Thoughts on Borders Books Troubles

Borders Books is in bankruptcy and I’ve seen all kinds of blame going around.  I was most irritated by people who blamed customers for Borders demise.  That’s like saying the customer doesn’t know what they want and that we as customers should be joyful for whatever Borders brings to our lives.

I haven’t been to a Borders in months.  The last time I went, they were having a tent sale to get rid of awful books and the random non-book crap they sell.  Before that visit, I noticed that my Borders was selling fewer and fewer books in favor of the random non-book crap.  Most of this non-book crap is the random crazy-cat-lady crap you’d find at a Hallmark store.  If I can’t find any books I want to read at Borders, what am I supposed to do?  The obvious means available to me is an online book seller like Amazon.  Case-closed:  Amazon wins and Borders loses and has to at some point unload all that random non-book crap at pennies on the dollar.

I read a lot of manga and lately I’ve heard a lot of manga publishers and their related sympathizers complain that with Borders closing they will have fewer places to sell books.

Shelf space is limited and expensive and how are smaller titles to get attention when a bookstore has to stock all 50+ volumes of a wildly popular series like “Naruto”?  And then on top of that, they complain that have to put series on hiatus and forgo renewing licenses because customers aren’t buying the books from neither the physical bookstores or online bookstores.  It seems to me that something is fundamentally broken.  Here are some things that come to mind:

1. How many of us have room for 50 volumes of any series before we even talk about reading multiple series?

2. How many of us have $500 plus tax to spend on 50 volumes of any series.  Now ask yourself how many 12-year-olds have this kind of money?

The way manga is sold makes absolutely no sense and trying to sell manga like normal books is ridiculous.  I say to all the manga publishers out there, know your customers and take a commonsense approach to the space issue.  If there are more than 5 volumes, put it online, sell kids access they can buy for cash at a brick-and-mortar store, and charge a price that is commensurate with the age of your target audience (10 to 25-cents per chapter will do nicely).  Relying on a bookstore to push paper when shelf space is rare, manga is prolific and fractured, and the customers are used to reading stuff on the Internet is a losing proposition.  The Borders bankruptcy has nothing to do with manga publishers woes.  The manga publishers have yet to address their customers unmet needs and don’t seem to realize that it’s not the customers’ job to address the unmet needs of the publishers.

Back to Borders…What can Borders do to save itself.  Well…the obvious thing they can do is actually sell books.  In the end, though, I truly think there isn’t much Borders can do.  They can sell books online, but they need something to differentiate themselves from and improve upon the experiences Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer.  They could get smaller and more community connected.  I like small spaces with books, magazines, pastries, and hot drinks.  I also like places where there are knowledgeable sales people who like and know about the books they sell.  There’s nothing better than to go into a bookstore and ask what’s popular with 5-year-olds and have somebody help me chose the perfect present for my niece or my friends’ children.  Maybe they could position themselves as a “for profit library”.  People need help doing research and finding that special book for their special need.

I wish Borders all the luck in the world and I will return to my local Borders Bookstore once they stock actual books again.

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