Borders on the brink

There’s a lot of concern that Borders, the store that really started the “sit-here-and-read-for-as-long-as-you-like” practice which led to every self-respecting brick-and-mortar book store containing a coffee shop/café and couches, may be in enough trouble to have to close their doors.

I’ve heard a lot of speculation, especially about that idea that most of their troubles have been caused by discount sales at BigBox stores, the spread of online-shopping, the nook, the kindle, the iPad, and the fact that Borders doesn’t have their own version.

I have a different theory.

I have never, in all of my years of trying, managed to successfully place an order online. Whether with or without a gift card, I really don’t think it can be done. You’ve written down your name and password, it doesn’t work. You have a new gift card you received from some generous piano students (thank you, btw), the numbers aren’t “recognized.” One time I managed to effectively place an order, I believe for Margarat Atwood’s Penelopiad, and several days later I received a travel guide to Zambia. I’m not kidding. When I called about sending it back in exchange for the book I had ordered (which was, btw, correctly listed on the invoice; apparently whoever was packing the book failed to notice that the title of the book on the invoice and the title of the book on the book had absolutely nothing to do with each other) I was told not to bother sending it back.

Imagine if they made that mistake for more than one customer a week.

That can’t be helping.

Guess I better hurry up and try to spend that gift card I got last month. . .maybe the collection of Saul Bellow’s letters. I’ll just create a new name and password so I don’t have to reset the old one that I can’t remember. Now I’ll enter those 16 digits from the back of the card. . .



In a related story: at a party last night a woman I had just met was carrying a book about herbs and spices she had recently loaned to our hostess. As a foodie, I asked her if I could have a look at it. She mentioned that she had heard of it, had checked it out at the local bookstore, and then went home and ordered it from Amazon. She says, with a little chuckle, “I probably shouldn’t do that, but it’s cheaper.” I wanted to say, I should have said, “you know, if, everybody did that, S_________’s wouldn’t be there anymore;” but I didn’t. I wish I had. I will next time. What is wrong with these people? Is it ALL about the $1.47 you can save by buying it from Amazon?


5 Responses to “Borders on the brink”

  1. January 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Unfortunately, when I buy books from bookstores my husband chastizes me and tells me I should have bought them from Amazon, because they’re so much cheaper. I’ve gradually gotten into the habit of ordering from there, and the truth is many books are a great deal cheaper if you order from Amazon. Not a buck or two, but significantly less expensive. If you order over $25 worth shipping is free, and it is a pretty decent incentive to order several books you want all at once.

    As to bookstores, I love them. I love to walk in, go over to the discount bookshelves, actually pick up a book, look through it, put it down, move on to other books, and get a feel for the book by flipping through it. It’s hard to do that on Amazon! I love the tables of fiction or non-fiction, and the choice laid out before me like a literary buffet. But honestly, I think bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur, just like video stores and music stores. Everything is available online, it’s less expensive, and frankly, having things delivered to your door is far more convenient than going out to get stuff.

    I’ve never placed an order online for a Borders book so I have not run into the problems you outline, but have had a few snafus with Amazon, although only with independent booksellers. Otherwise, it has been pretty easy. Although I still prefer bookstores, in all honesty I find it hard to bring myself to pay full price any more, since I know I can get it on Amazon for a big discount.

    • January 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      Think of it as the fact that part of what you are paying for is the ability to browse, pick up a book, read a few pages, put it down, pick up another; browse the “literary buffet.” They need to pay for the building, pay the employees, keep the lights and heat on. If we only buy from Amazon, we will only have Amazon to buy from.

      And I’m not saying I never buy online, but I feel that, if I make use of the actual store in any way, I owe it to that store to buy from them(and this goes for more than just bookstores). Otherwise, ultimately, we will all pay the price.

      • January 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

        Yeah, I hear you. I realize what the costs are of doing business. I used to be in NYC all the time and would go into book stores, and when I began working in NJ went to bookstores in a mall near where I worked, but in the past year and 1/2 I’ve been unemployed and (1) have a lot less money so need to economize and (2) I’m not near bookstores any more, so those are two other reasons I’ve made the transition to Amazon. Since I’m not in bookstores very often, I don’t feel I owe them any allegience, although if I were to go into one, bet I’d buy something!

        I still think bookstores are on the way out — it’s probably inevitable, unless they upgrade in a way that makes it attractive to consumers. I believe Kindle and other electronic reading devices are contributing to this. And while I heard that Borders is struggling, isn’t Barnes & Noble or one of the other big bookstores doing okay? Borders somehow hasn’t remodeled itself in a way that’s making money, while the other store is? Thought I’d read something along those lines recently.

  2. January 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

    It may be a little cheaper, but the long term costs for everyone of trying to shave a few cents off a purchase have created some pretty huge problems. B+N came here in the late 80’s and that was the end of several unique small book stores in this area. These family owned and top notch small businesses didn’t stand a chance against B+N’s ability to undercut their sales.

    What mass merchandising, mass marketing, and cheap stuff (instant gratification) has really done is destroyed peoples ability to appreciate what they have.

    We’ve entered this strange frame of reference known as competitive shopping. And the free stuff mentality cultivated by the digital age has caused some pretty serious damage also.

    • January 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      I know, right? People complain because they can’t get an actual living, breathing person on the other end of a phone call, but refuse to leave their houses and patronize their local businesses – you know, the ones that provide all the jobs that keep communities thriving. You might pay less at Amazon for that book or sweater or whatsit, but we all pay the price in one way or another.

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