Edsel. Enron. Blockbuster. Borders…. Is Your Corner Bookstore Next to be Gone and Do You Care?

A glimpse of books on a bookshelfToday 10,700 people employed by Borders will begin losing their jobs as the company plans to shutter it remaining 399 stores and liquidate the entire business.  Once considered a staple, the big chain bookstore might be the flour for a recipe that no longer gets baked.

For more info read the article from the online edition of the Wall Street Journal.

A glimpse of books on a bookshelf Starbucks took something dreadfully boring and turned it into a mega brand with a decent experience available to 100’s of millions in prime locations. They do more than sell coffee.  They are a hub of meetings and social gathering of all types. They serve food & drink and music and wireless Internet access, but it is the people that participate in the brand that make it come alive. You meet a friend or colleague at a Starbucks to collaborate, innovate, celebrate, vent, pontificate or whatever-ate.   The brand lives through people that share experiences.

Books are arguably at least as appealing to humanity as a cup of coffee.  Are Bookstores that go bust missing the social element?  Are they missing something else?

If you have a favorite bookstore, please comment and share why it works for you.

Also,  if you could re-invent the bookstore of the future, what would you envision yourself and others doing there?  And, would you still call it a bookstore?

Thank you in advance for sharing.
Greg Olson

31 Replies to “Edsel. Enron. Blockbuster. Borders…. Is Your Corner Bookstore Next to be Gone and Do You Care?”

  1. In Denver we have the Tattered Cover which has a cafe, and many nooks and crannies to curl up with your book. Such a great place to get lost in….

    1. Tattered Cover – I like that name. Sounds like the kind of place that would have a warm puppy at your feet and coffee nearby. 😉

  2. Well, Barnes and Noble has a Starbucks in the bookstore. Elliot Bay has a cafe where you can hang out and read (once you’ve purchased the book). I would like a place that is like Powell’s Books in Portland. They have used books along side new books so you can choose which one you want. It promotes reusing things. Even though probably most people end up buying new books because there isn’t a used one available, it’s nice to know that they are trying and it makes me feel less like I’m getting ripped off. So, maybe if you combined Bauhaus ambiance with Powell’s awesome book selection and Elliot Bay’s cafe?

    1. Reuse – interesting. Imagine Barnes and Noble (since Borders is RIP) selling used or vintage books alongside the new as you say. I’ve been to Powels – all what seems like 6 blocks of them. I did like my experience.

  3. Hi Gregory! Would u consider Costco, Sam’s Club & Amazon bookstores??? lol I am ALL about discounted prices!!! :):)

    1. Sure – those are bookstores with everyday discounts. Funny (sad actually) story about discounts from another blog post .

      “I witnessed firsthand was a Barnes and Noble loyal customer who excitedly brought in her online coupon for 15% off one item. She had received it in her email and dutifully printed it for presentation at her neighborhood bookseller. At checkout the cashier refused the coupon saying that it was for online purchases only. She vowed to never shop there again, online or in store. Sure, she’ll go for the coffee and in store browsing experience but she’ll vote with her dollars elsewhere.

      Curious, I persisted to talk to the store manager to understand his decision to not accept online coupons in store. He cited that the prices had to be different because of the costs of the store infrastructure. I reminded him that the company is the same company online and in store and from a customers experience, what he was saying simply made no sense. He cited that those decisions are made out of corporate and played the powerless card.”

      Now, this person probably still goes to have a coffee and browse at the Barnes and Noble but then purchases from the places you mentioned. Shhhh I hope B&N isn’t listening, they may begin charging admission. 🙂

      Here is the link to that post if you want to read it in its entirety: http://old.delightability.com/2011/05/03/road-signs-signals-along-the-customer-journey/

  4. I really have no great idea’s on inventing the bookstores of the future. I love to read books, But I never buy a book unless its used or something I am sure to like and read over again and again. I like the thought of e-books but I find them sometimes more expensive then the books themselves.. if it were more reasonable I think that would be the wave of the future (of course that is if they could find away to stop people from copying and distributing them) which is almost impossible with today’s technology geeks. I also fear that the kids today just don’t read and someday our language will look something like this R U THRR? cause with the shortcuts they take to text each other I see that a lot of the young kids don’t even know how to spell the simplest of words. My best friends daughter is 13 and she texts all the time like this, wont read a book unless it is for school and even then it is with complaint and wont play a video game unless it has all cut scenes video format vs the reading of how the story began. Its becoming like that movie Idiocracy, where eventually you will go into a hospital and a computer will diagnose you after you go through a cashier that asks you what hurts and punches it in on a computer with pictured buttons of your head, neck, back, legs, arms and torso.

  5. I worked at the UW Bookstore in the mid 80’s – before there were Barnes and Noble superstores in strip malls everywhere. It was a lot like many stores in one – books, music, gifts, art supplies. It was a place you could spend half a day wandering around. Then, once I had kids, we would go to Barnes and Noble as a family and everyone would head to a different section to pick out a book. It was an outing in itself.
    Now that I live so far from anywhere, I buy most of my books online and I even have a kindle (gasp!) but when we do take a trip to Seattle, we almost always go to B & N for the experience and memories. The bookstore we have here in Winthrop is very nice – they have espresso and a couple of comfy chairs but it’s too small to “get lost” in and the lack of anonymity makes it not the bookstore experience I look for.
    Bookstore of the future? Something like the UW Bookstore of the 80’s but with good coffee.

    1. Anonymity – interesting. I wonder how many people, people watch in books stores, or want to meet others there – you know, hold up the talking paddle that says – I’m ready for conversation, let’s talk about [insert subject of book I’m holding now]. Sounds like you want to disappear without getting interrupted, “get lost” as you say save for that person delivering your 2nd cup of joe.

  6. Book store of the future hu? The short answer on the technoligical side is that the traditional brick and mortar store will cease to exist at a certain point. In all actuality brick and mortar shops that sell books only are few and far between. They have all had to expand to also selling games, music, DVD’s etc. Online providers of e-books should allow customers to sell thier used e-books opening up the market alot more.

    However, one tidbit that people with many e-readers are not aware of is the fact that you do not have to buy e-books. Almost every public library in the united states allows thier members to check out ebooks for a period of two weeks. At the end of the time limit the book simply becomes unaccessible or removed from your device and thus becomes available to a different person. If your library is too small consider becoming a member of one such as the PA Public library; the cost is about 15 dollars per year and you can apply by mail if you aren’t a resident. They offer thousands of e-books for check out.

    1. Makes me wonder what a blended library/bookstore might look like. A bookstore with lending privledges. Hmmmm. Have you heard of any such thing?

      1. Actually the Barnes and Noble Nook has that feature. If I have a friend who bought the book they can loan it to me through B & N for up to two weeks and I do not have to pay for it and it still belongs to my friend. There are some networks so large that each person buys one book and exchanges it with hundreds of friends… thus allowing a perosn to read hundreds of books for the price of one.

  7. I really don’t have any good ideas for a book store of the future, other than I feel that they’re important. Bookstores not only are for social gatherings, but they contain a wealth of information. I think that we as a society have become so heavily dependent on technology that we’ve forgotten how important “regular books” are. Bookstore are important however, regardless of how the reading material is distributed. Sorry, I know that’s not much help.

    1. wealth of information – indeed. Reminds me a a poster I saw in a bookstore or library – “If you read everything then you’ll know everything.”

  8. My favorite bookstore would be Barnes and Noble. I will always choose them over Borders. I’ll tell you why…Borders has the same thing that Barnes and Noble, QFC, Safeway and dozens of other stores where they do the shopper’s discount card. BUT…what I like about B & N that stands out from Borders is that you get an instant percent off your purchaase. Where Borders will send you miscelaneous coupons for random books that you may or may not purchase. There it is, instant gratification. Yeah, I said it…INSTANT gratification! lol And THAT’S why I chose Barnes and Noble every time over Borders!! Sorry all you Borders lovers.

    My point of view for future bookstores would be no change. I love that I can chose something tangible that has been printed on paper, of which I can choose to fold the corner of a page if I so do wish, to mark my spot MANY more times over anything technological. I would be extremely disappointed if I could never pick up a book again. Just not the same experience. Plus I love the smell of ink on paper 🙂

    1. The smell of ink on paper. Interesting. So if I was a traditional publisher or bookstore I might use the real estate open house trick, up the ante, and sprinkle cookie dust or vanilla throughout the books and shelves. Sort of like book crack, that will keep you coming back. Kindle, Nook, and e-reader Innovators? Are you listening – you better get busy on digital scents.

  9. OMG, I DO care and deeply regret that my neigborhood bookstore (Bailey Coy) is gone, gone, gone… booooooo! Books matter and I love HOLDING them, turning their pages, etc… Sure Kindle’s just fine, but give me a paper book! The history… have I mentioned holding the paper???

    1. I see a movie in the future, “There’s something about Paper”. Tribute to the newspapers, coloring books, sketchpads, prescriptions, cereal boxes, posters, books and other papers of yesteryear.

      1. To me I would rather have the electronic version than the paper. Of course i am a borderline tree hugger. Printing one popular book electronically saves thousands of trees. Additionally you do not have to worry about having the space to store them, or wonder how many heavy boxes you will have if you move. And you don’t have to worry about how much room they take up when traveling. The only books I still have are my autographed copies. Those I will pass down to my kids…

  10. It is sad to see a business go but from my perspective most modern bookstores do not offer much of what I need. I am in a technical field and the books that I normally buy are very specialized. Sometimes the bookstores have the titles but most times not. If I have to spend money on gas to get there then it is more convenient to just buy the book online because I have a bigger selection, lower prices, and more convenience. For just “reading” books (as opposed to technical or reference books) I prefer an eBook or old books. Traditional, modern bookstores carry neither of these. I also like music but the book stores typically have a very limited selection of high-priced CDs so that is not a draw either. In summary, the typical bookstore does not offer much for me. Other bookstore models that I like are Half-Priced Books where you can find bargains and the stock changes constantly. I also like used bookstores where you can find treasures from the past and bargains from the present. We used to have a large used bookstore closeby and I would go there often. I never really had anything that I needed but I would normally leave with at least one book. My favorite bookstore model is Third Place Books because they have a small food court, stage with music, book readings, big tables for games and socializing, as well as books. In short, they offer more than just books and I might stop there even if I had no need for a book. They have something for everyone including children and non-readers. I don’t see much future for the traditional modern bookstore given the advent of eBooks and the Internet.

  11. Great post Greg,

    I’m hardly an expert on the book business, but I’ve read a few. Or maybe its the other way around? Concerning the implicit question driving your post “what’s safe?”, I might venture to ask another question, “what was ever safe?” and “can we really protect anything?”. 130 years ago, the carriage industry thought it was pretty safe. The automobile proved otherwise. The newspaper industry is facing a similar reality today, and the fact that we are having this conversation here instead of in the letters to the editor column, is also proving otherwise. While I might miss some things about Borders, at the end of the day its just another corporation in a long line of dead giants that couldn’t keep up with the changing world around it, and didn’t make the cut for any number of reasons. The lesson today is the same as it was yesterday, stay in touch with the world around you, or face the consequences.

    1. Thanks Nicholas. It really makes me wonder if Borders had any “outside in” thinking. (good book by the same title by the way) Or, were they internally focused, didn’t have the right conversations, didn’t run experiments to see what could work next in a changing world. Funny thing is they may have viewed experiments and change as too risky. Instead they stuck to familiar patterns by making a bid for rival Barnes and Noble and eventually tried to sell themselves. Ultimately, sticking to the pattern proved more risky than other innovations.

  12. Nice post Greg.

    My favorite bookstores are those that allow a quiet browse, a place to sit, a coffee and a snack, perhaps a conversation with a staff person who’s actually read the books I’m browsing. If they have creaky floors and smell a bit musty, that’s a bonus.

    None of the big box book stores I know of, either in the States or elsewhere, does a very good job of providing that kind of atmosphere. They’re simply too big, too impersonal, too much like supermarkets. Yes, some have reading nooks, and some have Starbuckeries. But Starbucks is hardly gemütlich.

    What if a bookstore became a real retreat, a place that left the rest of the world outside the door? How about getting rid of all the impulse crap by the checkout lines for instance? The only reason they’re there is to off-load high margin pieces of junk to customers who didn’t want them in the first place. Some merchandizing consultant from KPMG said, “Hey, if you really want to maximize your sales per sq ft, offer the morons who come into your stores Harry Potter Pencil Cases.” These are words of wisdom from a 29 year old MBA who’s never dealt with a customer in his life.

    Why treat customers as money teats? We get enough of that in supermarkets and big box movie theaters (does anyone see a theme here?). Give us a break. Help us actually enjoy being in your stores.

    The problem with Borders and its ilk is not that people don’t want to buy books anymore. It’s that the stores see themselves as retailers who just happen to be in the business of selling books. They’ve whittled themselves down to sort of grotesque GAP-like clones. Why would anyone want to buy books in a modified GAP, or Ralph’s, or Staples? No wonder they’re dying. Good riddance.

    1. Yes, a retreat. I like that. Now I’m Imagining the complete experience, meandering paths, good food, friendly informative staff, fair prices – a destination. Less like the GAP or Staples, place you go to get something and get out quickly and more like IKEA, the place where you go to get something, but then spend the better part of a day, with your family no less.

  13. I like Powell’s, but that’s too difficult to replicate. I hope independents come back strong- each with a distinct personality and joy in the written word. Third Place Books is pretty good, they seem to engage the entire community. I hope future booksellers love books and reading more than quarterly profits.

    1. A focus on quarterly profits in the short run can surely kill you in the long run. We really do believe if you delight customers, success will follow. Look at the earning of Panera Bread, Zappos, Apple and others and you can see that. They all focus on getting the experience right.

  14. The bookstore of the future….hmmm……I’m not sure I can really imagine one.
    Yeah I did hear about the borders thing……..and I think it totally sucks that we are losing out on all it has had to offer. From ancient times to present stories and poems and literature and history have been preserved through tablets, early forms of what we call paper, and current day paper and have been there through the times to make statements, to hold as proof as evidences of life as hard copies something that should not be destroyed….

    Well that’s just a lil how I feel about it….I don’t have the correct words since I cant remember them all at the moment.

    So how do you feel about it all? by the way nice blog post…..i like it alot

  15. I feel that online is taking over everything. We are a society of Microwave people..instant gratification. What you can’t get online? The human contact. Meeting new people face to face instead of over the internet. A bookstore is a great way to do that, but I do find that here in Seattle, people are very aloof and look at you strange when you “interrupt” them. Like it’s bad manners to flash a smile and say hello. Maybe if more people would return the smile and be more open to human contact, then our local book stores wouldn’t be dwindling?! I guess you could say that i am torn…the job market is hard enough…support your local businesses!

  16. Bookstores are great places to discover new authors and just browse the shelves. It will have a huge impact not having them around. Amazon’s “look inside” feature is a nice compromise, but not nearly as fun to explore books and thumb through the pages.

    I’ve tried reading ebooks, and just don’t find it as enjoyable as paper. That said, the ability to ‘lend’ ebooks to friends will be critical for the survival of books. I doubt we’ll see the end of the paper book for years to come, but if ebooks are cheaper and more accessible to people worldwide, it might actually be a good thing for humanity.

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