The dumbing down of Borders

by on June 8, 2008 at 2:55 pm in Books | Permalink

You leave the country for a few weeks and you come back to ruin.  I’ve visited two Borders stores since my return and both have done away with their new books tables.  In one case the table is still there but has about one-quarter as many books on it if that.  The very best-selling books now get four to six piles on the table — or more — rather than leaving space for a greater number of titles with one stack a piece.  The front of the store offers many more paperback books and many more bestsellers that have been doing well for months.  Many bookshelves are gone altogether and replaced with non-book, non-CD, non-DVD items, such as expensive writing journals and gift cards.  It’s much more like a Barnes and Noble.

In sum, the front of a Borders store no longer produces much information about the new titles on the market and it is no longer a good place for the well-informed to browse.  I’ve yet to compare what’s stocked on the shelves but I am not hopeful about the trend.  It’s hard to believe that the front of the store is the only site of ruin.

On the brighter side, maybe Borders Magic Shelf will prove of use.  But check it out here — so far it doesn’t compare to browsing a well-stocked new books table nor for that matter Amazon

1 Commenterlein June 8, 2008 at 3:13 pm

“it is no longer a good place for the well-informed to browse”

I expect the number of complaints to be small.

2 Jesse Zinn June 8, 2008 at 3:25 pm

I agree, borders are dumb!

They’re nothing but a social barrier hindering the global economy from reaching efficient political (Tiebout) and labor market equilibria.

And the bookstore sucks too – they sell their items for way too much. All that store is good for is to see what I should order from their online competitors.

3 Richard Green June 8, 2008 at 4:22 pm

According to the business pages, Borders recently sold its Australian stores because they were the most profitable internationally.

Do you sense the company might be a tad disfunctional?

(Annoyingly, the company that bought the stores recently began charging publishers for shelf space)

4 Andy June 8, 2008 at 4:50 pm

Maybe it has to do with Barnes & Noble considering a bid for Borders?

5 John D. June 8, 2008 at 5:00 pm

I had noticed that the Borders at 18th and L streets in Washington had replaced its new books table with an expanded Father’s Day display, but had hoped that that was temporary. Your post leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that it’s likely a permanent change. I bought quite a few books I hadn’t planned on buying after having found them on the new books table. I’m likely to buy fewer books serendipitously (or at least from Borders, anyway)as a result of this change.

6 Colin Danby June 8, 2008 at 5:48 pm

For some years I patronized an online vendor who tried to recreate the front table of a good academic bookstore: the proprietor was a highly knowledgeable former owner of a legendary real bookstore, wrote his own reviews, and assembled monthly lists of the newest and coolest. Sadly, it went under. But it’s possible to set up your own virtual bookstore using Amazon’s systems, no? Is someone already doing this? This would let you unbundle the expertise of the kind of person who knows publishing and tracks multiple areas.

7 Anonymous June 8, 2008 at 6:22 pm


The virtual bookstore you describe could not really survive. Too labor intensive, not enough revenue. Ask Tyler how much he makes from his Amazon links at MR; I have no inside information, but confidently predict it’s a lot lower than you might expect.

The analogy that comes to mind is: Amazon is the “Wikipedia” to your bookseller friend’s “Encyclopedia Brittanica”. Handcrafted expertise gives way to crowdsourcing. Automated cybernetic machinery crushes the artisans, sort of an online version of the industrial revolution.

8 ziggurat June 8, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Unfortunately they are on their way out of business. They are on life support.

I say unfortunate because they were giving B&N enough competition to bring books to the suburbs. If anyone lived in the suburbs prior to B&N / Borders expansions in the late 80’s, early 90’s — there was really nothing. There were a lot of really bad small bookstores. The ‘Shop Around the Corner’ stores sucked, with a few exceptions. Yea, the university towns had some nice stores and every city had one or two (maybe). Overall, you couldn’t buy books except bestsellers. B&N may not be as good as the best older Borders, but it is pretty good.

The cd/dvd sections of the business are going to be gone soon enough.

The decade or so that Borders was a viable presence was pretty brief, and people voted with their dollars.

I find nostalgia involving retail interesting. Stuff gets killed off all the time.

9 Bob Calder June 8, 2008 at 7:00 pm

At least Tyler still has a Borders. Ours was defeated by the B&N. In other cities Borders conquered.

Too bad B&N doesn’t care what it has on the shelves. I suggest people who care about their favorite subject areas re-shelve brainless titles spine in.

Is it possible the rise of retail bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble is due to consumers demand for rotten content they couldn’t find on the shelves of their libraries?

10 Colin Danby June 8, 2008 at 7:46 pm

So what’s the Amazon cut for a referred book sale?

11 Ben June 9, 2008 at 7:30 am

Inline with what many of said, I think Chris Anderson would point this out as being a good case of the head of the power curve… Borders was never able to be a long tail store in physical form, and now it seems that they’re consolidating focus even more… which is too bad, because I like them much, much better than B&N.

12 Paul F. Dietz June 9, 2008 at 10:21 pm

One of the early signs of trouble at Borders was when they reduced or eliminated the comfortable chairs. This didn’t make me buy more books (instead of reading them there); it did make me visit the store less frequently.

13 Half Sigma June 10, 2008 at 12:02 pm

You can buy books for less money at Borders has to be more of a lifestyle destination if it’s to survive.

14 J.S. Peyton August 7, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Ugh, I’m so late to this conversation, I know, but it’s so nice to know that I’m not alone in my Borders horror. I’d hoped the change was temporary and that they would soon bring back the new books tables, but alas everytime I go in there it seems worse.

And while I was happy for Borders when they got their own site, I’ve found that I don’t like browsing on there at all. The lack of information they provide on the books is appalling.

15 frada May 15, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Is it realistic?

16 frada May 15, 2009 at 9:28 pm

i don’t know how to live

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