Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Will Less Prove to Be More for Borders Bookstores?

Today's Wall Street Journal (in the "MARKETPLACE" section) has an interesting article (link is to article introduction) from Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg that highlights the changes that Borders Group will be making soon to its bookstores and why it is all happening. At first glance, it all sounds more than a bit risky but this is a company that really doesn't have much to lose at this point. Just take a look at the 52-Week Share Performance numbers noted in the article:
Barnes & Noble - down 27%

Books-A-Million - down 28%

Borders - down 58%
My initial opinion of the new Borders strategy was negative but, as I read more of the article, it started to make sense. Borders Group might as well try it because it might even work.

The big change is that Borders bookstores will soon be displaying three times more titles face-forward than they do now. The new displays will mostly impact sections like cookbooks, photography books, travel books, art books and, to a lesser degree, the fiction section. Interestingly, Borders plans to use the new display strategy on classics as well as new fiction. The tricky part of this strategy is that it will require the average Borders store to reduce the number of books that it carries by between 4700 and 9400 titles. Will shoppers notice the smaller number of choices? Not necessarily, because where this change has already become the new norm, customers seem to get the impression that the store is carrying more titles, not fewer. And, as the Borders spokesman remarked, every major bookstore has hundreds of books of which it sells only one copy per year, making the inventory reduction a relatively painless process.

It might just work. Personally, I've wandered around bookstores for an hour or so without anything new catching my eye and have left wondering if I had missed something that I would soon read about on one of the dozens of book blogs I visit every week. It often happens just that way, so having more titles directly facing me might actually impact my buying choices (and numbers). But will Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million use the new Borders strategy in ads of their own emphasizing how many more titles they carry than Borders? If so, will they gain business from the most rabid book readers who are impressed with that kind of choice? Or could it be that all of the big box stores will gain from this change and that more books will be sold in total than before? In a perfect world, that would be the case but it is more likely that they chains will continue to steal sales from each other with total sales remaining largely flat.

I have to applaud Borders management for having the courage to try something new...although Wal-Mart already does this with pretty much its whole inventory of books, tiny selection that it is. This is the kind of business decision that has a lot of upside and very little downside. Best of luck to you, Borders Group.


  1. That makes very good sense. Publishers put a lot of effort into creating appealing book covers. Bookstores do well to take advantage of that and let the books advertise themselves.

  2. Interesting. Borders is my favorite bookstore (less expensive and more user-friendly than B&N), so I'm sad that they're losing money. I have certainly been doing my part to keep them in business :)

  3. I don't think this is such a revolutionary concept. We have required shelf strips and bays every month that are nothing but front-faced books, in addition to all the regular completely front-faced sections such as new releases and best-sellers. Those front-faces have increased a lot in the recent years.

    The only thing Borders is actually doing is talking about it in a hope to generate publicity (and, look, it's working!).

    Considering they're down double than Barnes & Noble and even Books-a-Million (the truly embarrassing part for Borders), there are obviously issues beyond book quantity - they may want to look into those instead.

    Personally, Borders sucks. Always has. Always will. ;)

  4. Sylvia, the more I read of the article the more sense it made to me. Books can't sell unless someone reaches out and picks them off the shelf for inspection; it's much more likely to happen with this kind of presentation.

  5. Keep shopping, Susan. They need you badly right now. :-)

    I don't get to Borders very often because the nearest store to my office is about 12 miles away and has an atrocious parking problem.

  6. Annie, I think what's new is the percentage of front-facing books that Borders is going to present on its shelves...a 300% increase over what they do now in their stores.

    I still spend the bulk of my book money at Barnes & Noble...mainly because of their location here and the fact that by getting one of their credit cards I earn a $25 gift card from them about three or four times a year. That really helps.

  7. I'm more of a Barnes and Noble person, but if I were in the States, I'd give Borders a helping hand.

  8. Spoken like a true book lover, Bybee...none of us want to see ANY bookstore or chain go out of business. :-)

  9. I wouldn't say that. ;)

    Just kidding!!!

    Actually, I was talking to my manager and she said B&N is doing the exact same thing - we've been sending tons of books back. But, what we're sending back is 4 of the 5 or 6 copies we carry of lesser-selling books. B&N (and I imagaine Borders as well) will still have about the same number of titles, just less quanitity of each title.

  10. That sounds like a good way to do it, Annie...nice compromise.

    Now, if either Borders or B&N had hired me when I applied to their stores, I would be much more informed about all of this. :-)

    Thanks for your input.