Borders looking shakier than ever

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A post at Consumerist rounds up a variety of bad owen surrounding troubled big box bookstore chain Borders:

Yesterday’s post about Borders closing down its unprofitable CD and DVD sections prompted a tip from the owner of a small music label. He says his distributor has already cut off shipments to Borders once for nonpayment (in November 2008), and on Monday the distributor warned labels that they’ll have to agree not to hold him “liable on any future shipments to Borders in case they file for bankruptcy.” Borders’ CFO left in January, which is rarely a good sign for a troubled company. And this morning, the Detroit Free Press notes that the bookseller is facing being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. We may not have to wait long to find out; CEO Ron Marshall is hosting a conference call with analysts and investors next week.


The grim comments section has even more baleful signs, including this:

I work at a B&N in a town where there is also a Borders, and I’ve been hearing various grumblings from customers recently, from Borders not being able to special order certain items, or requiring that all special orders be paid for ahead of time. These weren’t always small-press books either, some of them were from major publishers. Word was that it was because their suppliers were not getting paid and were severely limiting what they could get. The above story seems to support that.


Borders’ financial troubles have been a point of much worry among comics publishers and distributors — some of the smarter among them are making future plans around the idea that there will not be a Borders around very soon. At the very least, proceeding with caution around the retailer would seem to be a necessity.

What does everyone think would be the result of a World Without Borders®?

Comments

  1. …perhaps a revival of locally-owned small businesses selling new and used books? (holding breath)

  2. A-Rod says:

    “What does everyone think would be the result of a World Without Borders®? ”

    Well, I think…Oh, I see what you did there. Clever.

  3. Well, the Borders near my work is visibly understocked right now.

    The music and DVD sections have shrank to a 10′ x 20′ area, and there are impressions on the carpet where multiple bookshelves used to be. Their inventory shrank by probably 30% over the space of a month.

  4. Jim Sheridan says:

    I guess Amazon would dominate even more?

    I have bought a decent number of graphic novels at our Borders. I will say that their selection overall remains fairly small and conservative, so I exhausted it as a good resource fairly quickly, but I still go in to look….

  5. The inventory at my local Borders is pretty paltry too. It’s kind of funny that I use a B. Dalton in the mall a few blocks away (a 1/8 the size of the Borders) as my fallback when Borders doesn’t have something. The funny part is that B Dalton seems to always have it.

  6. What does everyone think would be the result of a World Without Borders®?

    A nervous B&N?

    @LB – FYI Daltons is owned by B&N

  7. michael says:

    result? more mom & pop bookstores and internet ordering.

  8. Ah, a world full of indie mom and pop shops is what I would love…
    bye bye big box stores!!!

  9. People will still buy books. I’d be interested to know if Barnes & Noble will see a small increase in sales should Borders disappear.

    Last time I was in a Borders they had moved the entire graphic novel section to a deserted corner beyond the DVDs, obnoxiously far away from its usual neighbors of fantasy/sci-fi novels. I was always under the impression that the two should go hand-in-hand as there’s a lot of crossover in terms of audience.

    …oh. Oooh. Okay I see what you did there too. X)

  10. I can’t hate on the ‘big box stores.’ When I was in high school, there was no Amazon and no local book stores in my area. My family aren’t educated, but I was a natural reader. Walden’s didn’t carry much of the philosophy and literature I was into and the staff weren’t especially helpful. When a nearby town got a Borders, it changed my life. I suddenly had access to all kinds of books that I’d never seen or heard of before and people around me who seemed to value reading. It was a big moment in my entrance into literate, middle-class culture.

    I don’t have any special interest in Borders–at my local store, many of the books are so disgustingly dusty that I won’t buy them. However, I will be sad when they’re gone and think everyone should be. Mom and pop stores aren’t going to suddenly spring up in every corner of the country. I guarantee you there is a kid somewhere in the midwest who only has that Borders coffee shop to feel at home.

  11. I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that if Borders disappears that there will be a sudden explosion of indie bookstores to fill the void. Actually, given current conditions, that’s about the last thing I would expect. For good or for ill, Borders also has a social component that I see in full bloom every time I walk in there. People aren’t going in simply for books (whether or not they buy anything is seemingly moot, and probably a large part of the root problem.)

  12. Joe Lawler says:

    I got a Borders gift card for my birthday and called my local store to special order a book, since it was one I knew wouldn’t be in stock.

    In the past I had always been told “You can pick it up in a week” or something similar. I was surprised when they instead asked for my credit card info. After telling them the GC information we went through a few more steps before an error that they suggested I call customer service for.

    I was pretty surprised about the pre-payment thing.

  13. Tom Spurgeon says:

    that’s a good post

  14. Well, there could be a ripple effect–if Borders declares chapter 11 or 7, wholesalers and distributors might not get paid (and Borders is likely their 2nd largest customer). If they don’t get paid, they may go bankrupt and not pay publishers. That could drive publishers into bankruptcy–and mean that authors and cartoonists don’t get paid. And if cartoonists don’t get paid, how will Strathmore survive?

  15. What does everyone think would be the result of a World Without Borders®?
    Where I live, there are no Borders stores anyway. It will make no difference to me.

  16. What would be the result of a World Without Borders®? Well, I’d be out of a job, so that would suck.

  17. A-Rod says:

    Also it’s worth considering the fact that a few local bookstores use infrastructure provided by Borders. My favorite Independent bookstore uses Borders POS and distribution software. A massive failure at Borders could make things worse for small independents.

  18. Gladiator X says:

    Al said:
    “What does everyone think would be the result of a World Without Borders®?
    Where I live, there are no Borders stores anyway. It will make no difference to me. ”

    Same here. Couldn’t even tell you what one looked like.

  19. The Borders around here used to be absolutely fantastic, especially when it came to graphic novels and such, but meanwhile, it’s degraded, whilst the Barnes & Noble, which used to be the crappier one, has become quite excellent.

    Times change.

  20. Rakarich says:

    I would LOVE to see a revitalization of Mom and Pop bookstores come back… but common sense tells me it won’t happen. If someone like Border’s can’t compete with massive online discounts… how can a Mom and Pop compete?

    Take this as an early sign warning for LCSs. Our beloved neighborhood geekdoms are in those same crosshairs. The can’t compete with online prices… and I’m afraid they be the next victims. :(

  21. Mark Coale says:

    As a former Borders employee, I will be sad to see them go (except for the one in Virginia Beach, which can go to blazes). Even before I worked there, I always preferred them to BN (sorry, Torsten).

  22. The Borders in NYC refused my corporate discount card last week. First time in years. Guess I know why.

  23. I would call that a bummer.

    My local shops are notoriously understocked on older stuff and I never manage to keep up with things as they come out. Our Borders always has a good back stock of trades and is just a lot more enjoyable to shop at than B&N.

    Also, they have a rad weekly coupon.

  24. Drumore says:

    “…perhaps a revival of locally-owned small businesses selling new and used books? (holding breath)”

    That would be ideal, but where are they going to get the small business loan and credit lines to get started? :(

    I don’t know if this could be seen as a good thing for B&N, the last survivor everyone flocks to. With Circuit City, Tower and Virgin gone, isn’t Best Buy the last of it’s type too?

    On a related note, my birthday is later this week and I’ve received 4 mailings, 3 were sent from Amazon. And the other from my parents.

  25. If all the Borders and all the Barnes and Nobles and all the local bookshops and all the comic book shops and all the comic book publishers folded tomorrow I could finally catch up on all I have in-house to read, and I’d still be taking two truck loads of books with me to the grave.

  26. Steve says:

    I was wondering if Borders change in policy regarding special orders was being commented on, and I stumbled across your website. I just found out the other day when I asked about special ordering a book (a collection of poetry). I was told I would have to pay first. I said No, and that such a service should come with running a bookstore. I suppose I could get it through Amazon, but the book is current enough that I couldn’t get any real great deals online, and the price is such (relatively low) that I felt I’d just pay cash at Borders, rather than putting something on a credit card. One thing I’ve noticed, is that the poetry section in Borders, usually very good, is getting pretty bare. Recent titles (such as the one I was looking for) are not being restocked. I think this ironic, since a nice bookstore I used to use, Chapters (in Washington, D.C.) went through a similar death spiral, as it was being forced out of business by Borders and B&N. They actually sued over it, but to no avail. What goes around comes around. Does B&N do special orders w/o the cash up front bit?

  27. Tom Galloway says:

    For what it’s worth, a week or so back the local Henderson, NV (Vegas suburb) Borders put all but new release CDs and DVDs at 50% off.

  28. There is a huge Borders that is about a dozen blocks from where I live. And over the past 14 months, I have seen it dissolve & wither like a slow-motion film of someone sprinkling salt on a slug.

    Here’s an example of how sad it is: Two weeks after Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK came out, they did not have any copies. Not in the new section, not in the SF/Fantasy racks, not in the kid’s area… nothing. I asked an employee (who was rather busy streamlining the CD/DVD section – half now of what it used to be) about it & she said (wide-eyed & shocked) “There’s a NEW Gaiman book!!?? Since WHEN!??”

  29. I used to work at Borders and everyone there was smart, quirky, and interesting. The store was an oasis in Westlake, OH. Maybe a fourth of the staff had Master’s Degrees. BN is cleaner these days but their selection of fiction is abysmal. Richard Powers? No, let’s carry everything ever written about autistic dogs instead. Don’t get me wrong I like BN and they have really good comics (Bottomless Belly Button at last) but it’s still doesn’t have the gravitas that Borders did. Maybe it’s gone, replaced by Twilight wallscrolls and remainders. Borders is not the same anymore but this will be really sad. And I don’t see Mom and Pop stepping up — how can *they* pay the rent?

    Brad

  30. Eric Chun says:

    Borders is my favorite bookstore. They have a decent selection of books, often have discount coupons, and the atmosphere is friendly.

  31. I just walked out of a Border’s blind from all the yellow glare covers of Watchmen trade paperbacks – EVERYWHERE!!

    If there’s going to be no Border’s – then where in the heck am I going to cash in all these 40% off all TV DVD box sets online coupons??

    ~

    Coat

  32. “bad OWEN?” Your Freudian slip is showing!

  33. Naveen says:

    Bookstores come, bookstores go…

  34. Almightygosh says:

    Unfortunate to say the least. Borders is one of the few bookstores where a body feels comfortable just coming in after work, sitting down, and reading a good stack of old graphic novels.

  35. Tim Baldwin says:

    To answer Steve’s question, 99% of customer orders at B&N do not require pre-payment. The ones that do are largely Print-on-demand books or items over $100.

    As a B&N employee I have to say the closing of any bookstore is never a good thing. I fear the closing of an entire chain may have a future effect on already dismal adult literacy rates.

  36. Kid Kyoto says:

    The threat all book stores is facing is that more and more people are buying and selling used copies of backlist titles online. So the magazines and new releases sell but the rest of the inventory sits there.

    So no we won’t see mom and pop bookshops come back.

  37. MarkCalifornia says:

    I’ll miss it, my local store is much the same as posters above. Low stock, even in manga. You can see and almost feel the end coming, though if they go down I know what I’m grabbing first.

  38. It would seem that the comic book store market is a bit more stable than the book store market is at this time.

    These are the days of fast falling dominos.

  39. Renee says:

    I’m part-time at Borders, and I’m optimistic. All the scary stuff (the special orders, the dwindling CDs & DVDs, the hour cuts) are just signs that Borders is making long-needed changes in order to survive.

    For example, Borders can’t beat online seller or Target/Walmart prices on CDs & DVDs (or piracy), so they’re phasing out multimedia & putting more emphasis on bargain books.

    As for special orders, they’ve switched to a system where customers & employees order books from Borders.com (paying upfront). I love it. I’d say at least 70% of people would special order items and never pick them up, which was a waste of time & money.

    Now, people pay upfront, eliminating the paranoiacs, as Orwell called them. You can pay cash (whoever helped Steve was wrong), and can have purchases under $25 shipped to your local store for free (over $25 & it’s free shipping anywhere).

    The new system’s also driving traffic to Borders’ website (years too late, but still). Too bad Borders.com isn’t priced competitively with other online sellers, as any customer can figure out with a few clicks.

    I agree with whoever said it, B&N has a better discount program: more straightforward, easier for the consumer. I also agree that Borders’ selection is too conservative (the manga section’s pitiful), but I’m not sure how a more idiosyncratic collection would translate sales wise.

    And, if Borders dies, Mom & Pop stores won’t replace them. Most people just want to spend as little as possible. We’re having the 50% off sale on multimedia, and I’ve heard people calling relatives to price check Amazon, even though everything’s already half price. That’s how it goes.

  40. If Borders disappears, there will be a small uptick for B&N, as there are stores near each other (for example, Borders Columbus Circle and B&N Lincoln Center). There will still be B&N, and Booksamillion, and Hastings, and quite a few independent stores which serve dedicated clientele, much like a comicbook store does.

    The Barnes & Noble where I worked (I’m now at the home office) strongly encouraged customers to pay in advance for special orders (we matched the online price). We offered free delivery, even to the store, and with the automatic email notice, allowed our special orders clerk to concentrate on institutional orders. (We have two bookcases behind cashwrap dedicated to special orders.) It also is more efficient, as the prepaid special order titles are shipped separately from the general store stock (which can consist of 200 boxes delivered each day).

    As one of those crazy booksellers, I did whatever I could to connect a person with a book. I’d call specialized bookstores like the Drama Bookshop or Jim Hanley’s Universe. I’d recommend the public library. I’d suggest foreign language bookstores and cultural centers. I even recommended BOL.com (who once owned part of our website) as a gateway to a plethora of continental languages (sadly, it’s now just Dutch).

    My store at Lincoln Center is a special case. We have a neighborhood which is affluent. We have a neighbor (Lincoln Center) which attracts cultured individuals and tourists. Our DVD and Music department is staffed by walking encyclopedias who know the stock and love sharing their expertise with others. (The same can be said of other departments in the store.)

    And yes, I and my colleagues grew tired of the regulars who would use us as a library. I never minded a customer who took a book to the cafe, as I knew they were buying SOMETHING. What I couldn’t stand were the researchers who somehow didn’t understand the economics of capitalism (and copyright law).

    April 15 is the next doomsday for Borders, as Pershing Square’s loan deadline approaches.

  41. James Van Hise says:

    The return of Mom & Pop book stores is unlikely as they’re going out of business, too. In Los Angeles some long time independent book stores have closed up. 20 years ago the greater Los Angeles area had 4 science fiction specialty book stores. The last one (Dangerous Visions) closed in 2002. A lot of it is from on line competition. Not just Amazon, but Ebay, Half.com, AbeBooks and more. It is easier and cheaper to buy a book on line than it is in a book store. The competition for brick and mortar stores is just overwhelming.

  42. Alan Coil says:

    Toledo, Ohio, is a city of around 300,000 people, and the last of the independent book sellers have already gone out of business. There is a Borders and a B&N, but soon there will only be B&N. (There is a Books-A-Million in an adjacent city.)

    People should get used to saying:

    “Borders used to be my favorite book store.”

  43. Agent_Torpor says:

    “Ah, a world full of indie mom and pop shops is what I would love…
    bye bye big box stores!!! ”

    You think that’s what’s gonna happen if Borders fails? Poor deluded little girl. I love mom & pop stores, but a big box failure won’t give them any more footing to prosper and multiply.

  44. Scott says:

    graphic novel sales will really be killed if and when Borders goes out. I don’t expect Barnes and Noble to pick up the slack and carry more stuff as their space is limited as well. A loss of this chain isn’t good for any books. Borders was my favorite because they carried more oddball or smaller printed stuff and B&N just carries the most popular stuff. Comic creators better think of other ways to get their stuff out to the public.

  45. say what? says:

    “And yes, I and my colleagues grew tired of the regulars who would use us as a library. I never minded a customer who took a book to the cafe, as I knew they were buying SOMETHING. What I couldn’t stand were the researchers who somehow didn’t understand the economics of capitalism (and copyright law).”

    Sure they do. Maybe the people who run the big chain bookstores don’t understand the economics of capitalism since they allow people to spend all day in their stores reading books instead of buying them.

  46. mark coale says:

    I always said that if the company didn’t want people reading books in the store, there would be no comfy couches in which to sit.

    I really enjoyed my one trip to Powell’s a few years ago, but I didn’t see anyplace where you could sit and look at a book you just grabbed off the shelf. (not counting the rare books room upstairs) I took it to mean that you browsed and then got out, since it was a very crowded Saturday afternoon when I was there and there was lots of patron rotation.

  47. Mostly because I'm unemployed and on foodstamps says:

    I’m going to be entirely honest and say this makes me sad because Borders has better stock and less security than B&N.

  48. Emma Bovary says:

    Border is also trying to screw its recently fired employees out of their (pitiably small) slice of the Stimulus Package which provides a 65% reduction in COBRA payments for those who have been “involuntarily” terminated during the economic crisis. Great idea, right?

    By claiming (patently falsely) that all 700 of them “resigned voluntarily” Borders is trying to make them inelligible to receive Stimulus help. Nice job, Borders!

  49. Victor Perkins says:

    Almightygosh said: “Borders is one of the few bookstores where a body feels comfortable just coming in after work, sitting down, and reading a good stack of old graphic novels.”

    Borders isn’t a library, dude, it’s a bookstore. It’s behavior like this that causes shops to close down.

  50. Borders' Management says:

    Keep in mind that it is not the Border’s original mission that brought this bookseller down to it’s knees. It is just poor business decisions made from their corporate office. It was a few years ago they remodeled their stores and retro-fitted their cafe’s to Seattle’s Best. Those retrofits cost a lot of money. Plus their international ventures cost highly on their bottom line. They also made a poor partnership with Amazon to sell online. When signs of their financial troubles were surfacing, they keep opening these silly “new concept stores.” It was poor management from above.
    I have no personal love for “Mom & Pop” stores because it was a B&N that open on my little side of town. If Borders does go away it will not signify the rise of overpriced, rude, limited stocked ABA independents.

  51. Regina says:

    well.. I work for the company. I can kinda explain the not doing special orders, as I used to have to do them.

    COST CUTTING!

    One of the main reasons is, it cuts down the time an Employee needs to spend in receiving, entering the shipment into the system, calling the customer.. etc.

    secondly – refused books. Just about EVERY single store has customer that order books just for the hell of it – thinking they can get it into the “system” Or they THINK they need or want the book.. since they could not actually see the book, as it was not something we carried. THEN telling us, oh, sorry no not the one I want.. – so now I wanna order this one.

    Special Orders were more abusive than conducive. Often times customers would order books that were non-returnable to the publishers.. thus leaving us with dead stock.

    Now onto the the Dot.Com. It never ceases to amaze me how needy people are. Ideally the dot.com is a perfect idea – but poorly executed. customers still need help ordering books. For some reason, even the most tech savvy of customers still have trouble with ordering.

    And then the option to have the book sent to your home or the store. Why? Why do they need to have it sent to the store? @ mine, we have a dozen or so orders that are paid for, but have not been picked up. It boggles the brain.

  52. MYnameisntimportant says:

    I don’t want Borders to go under, and as far as prepaying for a special order. If 50% of the people actually picked up their orders, you may not have to pay first, besides if you are going to “just go to Amazon”, you’re going to prepay anyway.
    P.S. shopping at Amazon is a big part of the problem for ALL bookstores

  53. Jimzee the Jumping Frog says:

    The Borders store in St. Paul, Minnesota stinks. The carpet is filthy and the cafe inhabited by sketchy characters, many of whom appear foreign and threatening. Every Barnes and Noble in the Twin Cities is in great shape, clean and busy–and you DO NOT see a lot of dark-skinned foreigners hulking around the espresso bar. Further, Barnes and Noble does NOT charge in advance for a special order. Barnes and Noble will also order “adult” dvds for me, which Borders has flat out refused to even consider–in fact, a (female, of course) Borders employee actually HUNG UP on me when I tried to order porn from her. Good fucking riddance to all Borders!

  54. Um… well I work at a Borders Bookstore, and its nice for customers to special order books, but what happens if they do not pick up their special orders? It takes alot of time to send those books back and at a time like these it is hard for retail stores to schedule hours.

  55. Jimzee the Jumping Frog says:

    This is a note to all you Borders employees who have left comments here: have any of you ever heard of a little thing called CUSTOMER SERVICE??????? You have to expect to take a loss from time to time in order to maintain a high quality of CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!!! All successful businesses realize that basic, essential fact. Barnes and Noble realizes it. Further, YOU SHOULD NEVER, NEVER BEHAVE JUDGMENTALLY WITH CUSTOMERS ABOUT THEIR CHOICES IN BOOKS AND FILMS. I’ve dealt with some old, uglyass biddies who have outright refused to order adult material for me, and who have hung up when I’ve asked to speak to their managers. WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, THE INQUISITION???????

  56. lksmith says:

    I am so glad you shop at Barnes and Noble. I have enough crazy and needy customers.

  57. cheryl says:

    If you really want to know what is going on at Borders, google Borders employees are angry.

  58. rhonda says:

    you really are an f___________________________frog

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Pre-mortem Filed under: Bookstores — davidpwelsh @ 5:52 pm Over at The Beat, Heidi MacDonald reports the latest rumors of Borders’ imminent demise, which has been imminent for, what, a year now? She asks readers to ponder a world without the big-box bookseller. [...]

  2. [...] • Speculation grows as to how much longer the financially troubled bookstore chain Borders will be in business. [...]

  3. Business Credit Building System…

    They have to go to their father, mother, brother or whoever and borrow their credit card. But it’ s the option, when you ask your mother for 30 for a video game or 30 for 2 of your new favorite CDs. You’ re probably going to go after the video game…

  4. [...] Several blogs are following rumored problems at Borders, first reported on The Consumerist, which may signal impending closure… The Beat hosts a discussion with some insider knowledge, while Precocious Curmudgeon feels this is an opportunity for competitor Barnes & Noble.  Journalista notes parent publisher Fantagraphics is well-isolated from any upheavals at major book chains (which seems slightly contradictory to some of the things said during the whole Bookscan kerfuffle… but given how perilously close the company was to the abyss after a book distributor bankruptcy years ago, I’ve no doubt they have contingency plans in place for just this type of event).  AnimeNews.biz points to a couple more news articles that seem to fuel bankruptcy speculations… granted, we’ve been hearing that kind of talk for a year now. [...]

  5. [...] 62 borders-looking-shakier-than-ever/ [...]

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