The smallest things can sometimes turn us off. At least, that’s what I have always found.
Take Borders, for example. They announced today they are closing 200 stores costing them $2 million a week. These unprofitable locations are spread out across the U.S. and the long reaching effects on the publishing industry won’t be known for a while yet.
But for me, it’s kind of odd. See, I have never liked Borders and you may be surprised to learn why.
The first Borders I was exposed to was in Fresno California where I grew up. I moved into a place out near a new, developing retail center called River Park. They had an IMAX theater, a Best Buy and a slew of other places in various stages of construction – including a new bookstore called ‘Borders’. As you can imagine, this spot became quite the draw. People were moving into the area, buying up houses and condos as fast as builders could slap them together or renovate em. This area used to be nothing but fields, now it was a booming shopping area. It pretty much killed older malls like Manchester Center and Fashion Fair (which I believe did survive, if by a thread). Prior to River Park, I bought all my books from Waldenbooks in Manchester Center, sometimes from this other place in Fig Garden (I know, I know – I’m tossing out all these names you don’t know – bear with me!) that I liked.
Borders promised to be something different. Not only were they going to sell books, and have a huge selection of titles to boot, they had music, a coffee shop – all sorts of things. (Meanwhile, another new bookstore was getting ready to launch in a more centralized location – Shaw & Blackstone, a two story, massive store called Barnes & Noble that would also feature a coffee shop but no music at first.) My first trip to this Borders place was punctuated by really loud music blasting throughout. It was similar to Tower Records, not any book store I’d ever been in before. I’m not against music, or loud music, but in a bookstore? Plus, it was so loud you couldn’t really talk to anyone. My friends and I were trying to point out cool or interesting things we found and couldn’t do it over the music. Weird. I tell a story now and then about this loud music. One time, we went in there because there was nothing else to do, so we decided to go in and wander around until it was time for our movie to start. The music was blasting, all bass and distorted – couldn’t really understand what it was. As I was wandering around, I started to recognize the beat, the rhythm – then it dawned on me. It was the live, acoustic version of “Hotel California” from the Eagles ‘Hell Freezes Over’ album. You couldn’t hear the words/melody because they had the treble turned all the way down, so all you could hear was the ‘thump’ of the bongo drum…
I also realized, as I thumbed through their books, that Borders was about the Highlights. Most of their book sections were small across the board, carrying only the ‘highlights’ and bestsellers. Same with their music – it was pop music for the most part and I was into Blues heavily at the time, which barely had a presence. For me, for the SF&F Blues loving guy, there wasn’t a huge selection to choose from, which, of course, puts me off. I’m sure the John Grisham fans had no such problems.
But that’s not why I found myself turned off by Borders. I could deal with the loud, distorted music. I could deal with not being able to hear myself or my friends speak. I could even deal with a small section of books to interest me because a small selection was better than NO SELECTION, right?
What I couldn’t deal with was the little sticker they slapped on everything in the store – including the books.
I admit – I’m a collector. I like to have and keep things like books, just ask anyone who has ever helped me move. Having that sticker on the back of a book bugged the shit out of me. If I bought a book there, I was peeling the sticker off before I got to my car – it just bugged the shit out of me so bad. Plus, those stickers covered up the price on the book, replacing it with the Borders price which felt like it was usually higher – also a negative for me. Worse was when the sticker didn’t want to come off, so bits stuck to the book – my book, the book I want to keep pretty much forever!! Marred by this freaking little sticker placed there, apparently, to piss me off.
I know that it’s a silly thing to get worked up about, but there it is. I got it in my head that that sticker allowed them to charge more even if it didn’t always mean that (logically, my brain tells me that if they wanted to use a custom barcode system, for example, they would need those silly stickers. But also, logically, my brain tells me that adding an extra level of complexity to their inventory process – ie, the silly stickers – means that they have to do something to recoup the cost of printing the silly stickers, paying someone to peel and stick them – SOMETHING LIKE CHARGE ME MORE!). So to my mind, Borders = expensive.
That’s a perception and I don’t think I’m the only one to see it that way. Over the many years since that first visit, Borders was relegated to the very end of the list for me – if I could not find the book I wanted anywhere else in the free world or online, then and only then, would I bother with Borders. Usually to find that they did not, in fact, have the book I was looking for anyway. They only had the highlights.
Sad, I know.
There are places, towns, cities, where Borders is the go to place, I’m sure. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in those towns and where people turn to find their books now.