The Sad State of Border’s Books

I’ve been reading story after story of Border’s books and their latest troubles.

It makes me sad.

I remember Border’s in the heyday, most notably in the mid-1990’s.

My biggest positive memory of Border’s came around that time.  In 1994, as a sophomore in college, I was able to do a semester long internship in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan (home of the University of Michigan).  For a semester, I was an assistant manager at a retail store, learning about human resources, bookkeeping, cash flow, inventory management, and other cool stuff.

The Borders part came in because they had just opened a brand new flagship store that I walked past every day to get to my job.  Prior to that, they’d been down the road in a pretty big store, but when Jacobson’s, the big department store in downtown, folded, it left the town’s biggest retail spot empty.  Border’s came in and took a department store sized spot and made it a bookstore.  A big bookstore!  They finished it up right around the time I was working downtown, and the transformation was incredible.

It was awesome walking by and looking in the windows, and seeing two stories of nothing but books.  Growing up, my bookstore exposure was B Daltons, a store in the mall that was probably 5% the size of the new Border’s.

Soon after, the big bookstore explosion began, where primarily Border’s and Barne’s and Noble built big bookstores that dwarfed all the little bookstores, and put many of them out of business(though none of the Border’s were nearly as big or as cool  as the flagship store in Ann Arbor).

We all know what happened.  The Internet came around and traditional ‘brick and mortar’ bookstores have been in survival mode since.

Still, Border’s made some obvious mistakes along the way.

Most notably:

  • Not ackowledging that online was ‘for real’ – It took them years before they acknowledged Amazon and other online retailers as anything more than a passing fad
  • Getting it wrong once they went online – When they finally admitted that they needed an online presence, their first attempt at it was to form an ill-fated partnership with Amazon, who was of course going to protect their own interests before giving anything to Borders.
  • Staying behind the times – eBook readers were the next wave of opportunity that Border’s missed.  It took them until last year to get serious about it, and once again, they were too late to the party.

The common theme is that Border’s has not been a trendsetter in their industry in almost twenty years.  Their last trend, so far as I can tell, was the creation of the big-box bookstore.  Since then, everything’s changed but Border’s has not been leading that change in any way.

I fear that Border’s may soon become a thing of the past.  It’d be nice to see them be able to succeed, especially since they’re still so firmly rooted in Michigan.  If I were a Vegas odds maker, though, I’d have to be putting pretty high odds against their success at this point, because they just haven’t shown the gumption that it’s going to take to remain in business and remain relevant.

9 thoughts on “The Sad State of Border’s Books”

  1. It is really too bad! Amazon has changed everything for the better! Lower prices, etc, but I still enjoy going to the book store to find books or magazines. I go to my local Borders each week and before I would visit Barnes & Noble. I guess I will have to adapt!

  2. I love Borders when they first came to town. I spent a lot of time there when I didn't have anything to do.
    They just can't compete with Amazon, that's too bad.
    Have you heard of Powell's bookstore? It's a huge city block size local bookstore in Portland and they cater to local and tourist business. They also sell used and rare books. They are doing pretty well and Borders going out of business probably help them a bit.

  3. Sadly Borders will join Blockbuster in the graveyard of companies that were too slow or too complacent to embrace emerging technologies. In a way it's sad and in a way it's not.

    What's not sad about it is that it emphasizes the fact that businesses who provide what the public wants at low prices (or even reasonable ones) will succeed. Those that don't will fail.

  4. My husband was doing an internship in Ann Arbor that same year and he talks fondly about borders.

    The other thing about them is they are not cost competitive. I bought a new hardcover on a whim over the holidays and it was over $28. I checked amazon later out of curiosity and the same book was 1/2 the price. I'm not shopping there again.

  5. I have tried to buy books at borders and it is HARD. It is like renting from blockbuster when you know redbox has them for a dollar.

    They should have at least tried to compete on price.

  6. When a Borders Books opened in Anchorage, Alaska, a lot of us were thrilled. It was a destination, a place you could browse and relax.
    My boss took her daughter there every Friday evening. The two of them would look at books and choose one to take home. There are worse addictions. 🙂
    The store also supported local authors heavily, doing readings and signings even for the self-published stuff that wasn't very good.
    It made me sad to read about the company's shaky future, but I agree that it shouldn't have ignored the trends. It's easier to try to keep pace than to try and catch up later.

  7. I always feel bad when a bookstore goes out of business.

    Unfortunately that seems to be the trend.

    Now some elected officials are gunning for libraries. Sad.

  8. welllll….. My feelings about this are mixed.

    Borders and Barnes & Noble pushed all but two of the independent bookstores in the Greater Phoenix Metro Area (the fifth-largest urb in the U.S.) out of business.

    Yes. It was nice that you could sit in Borders' easy chairs and drink bad coffee while browsing. But the beloved neighborhood bookstore that was a meeting place for everyone in North Central had better coffee, nicer easy chairs, and an infinitely more pleasant ambience…and it was a place where you would meet at least a couple of your friends any time you stumbled in. The Borders that pushed that independent bookstore off the map is just a box store full of strangers and junk books. You'll never run into anyone you know there, nor will you see books you actually WANT to read sitting near the front door when you walk in.

    What goes around comes around.

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