Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Case Against Borders and B&N

It's not much of a cheese shop, is it?
Finest in the district, sir.
Explain the logic underlying that conclusion, please.
Well, it's so clean, sir.
It's certainly uncontaminated by cheese.

I've written and rewritten this numerous times and scrapped it, but this time it stays.

I'm sick of watching various businesses go under, blaming everyone but themselves for their demise. There are outside factors that contribute, but I believe many businesses refuse to examine themselves and address their own faults--it's easier and more satisfying to blame competition.

The latest: Borders Books' flagship store in Ann Arbor is closing its doors. A sign supposedly says "No public restrooms--try Amazon."

Yeah, it's all Amazon's fault.

I grew up in suburbia and most of the bookstores were small. The major ones were located in malls. The two biggies where I lived were Pickwick (which later became B. Dalton) and Waldenbooks. They were nice because the alternatives were department stores, whose book departments were mainly best-sellers, drug and grocery stores, which had only the top sellers, and a few independents which were always on the other side of the city. The mall stores didn't have huge inventories, but there were better than non-bookstores and a lot easier to get to.

For me, the mall stores went sour when they began getting away from books and selling other things, like toys and games and other crap that weren't books. Given their already limited size and space, this seemed monumentally stupid.

Not too long after this happened, the big chains arrived: Barnes & Noble and Borders. They actuall had BOOKS! Huge stores with tons of books! All of a sudden I could go to the store and find things on shelves. Books I'd only heard of before but never seen. Books I'd never heard of but just happened to be shelved in a section I was interested in. It was a golden age.

You know what happened? The same thing.

I think in the last 5 years, I've actually bought a book or magazine one-visit-in-seven to either Barnes or Borders. Maybe two out of six I left because I thought the book was too expensive (they heavily discount the best-sellers, but they do it on the backs of stuff I want, which always seems like it's $40). The other times I left in disgust because they didn't even have what I wanted.

They still had lots of books, but I began noticing that more and more floor space was devoted to crap. Not stuff that made sense to me, like magazines and newspapers (even though I've often not found what I wanted there either), but games, puzzles, collectables. Candy.


Now I realize that even in a huge store like Borders or Barnes, they still have limits on what they can stock. But I was continuously disgusted by the fact that they don't have room to stock something I thought they *ought* to have, but they sure as hell had space for the Lindt Chococlate display.

Some MBA will say that the Lindt chocolates generated more revenue per square foot that whatever exotic book I wanted, and turned inventory far more often.

That may be, but I didn't go into Borders to buy a chocolate bar. Or a teddy bear. Or a Lego set.

So more and more often I turned to Amazon to buy books, because *they had books,* and the brick & mortars became the retailers of last resort because I was tired of wasting my time looking for books they didn't stock.

Ah! But I could order it!

Yeah--but if I'm going to order it, I CAN ORDER IT FROM AMAZON!!!! The whole point of going into the brick & mortar was being able to actually SEE the book. See if it was really what I wanted. And if it wasn't--maybe something nearby on the shelf *was* a better fit for my needs.

That was something that really pissed me off about B&N (Borders not so much): I pretty-much can't find anything at B&N now without having to ask. I can usually find things by myself at Borders, but at B&N you have to cool your heals at the info desk, which is either empty because the clerk is helping someone else find something, or backed-up because several other people have to find something--which is almost everything if it isn't the new James Patterson novel which is prominantly displayed in the middle of the store. With Borders I can usually figure out where my book is, or at least was supposed to be. With B&N the clerk has to consult a computer to figure out what assinine location it would be stashed--if they had it.

There's never a wait to talk to the clerks who are selling the company e-reader, though; and you don't need a directory to find him.

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