a reader's thoughts on the looming borders bankruptcy

Borders closing in the BullringIn terms of overall shopping experience, I generally prefer Borders over Barnes & Noble, but for some reason I still shop at BN a lot more often. After hearing about the impending Borders bankruptcy, I decided to put a little thought into the reasons for that.

The genre fiction at Borders is better organized and more accurately shelved than similar books at Barnes & Noble (where I regularly find a few fantasy authors filed under romance). Borders still has horror in its own section, which is a bonus. Barnes & Noble seems to shelve horror fiction based on the phase of the moon at the date of the book's publication, so scary stuff is impossible to browse for there. All this makes it easier to stumble on something new and interesting at Borders, and leaves me with the impression that they have a better selection of the types of books I read.

Borders has fewer locations, and they've always been less convenient for me. It's probably the single biggest reason I don't shop there more often. I've lived in six different homes or apartments in my adult life, and each has been much closer to a Barnes & Noble. This makes Borders seem more like a "special trip" kind of place, while picking something up at BN feels more like running a quick errand.

Another major factor in my book buying habit was Barnes & Noble's rewards card. Considering how many books I buy, it's saved me a lot of money over the years. Borders added a rewards card too, but its over-complicated system of shopping days and earning extra discounts was confusing. It was eventually changed to a system much more like BN's, but taking full advantage of the benefits of the card still isn't as simple as it should be. The Borders program also annoys the hell out of me by sending two or three emails a day, often non-bookish spam like this week's "6 Hand-Selected Wines for $6.99 Each." I'm not interested in getting wine deals or cross-promotional sales pitches from other retailers through a bookstore. All that email is at best a nuisance and at worst a signal that the Borders brand is grasping at straws.

Then there are things about Borders that were downright confusing. They devoted more and more space, both on the shelves and in displays, to overpriced DVDs and CDs. They added a lot of coffee cups and a line of cheapy plastic school supplies with kiddy artwork. Borders stores highlighted these things a lot more than booksellers with similar products, making it look like Borders was shifting their focus away from books. And during the time when online shopping was really taking off, a notice on Borders.com explained that its orders were fulfilled by Amazon. I never bothered going to the Borders website after that, because I didn't see any point in using a middleman to get books from Amazon.

It's never a good thing to see a bookstore close, competition among booksellers is a good thing for book buyers. I really hope the chain can survive and eventually start growing again, but I think that Borders is going to need to refocus its attention on serving readers for that to happen.

photo by Mark Hillary used under Creative Commons

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