Borders

Anene just wrote a fantastic blog entry about why Borders went bankrupt (there are other reasons, but she touches upon the big one). She talks a bit about all the effort that Borders made to draw people into their stores: The coffee, the food, the free wi-fi, the comfortable setting, etc. And she discusses how, unfortunately, many people abused those perks instead of buying books at Borders.

Now, Borders closing might have a positive impact on independent bookstores…if those bookstores learn from (a) human nature and (b) Borders’ mistakes. Here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t give away wi-fi. But also don’t charge for it. Give people access to wi-fi after they buy a book or coffee.
  • Same thing with author events. Don’t allow people to attend author events for free, but don’t charge them directly. If people buy a book before the event (any book), they get access to the event.
  • Work with e-retailers. It’s easy for anyone to walk into a bookstore, browse for a book, and then hop online on their Kindle or iPhone and buy the book or ebook for cheaper. So make deals with the major online retailers so that when someone uses your wi-fi to buy a book, you get a cut of the profit on the back end.
  • Anene points out that some people bring books and magazines into Borders to read, then they leave. I don’t know how you prevent that without looking like an ass, but frankly, that’s not cool, and there needs to be a way to cut down on it.

Overall, though, I think we need to remember that books are entertainment. Us publishers can’t simply expect people to buy our books because they’re there. We need to publish books that exceed the entertainment value of the alternatives–books, movies, music, etc. That doesn’t mean that we stop signing literary authors. It simply means that we need to publish books that immerse people into a world in a way that movies and TV cannot.

If you think about it, it takes two hours to watch the Captain America movie (which is actually quite good). But it takes 6-8 hours to read your average book. In terms of hours of entertainment, the book is the clear winner. So let’s keep publishing books that make people not want to put them down for 6-8 hours. If we keep doing that, people will go to bookstores to find those books, and bookstores will survive.

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5 Comments on “Borders”

  1. Richard Thomas Says:

    Excellent post and link. Great ideas in here for sure.

  2. Jim Yanni Says:

    This writer clearly has no clue. If you restrict wi-fi to people who have purchased a book, make people purchase a book to attend author events, and discourage people from sitting and reading (either their own books, or one from your shelves) without buying, you will not sell more books. You will simply have fewer people enter your store. The purpose to allowing all of those liberties gratis is to bring people into the store; once they’re there, the trick is to have your book displays enticing enough to catch their interest. If you can talk the e-retailers into giving you a cut when they buy the book online from your wi-fi after looking at it at your store, great, but even better would be to give them a good reason to buy it from you. Like a reasonable price, or good customer service, or some other legitimate reason why it would be better for THEM to buy it from you, not just better for you. As the writer says, it takes 6-8 hours solid to read a good novel (on average). So most people are not going to have the leisure to come in, sit down, and read all the way to the end. Sure, some will come back 2, 3, even 4 times to finish, but if the book is compelling enough, they won’t want to put it down and walk away. So if you have compelling, well-written books, at reasonable prices, displayed in eye-catching, enticing ways, odds are that once you lure people into your store with free wi-fi, author events, and comfy chairs and tables at which to read, a reasonable number of potential customers will come in, pick up one of those attractively displayed books, read a bit of it, and decide that they just have to take it home NOW so that they can finish it. But if your displays and events are pedestrian, the books you have on display aren’t all that gripping, and/or your books overpriced compared to the competition, then even once people are there, they won’t buy anything. THAT’S what happened to Borders. They made the effort to bring people in, but didn’t give them any reason beyond a cheap guilt trip to actually buy anything.


    • Jim–You make some interesting points. As the author of the post, I respectfully disagree that you need to “trick” or “lure” people into anything. I don’t think selling books needs to be a game.

  3. Richard Thomas Says:

    Bookstores are not libraries. If you want a free book go to one. You can also get wi-fi free at most libraries. Maybe we just need to charge people $1-3 just to enter a bookstore, and you get that back if you buy a book. I think it’s bullshit that people sit in a bookstore and STEAL books, reading them, damaging them, eating and drinking their own food and drink. Sorry, Jim, I disagree.

  4. readwritenow Says:

    I had heard of people going to events to hear an author speak (for free) and being overheard by attendees (and bookstore employees) that they loved the author and they were going to go home and order the book on Amazon…or download it. (Disclosure: my family has two Kindles and a Nook.) But that behavior was topped at a recent author event when I saw an attendee show up with his book still in the Amazon delivery box. After the reading and while standing in line for the author to sign the book, he pulled it out of the Amazon box and presented it to the author all while the bookstore owner was sitting right there in plain sight.

    Amazing.


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