about books! What could be better?

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