Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What happened to Borders?

I was in the local Borders the other day, helping my kids cash in some gift cards, and was kind of shocked at the state the place was in.  The inventory computers were grimy, old, and slow, and couldn't tell you if books were in stock.  A book we were looking for showed two on hand but the bookseller couldn't find it.  The CD shelves were almost completely empty, and the place was understaffed.

I worked at the Borders in Madison, Wisconsin in 1992.  It was great--in those days, the staff of a new store was hired before construction was finished, and the booksellers themselves assembled the shelves and unloaded the books from the trucks.  Everyone had a section they were the expert on (mine was cooking), so somebody could always, always find a book.

Nowadays, Borders is definitely number three, after Amazon and B&N--or four, really, if you count Wal-Mart.  They have the shittiest e-reader, and it looks like they're having liquidity problems.  So what happened?  Back in the day, they were the "cool" chain; B&N was busy seeming to overextend itself, and provided a much chillier, more generic experience.  Now, Borders feels like a chain on its way out.

In the end, I'm not invested in any of the chains...I do still prefer the small independent bookstore experience to a big box.  (If I want generic and commercial, I'd much rather order from Amazon, who will also sell me some camera lenses and a waffle maker, than drive down to the commercial strip for B&N or to the mall for Borders.)

But...what happened?  How'd Borders go wrong?


Anne R. Allen said...

Infighting, bad management and the decline of the book. From today's Publisher's Lunch:

Just as Borders is preparing for complex negotiations with vendors and lenders, they will be doing so without the assistance of EVP, general counsel Thomas Carney, who has served as the bookseller's top attorney since 1994. He resigned on Sunday, noted by Borders in a terse SEC filing after the close of the market yesterday. SVP, chief information officer Scott Laverty resigned as well, on Monday. Laverty joined the company in May 2009, charged with overseeing the "overall vision, strategic direction and tactical execution of all information technology systems and solutions."

Spokesperson Mary Davis passes along the company's statement: "As previously reported, we are taking a number of steps to improve our liquidity, part of which involves employing cost reduction initiatives and examining how to best structure our management team for our business. As part of this process, we have evaluated our leadership structure and, as a result, some positions have been eliminated, and some executives have left the company." She declined to disclose the names and positions of any others leaving the company as part of this re-evaluation of their leadership, though an anonymous Borders employee on an online message board claims that "two regional vice presidents and three other vice presidents" are also leaving the company.

Anonymous said...

Their financial history is a mess. Great shame.



rmellis said...

They can blame the decline of the book, but B&N's doing okay and Borders started looking crappy at least ten years ago. The stores have been crowded and jumbled and poorly laid out at least that long. Someone at the top lacked vision about what they wanted their stores to be like. As bland as they are, B&N stores at least have a solid and consistent look and feel... and frappacinos, which can't hurt. (Do they still have those? Dang, they were good.)

Z Cole said...

Just read an interesting rumor on another author's blog:


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Alicia said...

The fact that Amazon sells DVDs, clothes,electronics, and seems an online Home Shopping Network is what makes me prefer B&N where I actually know the people working there and can be pretty much in a place who still focuses on books.