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Borders Books, Dead At 40 443

Posted by timothy
from the will-be-sorely-missed dept.
theodp writes "There will be no storybook ending for Borders. The 40-year-old book seller could start shuttering its 399 remaining stores as early as Friday (store closing map). The Ann Arbor, MI-based chain, which helped pioneer the big-box bookseller concept, is seeking court approval to sell off its assets after it failed to receive any bids that would keep it in business. Hang on to those Borders Midnight Magic Party memories, kids!"
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Borders Books, Dead At 40

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  • by Totenglocke (1291680) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @07:39AM (#36810036)
    Their books weren't overpriced but their cd's / dvd's / blu-ray's were obscene. When you see Border's charging $40 for a new movie and you can walk into Best Buy down the street and buy the same exact thing for $20, there's no reason to buy non-book items from Border's.
  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @07:46AM (#36810108) Journal

    Technology caught up with their distribution system.

    But I don't think much of the long term prospects of the likes of Apple's music business and Amazon either, at least not in its current form. Sure, they're relatively hot and new now. But fundamentally, they're still all about charging customers on a per copy basis. We won't settle for less than the best forever. And I don't think the Netflix model is it either.

    I think the future is the digital public library.

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @07:50AM (#36810158)

    After I got out of grad school in the early nineties I discovered that having an advanced degree from one of the top 5 universities in the country didn't count for squat. After 18 months' fruitless search I got a job at a hedge fund fiduciary. 8 awful months later the giant hedge fund Long Term Capital Management blew up and nearly took the US economy with it then & there. People invested in hedge funds freaked, pulled out all their money, and I was without a job again.

    I got a temp job in Northern Trust Bank's Private Banking division working up investment plans for rich people. The Private Banking division used Excel, of course. It was slow, and repetitious.

    So I spent evenings and weekends sitting in Borders taking notes from their books on Visual Basic and VBA in order to automate the process. I couldn't afford to buy the books, I was so poor, and the library only carried books on Fortran and Basic and COBOL. I taught myself how to program that way (yes, I know it was only Visual Basic), and wound up reducing the turnaround time of the Private Banking division from 2 wks to an hour and a half. The division manager promptly fired me and stole my work, but I had found a new window of opportunity. I did more VB work, then added MS Access, then transitioned to VBScript during the dotcom days.

    I switched to LAMPP in 1998 and haven't looked back. But it was those days & nights in Borders that allowed me to chart a course for a relatively stable career, given the turbulence of IT and Internet over the past decade. I dunno if their business model has any future, but for me then it was the right place at the right time.

    RIP Borders

  • Re:won't be missed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ephemeriis (315124) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @07:59AM (#36810272)

    They would have gone out of business sooner if they only had books. They added all those other things in an attempt to get people to come in and buy something at least...

    I'll certainly agree that reading, in general, is less popular these days. And it must be hard to run a business that sells books these days. Especially with a monster like Amazon out there. But I don't think the solution is to become some kind of half-assed media retailer.

    Start selling video games, or movies, or music... And now you're competing with folks who've based their entire business on that (EB, FYE), and the commercial giants like Wal-Mart who can genuinely afford to do a little of everything. You aren't shoring up your strengths with diversity - you're venturing into very dangerous waters populated with some very hungry fish.

    Our local Barnes & Noble is doing just fine. Yes, they carry some bookmarks and calendars... And they've got a Starbucks in the lobby... But the vast majority of their store is devoted to books. Shelves upon shelves of books. They've got a huge section of very cheap used books... They've got all the current best-sellers... They've got a wide assortment of pretty much everything - fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance, all of it... They've got knowledgeable employees who can actually tell me something about the books on the shelves, and help me find what I'm looking for... They've got less popular, more obscure titles that I can't find elsewhere (like at Borders)... They've got comfortable seating right in the midst of all the shelves so that I can actually sit down and read through a chapter or two and see if I want to buy the book... And they are genuinely embracing digital distribution.

    In short - where Borders dealt with a changing book market by watering-down its offerings to the point where I had no reason to visit their store; B&N has responded to that same changing market by improving its offerings and becoming my first (and usually only) stop when looking for a book.

  • by SmarterThanMe (1679358) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @08:01AM (#36810318)

    Doesn't surprise me. I worked for a chain bookstore (not Borders) when I was at uni, and they put me in the Motivation and Health section. By the way, let me introduce myself, I'm a teacher who specialises in working with gifted kids, and one of the things that I'm really good at is picking good, relatively advanced books for young kids who are beyond the books that their librarians and teachers use for other children. I read a lot of kids and YA fiction, and textbooks and educational texts, of course, but also scifi, fantasy and historical fiction, as well as non-fiction books in a number of areas. Notice something missing? I don't fucking read Motivation or Health! I can't even take those fucking books seriously, let alone sell them!

    This wouldn't have been a problem, if it weren't for the rigidity of the PHB's that ran the place. My role was to stand by a shelf, and only help people who needed help with that section. One of my colleagues' spot was to stand by the self-service information computer behind a shelf, and almost literally jump out at people if they were having trouble with the search functionality (which only googled the bookstore's public website). As much as possible, I wasn't to move, and I had to do things as quickly as possible. One day, I spent 20 minutes upselling ~$150 worth of photo books and Australian kids' books to a tourist and I got a formal warning for walking away from my section and leaving it in the hands of two of my colleagues.

    Let's talk about my colleagues, though. There was a guy hired at the same time as me who I was speaking to one day... Me: "So, what books do you read?"; Him: "Oh, I don't."; Me: "You don't... Read books?"; Him: "Yeah, they're boring." Awesome. He was Employee of the Month at some point after I left. I haven't been back there in a while, but I think he's probably still working there.

    Their buying policy was brilliant, also. They bought hundreds of copies of things that they thought fit with the Australian psyche, i.e., obsessed with sport. So we were always left with hundreds of copies of the latest ghost written biography of some cricketer that we could literally not give away in the end. These books were always such an albatross around our necks that our PHB's were insisting that we keep them on the shelves, and sending newer, more popular books to storage or to the warehouse. If you wanted one of those newer more interesting books? You have to wait for it to be retrieved (a couple of days, usually), but please take a heavily discounted the 3rd volume of Warwick Smythe's test cricket antics that he paid someone from South Africa to write.

    I shouldn't complain too much though. The 50% employee discount was awesome. Most of the long term employees were great people. Some of the supervisors were genuinely cool people. I laugh as I remember back to thinking back over having to help people "find a book, it has like a blue cover and words, I think", or "choose a motivation book for me, I don't know which one to choose."

    These book chains are dying because they're trying to do business as if nothing has changed. They're hiring the cheapest, dumbest possible labour when people are only willing to go to a bookstore and pay a bit more than they would at Amazon because they want to talk to someone knowledgeable and well-read about books.

  • Re:Fahrenheit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by improfane (855034) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @08:19AM (#36810550) Journal

    Forgot to preview that one. That should say people are more likely to steal an ebook rindle (like a Kindle) than they are your soppy romantic novel.

  • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @08:23AM (#36810586) Homepage

    Books at brick and mortar stores tend to be overpriced compared to those sold online. That's not because Borders is gouging them, but because the publishers demand so much. Retailers' margins are thin. So yes they are expensive but Borders didn't "do it to themselves." Borders and B&N have a quaint, warm, relaxed experience but the most hard core book buyers go online now for better prices.

    B&N actually survives because they have a good website in competition with Amazon, and frankly their selection has always been better than borders. B&N also has Starbucks in their stores, which gives them a hipster mystique for those who just want to come in and sit and read and have some Starbucks coffee. Funny enough, Borders tried to get early in the game of book selling online and who did they contract with?... Amazon. Most people don't realize this fact seriously delayed Borders' web strategy rather than enhancing it. They didn't have the vision to see web commerce coming and Amazon did to them what they did to mom and pop book shops. And they spent no time getting any experience in marketing and selling on the web because they contracted with Amazon in the early days. I'm betting Amazon knew this and went ahead hoping to basically steal sales from Borders original paltry websites. So in a sense, Borders did to it to themselves, it's just it had everything to do with not getting online fast enough.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @08:25AM (#36810600)

    Speaking for me, where Amazon dominates is in selection and in *used* books (and used videogames, etc.). If I want a book on a particular subject, I can drive to my local Borders and hope they have a decent book on it (usually not the best on the subject) and pay full retail price on it. Or I can go to my library and look at a bunch of books that are usually years out of date and hope that I can find a decent one that isn't checked out. Or I can go online to Amazon, see every book ever published on the subject, read reviews to find the best one, and then buy it used for a small fraction of what it would have cost new. And the same applies to videogames, DVD's, etc.

    The only real advantage that brick and mortars enjoy is that I can get a book immediately (but the Kindle is making even that point moot), and that I can browse. But, since my tastes are not exactly mainstream, browsing isn't really much of an advantage to me. I have no desire to browse isle after isle of Harry Potter knockoffs and vampire romances, thank you. And I'm not a big coffee drinker.

  • Re:Sad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @08:33AM (#36810686) Journal

    Why publishers put up with demands for supply at zero-profit (sometimes negative profit) terms from amazon I don't know

    Not sure what you're talking about here. Publishers sell at the net price, which is typically 50% of the cover price. Book stores then sell at the retail price and pocket the difference. When Amazon is selling a book at 45% off the cover price, it means that the publisher is still getting 90% of the sale price. When a book store sells at the cover price, it means that the publisher is getting 50% of the sale price. Authors are typically paid a percentage of net, so we get the same amount irrespective of where you buy the book.

    At least, that's how it works with my publisher.

  • Re:Fahrenheit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steelfood (895457) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @11:35AM (#36813026)

    Books last centuries. We're able to read Da Vinci's journal and Fermat's copy of Mathematica where he wrote down his famous last theorem. How long will an e-book last? Will notes and remarks remain for the life of the e-book?

    Your assetion that digital is forever, which is the entire basis of your statement, is simply and completely false. Digital data has not and will not withstand the test of time. Most sites from the early 90's, just two decades ago no longer exist, even if you're only looking at contents and not layout or design. Even the Wayback Machine doesn't have every page of every site, not to mention that there are sites that existed before the Wayback Machine. Even if a site was archived, the chances of the Wayback Machine and archive.org no longer being present within the next 100 years is much greater than the chances of all copies of any book degrading to the point of illegibility in the same timespan. The only information stored digitally that has even a chance of being perpetually propogated for more than a few years are the things that remain popular throughout. Historically, the only thing that remotely qualifies are religious and philosophical texts. And even then, most of those texts are often passed down to modernity having gone through translation, modification, and pieces have been outright lost.

    You need to snap out of the "technology is humanity's savior" and "newer is always better" attitude. Technology is an enabler. That's all it is. It doesn't replace what exists already, it makes certain trade-offs to enable other things and open up other doors.

    Books can be read with no electrical infrastructure, no equipment except your eyes, and can survive any environment. Your e-book reader needs a power source and the maintenance thereof, and can only operate under normal conditions. The contents of a damaged book can be partially recovered, in particular, the parts that aren't damaged. The contents of a damanged e-reader may not be recoverable at all. And I'm not even talking about DRM, which makes it even worse. Books can be buried underground for ages during times of turmoil. Your e-book reader's battery will be unable to hold charge after a few decades. Books are relatively easy to print and copy, difficult to retroactively modify, and impossible to completely remove from the face of the planet, short of burning every last copy. Electronic books, especially on a DRM'ed medium, can not only be removed from your perpetually-connected reader without your consent, but the contents can be subtly or otherwise changed en mass. Books cost $7-$10 for a mass market paperback, $20-$30 for a hardcover. E-books cost the same, plus the cost of the reader and the electricity the reader uses.

    Besides which, I'd like to see you try to recover your e-book reader after you've dropped it into your pool or the ocean or even the toilet (in fact, you might not care to recover your book while you'll probably be more motivated to recover your reader, which is a huge plus for books right there).

    There's a reason why certain aspects of life have remained the same for centuries, and it's not necessarily because people are incapable of or resistant to change. Some things have already met the ideal or are so close to them that any further attempts at improvement will require more time and effort than the improvement is worth. Books are one of them.

  • Re:Fahrenheit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @11:37AM (#36813060)

    Books will become antiques and collectors items. If one looks at the 21 century information society, books have no place in it. Once all current books are scanned and fully digitized, any human on the planet with an internet connection will be able to access them.

    How about those without Internet connections? Either those that just don't want them, or those in places that don't have them?

    Not everyone (not even the majority) are connected 24/7 like many Big City Dwellers.

    Some people just don't feel the need to be tethered.

    And - believe it or not - *MANY* people *like* books.

For every bloke who makes his mark, there's half a dozen waiting to rub it out. -- Andy Capp

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