On Border’s closing

Since, as a writer, I’ve been to a LOT of bookstores, people have been asking me my opinion on Border’s closing. I’ve mentioned my feelings about Borders a few times on this blog, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

My opinion is Borders did it to themselves.

All of the business editorials I’ve seen are making it out that they were killed by the eBook revolution. Maybe that was a big loss on one revenue stream, but having visited fifty+ Borders over the last couple of years, and having been a businessman/salesman/entrepreneur myself, I can say they were sucking wind in their regular stores too.

Let me give you a few examples. When I do a book signing at Barnes & Noble (the other big box book store), their managers are universally helpful, the staff is normally very knowledgeable. I’ve never had an event at a B&N where they forgot to get books. I’ve never had an event at a B&N where they didn’t seem glad to have me and my fans there. Event at Borders? I’d have a fifty-fifty chance of having management give a damn. Maybe fifty-fifty on the employees, who were usually just listlessly serving time. And only Borders (and one particular Indy store that shall remain nameless) have actually scheduled me to have a book signing, and then forgotten to order any extra books. This has happened to me twice at two separate Borders.

When I go on book tour, I will map out the route, and map out every single book store within a city. Between scheduled events I will travel from store to store, so that I can sign my books that are in stock (signed copies sell better) but mostly in order to meet the staff. I’ve found that if I have fans on staff at a bookstore, I will literally sell ten times as many copies at that store compared to one down the street where nobody knows me.

My reception at Borders usually ranged between negative to blah… It got to the point that if I had to choose between stopping at an Indy, a B&N, or a Borders, I would hit the Indy first, then the B&N, then the other B&N, then every other B&N within 20 miles, and then maybe the Borders… Unless I was hungry, tired, bored, or maybe just wanted to go back to the hotel in case there was something more important to do, like watch reruns of Walker Texas Ranger.

Here is how a drive by would go at an average B&N the week one of my books comes out. Introduce myself to the person at the service counter. Usually they’d grab a manager. Then I’d sign the 5-12 copies of my books that they have. I’d usually end up having a conversation. About half the time, one or more of the staff members would purchase one of my books. (normally I would try to find out who their biggest contemporary fantasy fan was, or just cheat and find out who their Jim Butcher fan was).  If I already had fans on staff, I’d make sure they got an MHI patch.

Here is how the average Border’s drive by on release week would go. Stand forever at the customer service counter… Get one employee who goes, er, huh? You want to what? You write books? Oh… Okay… Whatever. Then I would go and sign my 0-2 copies. (right next to the forty thousand copies of various True Blood tie-ins) Nobody would care. Then I would ask myself why I bothered stopping at Borders and drive to the next B&N.

Some were better than others. Some were downright pathetic. I’ve worked at crappy companies, where the morale is low because the employees know they are just waiting to get screwed by management. You can see it in their eyes. You can feel it in the air. Borders had that feeling.

During one signing tour with Super Author John Brown, we stopped in a Borders that was so dark inside that at first we thought that they were still closed and we’d walked in on accident. Though our personal best Borders experience was when the two of us stopped at a “flagship” store, and several members of senior-upper-Border’s Corporate management were visiting. One of the manager said, and I kid you not, “Yes, you can sign your store-stock, but don’t sign all of them, because then we can’t return them.

No, seriously. Okay… So let me get this straight as a businessman, your strategy, going in, is how to best manage your inevitable defeat? If I call your nearest competitor a couple of weeks in advance and tell them I’m swinging by, they order a bunch of extra copies for me to sign, and they’ll even put out a display of them, BECAUSE SIGNED COPIES SELL BETTER.  

John and I were shocked when the upper-grand-poobah told us that.  I think I said, “I’m sorry, you must think we’re a couple of nobody self-published wannabes or something… I write for Baen, 5th biggest publisher of sci-fi, and he writes for Tor, which is the biggest. And we’re both relatively successful midlist authors.” (this was pre-NYT bestseller list for me, but trust me, that doesn’t make a lick of difference at Borders either). Same thing, don’t sign all of them ‘cause we can’t send them back… Except it didn’t matter, because this flagship store had one copy of John’s book and zero of mine… Next to two thousand copies of Twilight.

Okay, I worked at a bookstore during college. That isn’t even how returns work!

This isn’t just me, ask most normal authors and you’ll get a similar response. Borders, if they care enough to actually stock something you wrote, does not give a shit about you. And this is writers… If they so didn’t give a shit about us, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they didn’t care much more about their customer base or their employees either.

For example, the following is from a friend of mine, Steve Diamond, of Elitist Book Reviews who was lucky enough to work for Borders corporation: http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Here’s the thing about Borders:

They’ve been screwing themselves for years.  This whole “Borders shutting down” thing and the store closures earlier this year that were supposedly a stop-gap?  Yeah, it didn’t just pop up over night.  Every article you read out there has someone at Borders talking about how ebook sales doomed them.  How convenient.  No, the real genesis of Borders’ complete implosion is due to an idiotic state of mind in upper-management.

Once upon a time I worked at Waldenbooks.  For those of you who don’t remember Waldenbooks, Waldens ended up under the umbrella company of Borders.  They were the same team, though you wouldn’t know it by how they cannibalized that trusted brand.  Waldens was known for being a smaller bookstore that had employees who actually, you know, knew their stuff.  I know right?  Booksellers at a national chain that weren’t complete tools?  When I worked at Waldens, my store was the #1 ranked store in the company.  Why?  Because we ignored all the mandates that came down from Borders’ upper management.  As the saying goes, however, no good deed goes unpunished.  Auditors would come by and slam my store because we didn’t have things in the places “mandated” by Corporate HQ. 

True story:  When working at Waldens/Borders my two favorite authors were Steven Erikson and Brandon Sanderson (before he was big).  At my store, Erikson’s novels out sold every other author.  He was a moneymaker for my store.  Soon my store was restricted from mass ordering his novels because we weren’t conforming to other stores in different states who would only sell a dozen of Erikson’s novels in a year (we sold hundreds of just his first book.  Repeat customers baby!).  With Brandon Sanderson?  My store was essentially in his home-town of Provo, Utah.  To all you authors out there, the average signing may net you 10 or so hardback sales if you’re lucky.  My store?  We sold 80 copies of Brandon’s first novel that had zero marketing push behind it.  His second novel?  Oh just 200.  Borders’ response?  “How dare you have all these extra copies of his books on hand.  You’ll never sell that many books at a signing.  in fact, maybe you should stop doing signings altogether.”

You see, Borders’ had the mentality of telling you what you were NOT allowed to do rather than giving bookstores the freedom to, oh I don’t know, make money.  By breaking the rules we were raking in the cash.  Unfortunately that wasn’t good enough.  After all, the corporate goons OBVIOUSLY knew more about out local client base than the staff at my store did.  That’s why they kept sending us African American porn…in Provo.

The issue here is that employees of Borders saw this crap on the wall back in 2005 and 2006.  Even earlier really.  The upper management (which was like a proverbial revolving door) were so intent on saving a penny here and there (What? You don’t need raises! I don’t care if your store is #1 in the company!), that they skipped over the dollars just waiting for them.  They were so focused on making these stores run like a little Borg collective that they lost sight of actually helping customers.  The Walden name?  Screw that.  We’ll just rape their book stock and make them all carry the exact same thing as every other Borders in the country.  Variety is overrated.

With that mind set, the must have thought profitability was overrated too.

I understand that book selling is a business, but it’s a business that relies on customer loyalty.  It’s hard to really help customers when all of the originality is constantly squeezed out of the store staff.  So now they are closing the rest of their stores.  Hopefully they told their remaining 11,000 employees this before it hit the news…unlike last time.  How awesome was that when the employees of the stores in the first round of closures didn’t know their store was closing until the Wall Street Journal published the list of stores being shut down?  Yeah.  That happen to some good friends of mine.

So what does all this say?  If a company is so shallow and self-centered that they don’t even have the integrity to personally tell their employees the bad news, how can customers trust them?  How can anyone trust them?

No, ebooks didn’t ruin Borders’ business.  Borders screwed themselves.

11,000 employees are screwed.  Customers are screwed.  Authors?  Yeah.  Screwed.

They didn’t even buy us a drink first.

83 Responses

  1. Annoyingly enough I pre-ordered both MHA and Dead Six online since my local borders (which was pretty darn good based on everyone elses experiences) was one of the first to bite the dust. I wonder if they will still be fulfilling those pre-orders or if I need to figure out how to cancel… get a refund on their rewards program, and move my pre-orders to B&N….

  2. Screw borders. They had terrible sci-fi and history sections. No I do not want to read Warhammer 40k, Halo, or Star Wars novels. Where are your SM Stirling or Larry Niven (this was pre-MHI) books? LOL NO SIR F U

    • Hastings is just as bad. I worked at one as assistant book manager in High School. Now I’m a huge reader, had great customers who would come ask me what was good.

      These days? The Star Trek section is larger than the rest of the SF section combined. I once had to call to three different stores in the area to find the latest “Emberverse” book. And that was a major release by one of the top names in SF.

      Pathetic

  3. I stopped going to Borders (the nearest bookstore to my home) six years ago when I got told oon release day that X book was in the store, but I couldn’t have a copy until they were ready to shelve the book. Please come back tomorrow, they said. After being burned, twice, that way, I drove the extra two miles to the B&N. The staff at the B&N was always willing to go ‘in the back’ and unbox a book for me.

  4. I have never had a good experience at a Borders. The stores never had much on the shelf. The science fiction/fantasy section sucked. The history section sucked. The science section sucked. The staff were usually rude or nonexistent.

    I worked at B&N for three years. In my opinion those stores were better set up, had much better stock on hand. My fellow workers and I usually knew the product. For the most part we were nice and helpful to our customers. I worked in a B&N that was part of a mall so it would get crazy in there at times. That is how I discovered Baen books. It is unfortunate for all the employees but B&N or indy bookstores will fill the gap.

  5. I’ve always been a fan of B&N, but Borders always put me off for some reason I couldn’t quite identify. I always assumed it was because I’m a coffee snob and B&N had Starbucks and Cheesecake Factory with brightly lit and spacious cafes with comfortable seating, while Borders had Seattle’s Second-Class Coffee (a Starbucks subsidiary) set into a hole in a far dark corner of the store with lawn chairs and plastic patio furniture they found at a yard sale. Hmmm. Turns out there’s more to it I guess.

  6. I used to work for Borders.

    This would be…. 97-98, back in Pennsylvania.

    I nominally worked in the children’s department in the smallest square footage (and highest homeschooling) area in central PA. Should be obvious which town that was!

    During the period of time I was there, we had a wobbly running around trying to unionize the store, which didn’t help tensions. I cna take and even approve of some unions, but wobblies bug the hell out of me.

    At this point in time, Borders often had a lot of recent college grads, proto geeks, part time geeks waiting for their shot at the buyout, two job people with the other job at starbucks, and so on.

    (This was back when starbucks sent you to coffee college, period. When you could move across country and instantly have another job at a starbucks paying double minimum wage. when you were expected to KNOW how to barista your little butt off)

    Here’s what was going on, this is when I saw it coming. We had a store meeting and one of the new assistant managers came up and did her spiel:

    (roughly quoted) “This isn’t a career. This is retail. This is a placeholder. We aren’t paying you to have a college education, or to know every book in the store. We are paying you to stock and sell.”

    This was in a store “restructure” where where we were told to send people to the CS desk instead of touring them around the store. The book loan system was phased out. EVERYONE in the ployee level was told that raises weren’t happening and more temps were hired instead of replacing staff.

    Borders killed as many local bookstores as they could, and then killed themselves. Not just customer service, not just dumbing down of the stores. Pay-to-play loyalty programs are asinine. Changing your loyalty systems every 3 months is more asinine. Janking the cafe around endlessly is asinine.

    Replacing entire sections of books with DVDs is asinine. An no, anime will not save you. People read and steal anime, but the kids don’t buy it. The grown up order it direct from Holy Nipponese Temples.

    And, just as a pet peeve, having the children’s department in LANCASTER, PA stock the PORN section on the same carts as the kiddo boks is triple asinine.

    When we lived in Davis, I watched the Borders decline. How bad? Even STAN (Kim Stanley Robinson, Davis Resident) seemed to skip the borders and use the two indies in town (avid reader and a used bookshop) — to the point where a local could reasonably expect to find a signed book in either store, but in borders they wouldn’t even stock the full collection. Hell, most of the time not even a half complete “current” (last 2 HC and MMs) list.

    Imagine a big box bookstore, in a University town, with a resident no-crap full time famous author (this is the guy who did the mars books and the californias trilogy) not having even the ability to fully stock his works and point it out to people.

    Oh yeah, trying to be the one stop shop movie and music superstore- with a really incomplete collection- is dumb.

    Bye Bye Borders. Now, we need ABE or Betterworld to step up and start contracting with indies to form a co-op chain for more purchasing power!

    • Since you mention living in Davis, I’ll share an anecdote from this week as I was chatting with a few other vultures looking to see if anything on the sale tables was worth picking up. Three of us were talking about how sad it was to see a bookstore go out of business, but we realized that we all shopped at The Avid Reader instead (local independent bookstore for those who don’t know), as Borders just couldn’t compete on selection that actually interested us, or on customer service. So while we were sad to see a bookstore die, it didn’t surprise any of us.

  7. No good or bad experience and Borders. Their local store is (was) so blah that there wasn’t enough energy for an actual experience. I went there when I had a gift certificate. Monster Hunter was not in stock there but readily available at B&N around the corner half a mile away. I may stop by to see if there is anything cheaply available at the death throes.

  8. Actually, there is a certain amount of truth about the eBooks accusation.

    But eBooks did NOT kill Borders. For me it worked this way:

    I’m “all ebook all the time” and have been for a decade. That doesn’t stop me from buying books as gifts, and I regularly donate a boughten copy of every new book Baen publishes to the Berkeley Public Library as a way of generating exposure and new fans.

    However, trying to find paper books in Borders was frequently a matter of finding a salesperson, if I could, and then being dragged over to the computer while he or she looked it up. And frequently what I needed wasn’t in stock.

    Still, the store was there, and Borders *could* have stayed in business as a second-line bookseller, had eBooks not come along.

    The situation was more like an immune-system-compromised individual having somebody with flu cough in his face. By itself, the compromise might not kill him, but throw in a serious case of influenza…?

    And yes, good management might have saved them, if the corporates hadn’t been so busy with internal politics and control-from-the-top-freakism.

  9. I used to go to Borders but now I am a true B&Ner. All the years I spent at Borders I never once had a CSR say to me “Oh you like that? You will probably like this.” B&N is where I got turned on to MHI and Larry Correia by a CSR who suggested him when he saw the books I was buying.

  10. Letting people sit in chairs all day and read books they aren’t going to buy is a good idea. Having discounts on your website over the prices in the store by 10-40% is a good idea. Having 20% of your retail space taken up by $20 CDs and $30 DVDs is a good idea. Letting kids sit on the floor and read manga comics so people can’t walk through the aisle is a good idea. Constantly rearranging your store every six weeks so I can’t find the shti I want is a good idea. Hiring the biggest bunch of shitbags I’ve seen outside of a work release program is a good idea. Not cleaning the bathrooms is a good idea.

    With all these good ideas it’s a damn shame that eBooks killed them.

    • And their music selection wasn’t even that good. Hell, frickin’ Best Buy had them beaten there.

  11. I don’t want to come across as sounding like everyone in Borders’ upper management is inept…

    …OK I do. Because they are.

    The truth of the matter is that it was rare to find a Borders that was good–usually those were the Borders Express (which was what many Waldens were converted into if they weren’t just closed down to help the “Better” Borders name). Those were the stores that tried pretend like they were and indie store. That’s how the two stores I worked at succeeded.

    Honestly I don’t shop at chain stores anymore if I can help it. Only if I have a giftcard, or if it is a signing for a buddy. I prefer Indie stores where the staff give a damn about getting people to read.

  12. Yes, you can sign your store-stock, but don’t sign all of them, because then we can’t return them.

    Oh really? Then how did I randomly pick up a signed copy of Monstrous Regiment at a Books-A-Million in Knoxville, TN, Mister Smartypants Borders Executive? Huh? Riddle me that!

    • I recently picked up MHV and an autographed copy of MHI(upon the finding of which, I turned handsprings)at this little indie bookstore. I think it was called Barn and Yodel or something. Thankfully, they had to stick it on the shelf instead of returning it, since we all know that any book signed by the author might as well be toilet paper for all the value it retains. Here’s to the all-knowing managers of Borders for keeping their finger on the pulse of their customer base!!

      Or not. :D

    • Yup.

      Funny, I thought that actual “returns” had the covers stripped off and the rest destroyed, because it’s cheaper to ship covers than cases of Coin-Op Tom Clancy(TM) novels.

      I thought the books that were unsold and intact were “remainders” and sld wholesale to discount bookstores and Big Lots — and signed remainers sell wholesale for more than unsigned ones (dimes instead of nickles)

      • Hastings used to use “stripped books” as a bennie to their employees. We were allowed to strip two mass market paper backs a day. (Yes you read that right “a day). The theory was if the employees were allowed to have a few free books we would then read them and be knowledgeable about them for the customers. I, of course, took shameless advantage.

        Dunno if they still allow this or not. But we had pretty knowledgeable employees back then. Not so much anymore. Last time I went to Hastings I was asking a for a release date on Jim Butcher’s new novel and they didn’t’ know who I was talking about.

  13. Oh yeah, let’s not forget Michael Moore. (this is almost as bad as Godwin’s Law.)

    I f I have a company with more than, say…..50 or so employees, I want them to LAUGH at Michael Moore.

    Threatening to fire people who dare to speak with him…. well, that just makes his big, fat point for him.

  14. One note, the title of the post should be “On Borders’ Closing” :)

  15. It’s been quite literally years since I went into a Borders and found something I ended up enjoying by accident by browsing the stacks. I’ve quite often gone in and found books that I already knew I wanted and I’ve gone in rather more frequently and NOT found books that I already knew I wanted. And that latter pretty much explains why Borders are going bust because it is quite clear that I am far from alone in not finding stuff there that I would be willing to pay money for

  16. Yeah, this town is about 80% Republican. So what does Borders stock? Michael Moore and Al Gore, and Twilight. Brilliant move there, doofi. And do they stock mine? Nope. Do they welcome me to do signings? Nope.

    OTOH, B&N isn’t much friendlier. They wanted me to contact “District” about a signing. Never heard back from them after two calls.

    Now, the B&N on IUPUI campus invites me to sign and orders extra copies, and Waldens does a signing every time I have a book come out.

    • Mike you should have worn your “Happy face shirt” the one with the bullet hole in the front of the happy face’s forehead and the exit wound on the back. it would help the Hippies really “understand where yer come’n from maaaaan”

      What a bunch of tools. I never realized how bad Borders was, but then a friend of mines wife had worked there for years, for crappy pay and hours but she just liked it there. God knows why…

      And I love that shirt btw, I have two of them myself.

    • At a Borders in an up-scale suburb (not a college town) they didn’t have the popular children’s book I wanted to purchase for a gift but I did notice they had a “women’s interest” section, a separate “women’s history” section, plus a separate “women’s rights” section. I asked a passing floor walking salesperson where the men’s section might be. He scurried all around the store looking for that nonexistent section. (The same trick on chain-bookstore salespersons also never fails at B&N stores, by the way.)

      What made the Borders experience extra-special different was that as he was explaining to me, “I guess we don’t have one,” an assistant manager happened by so he asked her. Instantly she turned and said “there,” pointing to the section labeled “military.”

      I’m glad they’re joining other progressives in the dustbin of history.

    • Walden’s is (or was, anyway) a subsidiary of Borders. So your store may go away.

      And author events are a tough thing for stores to deal with. In the store where I worked and we did them, we had a person dedicated to doing that and other special events. You can’t expect the actual salespeople to handle it; they won’t be any good at it, and they won’t find the time.

      But it’s bad you’ve had bad experiences with the stores local to you. Corporate rarely understands the local author factor.

  17. I recall the first time I went into a Borders and thought “Where are all of the books?” This was a brand new store in the silicon valley and it almost seemed like they were clearing out for liquidation two weeks after opening. It never got better. They never had the selection that B&N had, the employees were less than interested in helping and the store layout was always poor. They also had a knack in this area for picking locations with the worst parking options available. B&N always has events listed, authors visiting, huge support for the Nook in store and employees who actually smile and want to help you. I kinda think that Borders being removed from this game is a good thing, I just hate that 11K more people are looking for work.

  18. I remember being stationed in Idaho Falls and Borders was nice. It had the best selection of T&A calendars. (This was pre-Internet…:)

    Got back out to the Seattle area and they weren’t there. Years later, when I saw one out here, they were into the crappy as compared to Barnes and Noble phase…

  19. Let’s also remember it was Borders employees who were bragging on the company forum of sabotaging book sales and displays by conservative writers back before the 2004 election. Piss off half your customer base, kiddies, that’s a strategy.

  20. I used to live relatively near a good Borders (of course this was back in the late 80’s – early 90’s). I was looking for a rather obscure book that bordered on being a textbook, and was resigned to ordering it and waiting for it to arrive. Happened upon said Borders, the first person I ran into looked it up, found it was in their system, and actually had a copy in the store!

    Needless to say, that store was relocated for no apparent reason and was one of the first wave of Borders that went under.

    Fortunately, it turns out one of the guys I RPG’d with was the manager of a local indie store with a killer selection of SF/Fantasy.

  21. I’ve seen all the same poor customer treatment from Borders stores and employees at every visit I’ve made over the last 10 years–which, arguably, hasn’t been very many. Never really strung it all together though. I just stopped going there or even seeing it as an option. The real problem, I think, is that this kind of management mentality isn’t only evident in Borders. It’s spreading, like some rampant disease, and not only does it annoy the freak out of me, it also scares me to death. We need a little more kickback to the days of yesteryear, when companies understood that their best asset was their customers and not their customers money. We need more of the mindset that Steve practiced when he was working the job. The kind that helps the customer, that understands their needs, and that does everything they can to make sure those customers come back for more. Why else does anyone think Amazon has made it so big? They sell books the cheapest, and if customer service and help and direction and recommendations don’t matter, then what else but price does? Great comments, Larry. And Steve didn’t do too bad a job either. :) Gonna go buy me a Monster Hunter book right now. Just not from Borders.

    • I try to have intelligent comments. Though, I think I may have hit my quota for the month…

      Man, I didn’t even get into the REAL crazy examples of how bad Borders was/is.

  22. I hadn’t realised Waldenbooks was under the Borders umbrella until yesterday with an article in the local paper. Needless to say I was not pleased.
    Our only Waldenbooks (in the mall) is bing closed. This leaves my area with 1 big box retailer (B&N) in the area. There are 3 B&N’s. 2 are normal stores located 60 miles away and the other is in my city as a campus bookstore. So effectively we are left with nothing in my AO.

  23. I worked in a Walden’s for a year in the early 2000s which was one of the most profitable in the Northern California area (something to do with Harlequin Romances and the store manager actually doing over the phone orders and delivering books to little old ladies who lived in her apartment complex (we’re talking between $75 and $150 per person at least twice a month)) and I was suprised when we’d call the local Border’s in the area and were treated with quite a bit of disdain and apathy from our compatriots when we were trying to locate a book we didn’t have in our much smaller stock.

  24. I’ve never had the misfortune of shopping at a Borders. I split my purchaces between BAM and Amazon. In fact I stumbled upon MHI and MHI Vendetta in my local BAM and promptly read them back to back. Now they can’t keep your books in stock.

  25. African American porn in Provo . . .

    Dude, I’m laughing so hard I can’t stop. HEEEEEE.

    Whew.

    Okay, I’m in control now. Whew.

    Now, wait a minute. There might have been somebody there who’d been on a Mormon mission to Africa.

    Here’s what else is crazy. Instead of promoting the folks who did so well or having them teach others their juju or at least trying to figure out what the crap they were doing to sell so much, management borged them. Amazing.

  26. Steve Diamond’s description of Borders’ management strategy sounds a lot like how many of today’s politicians are handling the economy.

  27. Spent 10 years slaving for one of those mega OFFICE supply DEPOT’s which shall remain nameless. Same thing happening there as happened at Borders. Stupid regulations coming down from corporate dweebs who don’t even know what a customer looks like. True story, I had a “corporate buyer” come into the tech department once, ask me what it was that customers were asking for that we didn’t sell. Well, I’d had two customers that week, and one who was actually exiting the store at the time, who had asked about computer processors. So that’s what I told the guy, motherboards and processors. He then proceeded to explain to me in great detail about how his college degree gave him the clarity to analyze market trends blah blah blah and customers didn’t want that. Again, I repeat….a fairly regular customer of mine was just walking out the door after asking about mobos and processors. *sigh* The corporate flunky then asked me again, what did customers want that we didn’t stock? I looked him in the eye and replied “I don’t know, sir, since I don’t have a degree in _____, I only deal with the people who come in to buy things. Why don’t you tell me what customers want, so I can tell you what you want to hear customers want?” Heh. Yeah. He didn’t take that too well.

    The trend now is to get everyone trained on a register (even though, on average, only two are working in the store), so that we don’t have lines build up. Its a huge store, and even though there’s only one person per department (on a good day…been many a day when we had three managers on duty, but only one poorly-paid associate to cover the entire sales floor), they’re supposed to drop everything and open another register whenever there’s more than two people in line. Okay, works in theory…but what about all those people who are wandering up and down the aisles looking for that special pen or some supplies? Wait….wasn’t there a “morning huddle” where we were pounded with “up-sell, add-on” speeches? How the hell is that supposed to happen when I’m running a register and the guy who picked up a cheap printer (which will break from overuse within 6 months and we’ll lose a customer because he’s pissed at picking up the wrong one for his needs, since nobody was there to help him…or, worse, a manager who knows nothing about printers except for the latest “spotlight” blurb in the manager’s daily email) goes to the other register, without a cable, paper, ink, warranty (NEVER buy one of those, they’re worse than useless wastes of money…I was one of my region’s top warranty salesmen, and I still miss having a soul). Now…when I get done running the register, who gets yelled at because there was no coverage on the floor to upsell and add on accessories? Yeah. Not management. Heh. And that’s just one small story I could tell. Anyway.

    The local B&N isn’t much better than Borders, IMO. Went in to pick up a copy of “Hard Magic” and a sequel to one of Peter F. Hamilton’s sci-fi epics, and they didn’t have HM. They had MHV. Six dog-eared copies. They didn’t have MHI for those who were just getting started. Found the same thing with the Hamilton books, book three of a series, but not books one or two. The history section sucked, it was condensed to make room, I guess, for more CD’s. So I walked out, with nobody asking if I’d found everything I was looking for, and went to Amazon.com. Their shipping times are pretty dang quick, so I’ll just let my fingers do the walking from now on.

  28. “I’ve worked at crappy companies, where the morale is low because the employees know they are just waiting to get screwed by management. You can see it in their eyes. You can feel it in the air.”

    Ouch that stings!

  29. I gotta say, I’ve loved Borders for the 40% off coupons (at least once a month over the last year or two). And I have never warmed to B&N, despite the nearest one being half the distance compared to Borders), mainly because I’m lucky to see 15% off every other month. I may be the only one here, but I’m sorry to see Borders closing.

    • P.S. I’ve had no beef with the employees at either chain. Helpfulness/friendliness were the same, to me.

    • I too am a little sad to see Borders closing, but that is probably a function of them being the most adjacent large book store for me. The nearest B&N is a good hour down the road.

  30. Actually, up until a couple of years ago, my nearest Borders outlet (Lees Summit, MO, suburban KC) was a pretty good place to shop. They had staff who knew me by name and were willing to recommend books I might like, particularly in sci-fi and fantasy. They also had some authors I couldn’t find anywhere else (one example being the English writer Phil Rickman, author of Celtic-flavored horror novels like “December” and the creepy Merrily Watkins murder mysteries).

    But suddenly those folks weren’t around anymore. I guess they did their jobs too well, or refused to be assimilated into the Borders Borg Collective of Mediocrity. Suddenly I was being “helped” by people who wanted to argue with me about my choices of reading material, when they could be arsed to talk to me at all:

    Me: “Do you have ‘Torch of Freedom’ by David Weber and Eric Flint?”

    Borders Borg: “Tortured Freedom?” Is that some sort of political thing?”

    Me: “No, it’s a science fiction novel. Part of the ‘Honor Harrington’ series. It’s put out by Baen Books.”

    Borg: “Oh, Baen. You mean those fascist military types like that Ringo guy.”

    Me: *facepalm* “Never mind, I’ll just go to Barnes and Noble.”

    As best as I can recall, that’s pretty much how the last conversation I actually had with a Border’s employee went. From then on, on the rare occasions I went to that store, I just settled for browsing the shelves.

    • Funny thing: my local borders had copious overstock of Torch of Freedom…. and it was from there that I was stocked all the way from On Basilisk Station through At All Costs. No joke. Also stocked me with the latest RCN from Drake, and Weber’s Safehold.

      Their non-fiction political section was also surprisingly quite balanced. They didn’t even try to push “Audacity of Hope”, and DID try and push Dick Winters’ memoirs of WWII. Someone there seems to at least have had at least 2 braincells to rub together.

  31. Dropped by the Borders near Provo canyon just recently to grab an application. Only had HardMagic on the shelf but it was so high up I don’t think I could have reached it (didn’t try cause I already have an ebook of it from Baen). That was really odd and unusual to me because i’m 6’0 and have a 74 inch reach. How can they hate the fantasy section so much to put books out of reach?!

  32. I can only echo the above analysis. Mike Cohen — one in a long line of idiots who destroyed what was worthwhile in their business — had the nerve to mass-email me notification of Borders liquidation with the hope that we customers would look back fondly on our memories of the travesty they committed upon their company.

    Aiming books at TV/film/media-infatuated short-term toe-dipping teenage girls instead of *pry the dead-tree version* out of my cold, dead hand readers, has got to be one the most myopic business models in history.

    The bad news is this attitude by TV-weaned corporate bean-counters who never read a book for the sheer joy of the experience pervades the entire conglomerate “happens to own a publishing subsidiary” ecology.

    JJB

  33. My 2¢ worth: I have bought very, very few books the last five or six years, and on the rare occasions when I sortied to the nearest Borders (thirty minutes away) to rather than order online, I knew exactly what I wanted and where to find it, if it was there. So I had little interaction with the staff, other than at the checkouts (where they would often sneak me a Borders Rewards coupon discount if I said ‘yes, I have a card but I forgot to print the coupon,’ which did often happen).

    On the other hand, I have a friend in another city who worked at Borders until both that city’s Borders stores closed right after they filed for bankruptcy (and how stupid is that, closing both your stores in a city of 100K+?). She was exactly the kind of person who should have been working there: lifelong bibliophile, helpful, courteous, always making recommendations and getting extra sales as a result. Her store had an excellent manager and did very well until about four or five years ago, when he said something that ticked off Upper Management, and was gone a week later. The replacements (there were several) knew nothing about books, nothing about marketing, and preferred to hire pretty, young, airhead girls rather than good salespeople or book-people. Guess what happened to their sales as a result?

    So yeah, the general economic situation and the rise of e-books didn’t help, but to a large extent Borders brought it on themselves.

  34. Borders killed the Waldenbooks that I pretty much grew up in. It was the only decent store in a small town. So they closed it and let a Hastings take over the book sales, and they suck.

    There is an empty Borders store within sight of my desk as I type this… I do not mourn their closing at all. True, If I was going to have to fly for work, I would run down and grab a paperback to tear through on the flight. But they never carried any or the MHI novels, or anything more than the 600 copies of King or Koontz.

    Eh. Screw em.

  35. […] feels like when you walk into most stores in my opinion now a days is right on here’s the post. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  36. I have a family member in a smallish book publishing business; I can assure you that if you as a customer were frustrated and annoyed by Borders…. you ain’t got _nothing_ on the people selling to Borders.

    Seriously, their size meant you couldn’t ignore them, but it was hard to find knowledgeable buyers, they didn’t listen to the sales guys ( hey, we’re selling a lot of these to a competitor, wanna try a box? No. They didn’t.), they overbought a lot of stuff and then returned them to the publisher for credit ( returns are the bane of publishing – which is why listening to the publishing sales guys wasn’t a 100% bad idea), buying late, buying too early deciding it wasn’t selling and returning stuff JUST before X-mas.

    And all you guys complaining about what was for sale nonsensically up front rather than buried in back, don’t get my publishing source STARTED on that; “incandescent rage” doesn’t begin: his face turns red, his eyes flash, he foams at the mouth and he has to go lie down lest he blow a fuse.

    Despite it being a decent hunk of sales, I’m told he was actually dancing down the halls and around the warehouse in the flush of happiness to never have to deal with them again. His boss was alarmed.

    Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  37. […] egyik esélyese idén, Đmegírta a saját tapasztalatait a Borders könyvesboltokkal kapcsolatban]1. Az író szerint a Bordersnek nem az e-könyvek tettek be, hanem a céges normának számító […]

  38. […] Via On Border’s closing « Monster Hunter Nation. […]

  39. The nearest borders to me kept pretty good Baen stock (I got hooked on Weber and Drake about 5 or 6 years ago), so I was pretty happy with them. Also, that specific local, while large, still had that “small bookstore” feel. The staff wasn’t super knowledgable, but when I go in there already knowing what I’m looking for, that isn’t something that bothers me. When it comes to books, I’d rather have a well laid-out store and staff that isn’t continually coming up to me every 5 minutes asking if I’m finding everything that I need (especially if I have my headset on, which should say “I’m doing just fine browsing and listening to my music, thanks”).

    However, seeing what others have been saying… yeah, they screwed themselves.

    Their e-reader selection was pretty pathetic too, btw. Then again, I despise e-readers which are just hyped up android or iOS tablets. If I want a tablet, I’ll get a tablet. If I want an e-reader… well, I bought a kindle… e-ink is for e-readers. Electronic backlit is for tablets. The two don’t mix properly if you’re voracious reader.

  40. The Borders here in Perth was great for a while, then just went down hill. They had poached a lot of staff who were passionate and knowledgeable from a lot of the other bookstores. Then after about 6 months to a year, nearly all the good staff had left and the staff that was left and the replacements just didn’t care anymore. Their SF/F section was good to start off with, then ended ip being 6 to 8 months behind the independent Sci Fi bookshop that I went to all the time. In the end, they just didn’t care about their customers or their staff.

  41. While I agree with the post and many of the comments, I really am sad that Borders is closing. True, the people who worked there weren’t super knowledgeable, the computer lied 95% of the time about what was in stock, and upper management sucked hard. BUT.

    I loved being able to go there and sit in the comfy chairs, and browse for books (I was never the type to go ask a salesperson for anything unless I was totally desperate) and I happen to like their coffee. (I’ve had one too many bad experiences with Starbucks…coffee that tastes like soap/chemicals, a**hole baristas, etc)

    As for B&N, I was never a fan. The closest store to me is in a rundown shopping complex where you feel like you could be mugged at any moment. The only decent location is 30 minutes away (if you take the interstate) And to add my two cents, I’ve never seen a salesperson at B&N ever show themselves to be in any way more knowledgeable about books than someone at Borders. They are about the same. At B&N their only answer is to offer to “order it online” for me. If I’d wanted to do that I could have gone to Amazon. At least at Borders they were apologetic when they couldn’t find something I wanted.

  42. My friend is a published journalist with a writing degree from The University of Maine and she is my sons’ aunt. She is friends with Stephan King. I worked at a new Borders at the time in Phoenix, Arizona for the summer of 1999. I mean this with no ill repute, but it does not surprise me that a published author would be snobby towards Borders.

  43. I found over the years that Borders did exude an attitude that fell even farther below that of devil-may-care. I have no idea what rate of pay the base employee received, but if it was typical of most companies than it was minimum wage. There are different types of minimum wage employees and they range from apathetic “marking time until something better comes along,” to the employee who is helpful and portrays a positive demeanor.

    Borders always seemed to be arranged haphazardly with books in the wrong category and authors improperly alphabetized. Most of this was just the result of sloppy housekeeping. Still it reflects an attitude that begins on high.

    At the beginning of the week I stopped at a Borders to buy a specific book related to WordPress. I did manage to find the book, but it was still priced at $24.99 even though it was public knowledge that their demise was imminent. With sales tax the total would have been $26.49. Amazon had the same book for $15.20, and with shipping the total came to $19.19. Since time was not of the essence I chose Amazon over Borders. The economy being what it is every penny saved does count.

    There have been aspects of technology and progress that have rendered some businesses extinct. The computer and word processing programs sent typewriters to the dustbin of history. CDs sank the traditional record industry. And the availability of digital downloads spelled doom for many of the music retail giants like Tower Records. No one issue alone sank Borders. However, combine all of them together and like the Titanic it only took a small tear in the business model to send Borders to a watery grave.

    • The Titanic had a huge gash in the side after it struck the iceberg, not a “small tear.”

      Less pop culture, more hard-fact history please.

  44. One more Borders fan who’s sorry to see my favorite store go – mine must have been an anomaly, it was an anchor store in a popular local mall, and several of the employees have been there as long as I’ve been a customer(or nearly so, almost 12 years). I always got asked if I need help finding anything(even though I usually don’t), and there was always mutual recognition between me and the cashier during checkout. My loyalty was bought by Borders’ original rewards program, which was free – unlike B&N. And, it was rare for a month to go by when I didn’t spend enough in Borders to earn $5 worth of Borders Bucks. Yeah, I took advantage of coupons and discounts, but I stayed loyal to the bitter end…

  45. The only reson I’m sorry to see borders closing is that the local one occasionally they had old books the b&n didn’t carry.

    • I haven’t been in a B & N in years, but I always thought Borders had a much better selection of IT related books than B & N. (The best ever was a place called Book Star in Cary, NC, but they got gobbled up by Books – A – Million.) The Borders near my house still has a good IT book section, so in that regard I’m sad to see them go. But I agree with the rest of the posters, the rest pretty much sucks.

  46. Harmon: You weren’t sure what rate of pay Borders employees received. I worked there from June 1999- August 1999 so I can tell you. I got $6.25 as a new employee which really was not all that bad. I worked full time during the day and brought home $1,000.00 every 2 weeks, so $500.00 a week. I was 24 years old and single and rented a room out of a nice house in Paradise Valley, Arizona that had just 2 other nice people living in it a a parisian cat. I was able to buy my own groceries and a tv and a movie if I wanted. I bought a car while I was working at borders. I enjoyed riding my bike to and from work and was a beautiful 110 lbs. The Atkins diet was popular at that time, Harry Potter Books had just come out and the “self help” section was popular in our store as was the NY Times best sellers shelf that was in the front of the store. Employees were allowed to bring home books and then return them with out paying for them, just like a library (we just could not bring them in th tub with us). We could buy sodas from the cafe for 10 cents each if we had our own mug to put them in. They gave us cute tshirts to wear that said Borders on them. Borders was an honest employer.

  47. Agree with everything, said. The problem with Borders started at the top and went downhill from there. Sadly it’s not just a Borders problem, as I’ve known a number of companies that decided to higher their managing talent right out of some MBA program– and never bother to consider that they knew absolutely *nothing* about what they managed.

    That being said, I think the nail in the coffin was just the larger economic situation– It’s possible that in a better (IE, non-great recession) period, Borders might have been able to recover from its
    mis-steps.

    The thing that bothers me is I know a number of places where the initial competition from Borders and B&N killed local book stores and this new shut down may leave some regions without *any* bookstores.

  48. The Borders my lady worked at had fewer books per square yard of space than any other bookstore I’ve ever been in. They refused to hold a release party for the then-most-recent Twilight installment (yeah, I know; but the sell like hotcakes and a release party would’ve been straight sales nirvana); the bathrooms were wino havens because the management didn’t want to deal with the situation; the manager hired employees based on how cute they were and how receptive to his advances (male employees) and when he tired of having them around he’d simply stop giving them hours until they stopped calling in to ask, and then fire them for not calling in (saves on unemployment payments). The final straw was when there was an armed robbery with a supervisor actually being attacked and the manager just blew the issue off.
    The Borders down the road in Cigarette City didn’t come off much better: between the smelly obnoxious dreadlocked floor help and the balding pigwoman who managed the place, there wasn’t a lot of reason to spend my money there.
    The fish rots from the head, folks. If a whole bunch of individual BOrders stores sucked it’s probably because Borders Corporate either didn’t care or wanted it that way.

  49. […] 2: Monster Hunter Nation has an admirable take on it too.  Far more inside information than I had as just a customer.  Hat […]

  50. Way back in the early 1990’s Borders seemed a lot more customer friendly. Each store had its own character, defined by which sections the staff had special knowledge of/paid special attention to. At that time B&N were the kind of consistent cookie-cutter stores that Borders became later. I wonder what caused the shift?

  51. Y’all make me glad that I’ve never stepped foot in a Borders.

  52. This is a scary article. But look on the bright side at least you have B&N. In New Zealand when the major chain Borders/Whitcoulls failed there was No alternative and they had killed heaps of the indie bookshops. They failed for the same reasons as you talk about AND they were bought by a finance company for asset stripping. The selection of Sf was awful. I know a run a specialist bookshop. We stock most of the baen titles and are one of the few in the whole country who do. We know, like any good indie bookshop, that customer service is important – MORE important than everything else. The only time I’ve been really unhelpful to a customer was one who wanted to buy a John Ringo book. He had read March upcountry. All fine so far. He wanted to buy “Ghost” which he hadn’t read yet. Still fine. And give it as a Christmas present to someone, without reading himself first. A little less fine, how do you know they’ll like it. When he said it was for his daughter’s boyfriend I had to so No. In fact I had to get another customer to explain why

  53. I spent the early 90s working at a Crown Books location, so I’ll always have a certain affection for book stores but also a bit of contempt for know-nothing employees whose primary attraction to Borders was the they wouldn’t have to remove their array of copious facial piercing while on the job. It’s very distracting trying to converse about the book you’re seeking when you constantly want to offer the other person a tissue to deal with the shiny booger dangling from their nose.

    Prejudicial? Fine, guilty and unapologetic. I like it better when people try to keep their psychoses to themselves rather than prominently displayed.

    My local Borders has been closed for several months and B&N is pretty much it in the area. I was a bit disappointed recently when I was seeking a particular book on the EPUB format and found nothing in the Computers & Technology even vaguely on the subject, aside from Kindle for Dummies. I went up to the Nook counter and the girl there didn’t understand what I wanted.

    The one place I should be able to find paper books about making e-books is B&N. EPUB has major advantages over MOBI/PRC but B&N done little or nothing to my knowledge to exploit this. The guy created Sigil, an incredibly valuable application for editing EPUB files is looking for someone to take over. He’s been hired by Google and won’t have time for it anymore. B&N could pick up the project and get some serious full time coders going at it for less than the salary costs of a single retail store. But the return on investment in making the EPUB format even more accessible for book makers would far exceed the value of any one retail site.

  54. Borders was not like that originally. The stuff you describe came about after they were merged with Waldenbooks. In fact, many of the negative changes only happened after Walden executives were put into the Borders Group ranks.

    Pre-IPO Borders was far superior to most Waldenbooks – in every way. Post-IPO, they both went to hell.

  55. I shopped at Borders when Borders was _one store_. Before they imported all their managers from K-Mart, and consequently started to suck. It was, in those days, everything a bookstore should be.

    I was going to say that I couldn’t remember the last time I stepped into a Borders, but that’s not quite true. It was December 22nd of last year, I was about to leave town for a Christmas trip, and I wanted a certain book that I knew had recently been published, to take with me and read on the trip.

    Living, as I do, in the tax-sheltered exurbs of one of America’s largest metroplexes, there were something like 30 Borders stores within what could arguably be considered reasonable driving distance. I picked the closest one where the web site said that the book I sought _might_ be instock, and called them up. Could they confirm that it was in stock, and hold it for me? No. Well…could they at least confirm that it was in stock, so that I could drive there to pull it off the shelf with the assurance that I wasn’t wasting my time? No.

    Could Amazon.com ship a copy directly to my hotel under my name, for next-day delivery, so that I’d still have the book for the whole of my vacation except the time I’d be spending driving to the destination and thus unable to read anyway, and not have to waste time driving to, parking in, and navigating around a shopping mall three days before Christmas in search of a book that might or might not actually be there? Why, certainly sir, it’d be our pleasure.

    If you’re going to fill your stores with employees unable or unwilling to demonstrate that they actually, you know, READ…well, there’s no advantage left to buying from you, so we’ll just return to the convenience of buying from Amazon.

    • Matt, great points on the “B&N” part, and a reason that a billionaire just put down 1 billion to buy up 742 brick and mortar stores… The Nook and the stuff associated with it. I doubt he wants the stores all that much but the tablet market is explosive and he now has a developed product already in it. Not a bad deal I think.

      If your using an E-Reader and need to convert from MOBI (or just about any other format out there for e-books) to Epub for example I’d recommend the “Calibre” software.Not “caliber” which makes way too much sense for Larry’s website of course, but “Calibre” It works with just about any device out there for converting book files and has been voted the best one I think.

      Free and open source as well. I’ve got about 3500 books on my Nook now, and I’ve used Calibre for all of the Ebook management, conversion, adding and removing, etc. Its really excellent software.

  56. Borders an Waldon Books were merged since 1999. There was nothin disruptive about that. It just made books easier to return, because they would take back books from either store. The only pattern I am noticing here is a slight snobishness, people still seem to approve of Barnes and Noble more and that people lack the belief that they should be treated well and enjoy life.

  57. Borders always seemed like the place where the Tower Records losers went to get jobs after they closed. Very, “I’m emo, cool punk and I can’t be bothered”. Borders was a place where you could still find Iron Maiden CD’s and the like, so I’ll miss them for that.

    I still prefer an actual book, over an ebook, but they are kind of cool.

  58. Robert: I took a job at Border’s Books in Phoenix, AZ for the summer of 1999 while I was in between college classes, because I had not graduated from college yet. I was 24 years old. And a new Borders store was opening up near my apartment complex that summer. I had never sold books or music before. You are over generalizing.

    • Hi Jessicaber: I’m sorry if that read as too generalized. I’m sure there were more decent people then just you there too. Even Tower had a few level-headed, hardworking employees. Borders was just like Tower, in that they seemed to have more than their fair share of slacker. Especially in their So. Cal stores. Glad to have gotten away from there!

  59. Thanks. My son has family in Ventura, CA. I went there once in 2008. Beautiful place. About Borders. I tried really hard. At first I walked all of the customers to the exact location of their book if they came up to the desk asking. Then after a few weeks there was this trend that a few of them starting huffing at me. It was apparent that they wanted the pleasure of looking for their book themselves. I always wondered what was up with that.

  60. Then I would ask myself why I bothered stopping at Borders and drive to the next B&N.

    My 2/10 oz Cu: The last 10 (or more) times I’ve been by, Border’s hasn’t had one thing I want. Not one. Not even with their weekly 30% off coupon. And all that time I watched the shelf space of what I was interested in get eaten up by, I kid you not, Christian romance novel dreck.

    I hit up the “local” Borders (it actually takes me most of an hour to get there) the day after their blowout sale started. 10% to 20% off, an insane checkout line, and still nothing I wanted that badly.

  61. I worked at Waldenbooks until our store closed. It doesn’t surprise me that this happened. Any copies of MHI were sold by my personal suggestion and even had to order some for customers. I wish we had stayed open longer so that I could have gotten you a bigger audience in Muskogee, OK. I still recommend every chance I get, even to a local author I met a couple of weeks ago. I would have loved to had you in for a signing, but alas, it was not to be. All we have now is a Hastings, but if you are coming this way I know some people who would be excited to meet you.

  62. I took my family to a book signing at Borders for a children’s author. The event was advertised in several newspapers. The employees knew nothing about it and the author didn’t show (as far as I could tell). The signing was not re-advertised at a later date, either. Oh well!

    The bookstores we return to have a great selection of books. No coffee. No comfy chairs.

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