This week Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As a budding novelist (hopefully), it's a disconcerting feeling, since really nowadays it's Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and indie bookstores and that's it.
Alas, there's a Borders about five minutes where I live and, based on my typical visit there, I can understand why it's come to this.
When I walk in there's always a band playing. As a writer, I want to be supportive of my fellow artists, but the band is always really fucking loud. And let's face it, if I had tickets to a cool band -- say, Club D'Elf -- and when I walked in everyone was reading a book, it'd be a little bit of a buzzkill. Likewise, when I go to a bookstore it's a distraction to have my eardrums vibrating.
The next thing I see when I walk in is...teddy bears. I go through the lobby by the cash register and there's board games, candy and soda. Finally! After I've been in the store for a minute or two, there is evidence of books. I agree that it's good for a business to diversify, but there's a difference between diversifying and forgetting your target market.
If I click onto the Web site for the Shrewsbury Borders, there's info on the corporate sales program, TASTY TREATS (the hot apple pie with ice cream is apparently kind of a big deal), some partnership with Worcester's Hanover Theater, and very little about books.
I'm no business expert, but it seems to me that a business has to have its brand well-defined. Coca-Cola is the real thing. Wal-Mart is cheap goods. Starbucks is expensive coffee. Subway is fast but healthy food. And Barnes & Noble has a cafe, but it's usually tucked away in the corner of the store so that they can focus on selling...you know...books.
I think Borders is books, but when I walk into Borders I'm really not sure what brand they're trying to convey to me -- concerts, teddy bears, hot apple pie with ice cream -- and this is probably why the folks at Borders are now in the position they're in.