Observations from the decline of Borders Bookstore

Lee Cochenour
The World's Best Bookseller

My former employer, Borders Bookstore, is on the verge of bankruptcy.  This is sad.  Before I started working there I would go in to the store and look at the books for hours.  Of course, that tells you I did not have a job.  They decided, since I was in the store all the time, I might as well worked there.  That’s how they did things at Borders.  They liked to have book lovers on staff.  Also, no one could ever be over qualified.

So, in a time when well educated people did not have jobs, they could always work at Borders while waiting for a job in their field to open up.  Often, they stayed.  I liked and respected Borders for that, for maybe too long.  I stayed for eight years at the Borders in Fort Worth, TX.  I met some great people, book lovers, great customers and witnessed some awesome events.

It was a good experience mostly.  At least it was at that location.  While working there, I begin to see the decline of the company as well as the bookstore business.

Borders and Barnes & Noble created their own industry by offering books at discounted prices which independent stores and regional chains could not match.  They put a coffee shop in the store and nice chairs to sit in and become the top two book sellers in the country.

The trouble with that model is that someone else will come along and offer books cheaper, and that is just what happened.  The emergence of Amazon.com and “big box” stores’ selling of popular books changed the playing field.  Borders was unable to adapt.

A fan at a Bob Lilly book signing

I hate this because there is much I love, or loved, about perusing a bookstore looking for that undiscovered jewel.  Borders kept so many different kinds of books on the shelf that this was possible.  Of course, it cost money to do this because you are taking up valuable shelf space with items that do not sell.  And, apparently, people were just unwilling to pay for this convenience. Especially, with books.  Maybe with other products, but not books.

Part of the problem lies with publishers.  They continue to produce products that are expensive and it makes it hard for stores to discount and compete with Wal-Mart, Target or Amazon.com.  That is why we are seeing the movement to mobile and digital platforms, and the company who can adapt to this will thrive in the next 25 years.  It is truly a digital age now, and the previous platform for books is slowly decreasing in both sales and quantity.  Now, readers are buying e-books from their favorite blogger.

To be continued. . . . .