Posts Tagged 'Bookstores'

As Borders Regroups, So Should the Entire Industry—In Ten “Practical” Steps

All Right. The worst happened. Borders filed for bankruptcy. I predicted that, sure, but I also said that I hoped I was wrong about that one–I hoped that somehow they were going to listen to the consultant who gave them that sage piece of advice (as reported by Jeffrey Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal): whatever you do, stay out of Bankruptcy Court. That’s good advice, because most companies don’t recover from that. Sure they might stick around a while; maybe even last a decade or two—but in such an enfeebled, pathetic state, that you end up wondering if it  wouldn’t have been kinder, more merciful to just have put them out of their misery.

The reports already estimate—optimistically, if you ask me—that 200 to 250 of the 650 Borders stores are going to have to close down. I’ll be surprised if there are 300 left open by the Fall. And the reports think the publishers they owe money to will have to settle for 25-cents on the dollar. That’s totally unrealistic. Publishers are last in line in the chain of creditors: there are the landlords; the service contracts; the employees; the wholesalers; the suppliers of all that junk they filled the stores with instead of books—and you can bet the terms on that merchandise was tougher than it was on the books (everything on this planet is). So 25-cents on the dollar might be what preferred creditors can hope for–publishers will be lucky—lucky!—if they walk away with 10-cents. And there will be some who will get much less than that—so much less, that they may well go under themselves.

I reported last time (a month ago) that I thought the real number of trade bookstores in the US hovered around 1500. Well, now it looks like we’re heading for 1000 bookstores for the entire country (gevalt!), which is what I would predict by the end of the year, unless…

…Unless the entire industry can regroup. Here’s what I mean. The entire book industry is going to have to rethink its basic operational assumptions and start doing things differently. It now becomes a matter of survival. Here are my Ten Modest Proposals For the Survival of Books and the Book Industry. Some of these measure are going to hurt—no question about it. But these are necessary if the Book Culture is going to survive.

I’ve divided these ten proposals into three categories: three things I think the publishers are going to have to do; two things that authors and editors are going to have to do; and five things that bookstores are going to have to do. None of them are going to be easy. All of them are going to cost—time, money, effort… and not a little “face”—people are going to have to lower themselves and get out there among the people and mix it up with the rabble. That’s okay, it won’t hurt—you might even like it. (Did you see those photos of Morgan Entrekin talking to the independent bookstore people? He’s never looked so happy!)

1. Publishers: Eliminate the return policy. Somebody should have taken Max Schuster out back and beaten the snot out of him when he came up with this idea in the first place. Here’s what this means: publishers should price books the way all other commodities are priced: have the stores pay for them and then…they’re theirs! They are not given to the stores on consignment, so don’t take them back. Price them accordingly, which means, price them to move. But that also means that the publishers have greater responsibilities as producers to test-market their product, to prepare the reader for it, to do all the things manufacturers are expected to do when they bring things to market. I can hear the groans all the way in the Bronx—but, yes, it means that the way things are done will have to change. Publishers will have to work with authors to produce quality product. Remember? Quality product? Which brings us to…

2. Publishers: Publish Better Books. I know that’s sounds like nutty advice, but it isn’t in the current environment. Publishers have forgotten their mission and the reason they got into this business in the first place, which was to publish what they thought the public wanted and needed to read. Get back to that! Which means: let your editors do their work and not spend all their time clawing at each other for their survival or choking under impossible workloads that force them to pick titles they wouldn’t be caught dead reading themselves.  

3. Publishers: triple your graphic novel and graphic non-fiction production each year for the next five years! Of course, for some of you, that means you’ll have to start by producing some in the coming year for the first time. It’s about time. That’s what the rest of the world reads—that’s what America’s deteriorating eyesight demands—and that’s what the younger generation is hip to: it combines text and image, it allows design and content to dance  on the page and convey information faster and with less effort and engagement from the multi-tasked reader. There isn’t an area of publishing that couldn’t benefit from graphic treatment—and this is an area of publishing that is going to see innovation that is going to knock people’s socks off year after year. So hop to it people!

4. Authors and Editors: Shower, shave (you too, ladies)… sober up (you too, guys)… and get out there! Every author should take it as a given that when you’ve done a book, you are obliged—obliged!—to go out and promote it. Not promote the book…promote the cause that the book promotes. Because every book should have a cause that it promotes. That was how I approached book publishing—how I approach it now. What is different today is: (a) it’s not enough to simply write the book and let the publisher do the promoting (the publisher—Ha!); (b) the internet allows the author to do a lot of promoting right from one’s desk; and (c) the hunger on the part of the public to hear from the author and source of the idea is greater than ever—so only a fool would deny that public access to that source and what that author has to say. I do it in story because I find that more satisfying personally and more effective, but other authors can do it any way they feel best. But do it!

5. Authors and Editors: Stand for something! If you’re the kind of author who just writes for the fun of it, then have fun, read your work to you friends and family (like Kafka did) and leave it at that. If you write because you have dreams of signing books for admiring fans, keep dreaming and have pity on the trees. But if you write because you want people to know something: the plight of migrant workers; the possibility that Jews and Arabs can live together (maybe even fall in love); that children can be heroes; that children can be evil; that people can do terrible things to each other; that people can do heroic things to each other… things like that, then there is a good reason for you to write books and for those books to be published. Of course, it would be a good idea for you to practice and perhaps learn something about writing, from, say, a teacher of some kind, but most of the time, it will really depend on you having native talent anyway. And there’s only one way to find that out, and that is by sitting down and trying to do it. What will not depend on native talent, and which is open to everyone (really everyone) is having something to say. So when people ask me for advice about writing, I say to them, first, ask yourself, what is it that you have to say? When you’re clear about that, then put it on paper (or on screen). Don’t worry about how good it is. Look, even Glenn Beck can write a book, so how hard can it be?

Now let’s address the bookstores—the ones that remain, those brave, lonely souls. Don’t think I haven’t said what I’m saying here in private to bookstore people—to bookstore chain magnates, in fact—who pretty much regarded me an annoyance. It needn’t have been that way: there were not mobs of townspeople with pitchforks banging on the castle doors demanding entrance and an audience with the lord of the manor. There was just me, a lowly packager, trying to help. If those magnates are at all honest with themselves, they will admit in their most private moments that it was nothing but arrogance that had them toss my proposals and suggestions into the round file. Yes, including the round file at Borders. So let’s try it again, folks. (‘Cause you’re all we’ve got):

6. Bookstores: Discount… something! Lure customers into the stores. Why even B&N stopped discounting widely is a mystery. Did I miss something in retailing class, or isn’t the key getting people through the door so they will buy something? And doesn’t that depend on the perception of value? So why aren’t bookstores dreaming up promotions that would make the men clothiers “buy-one-get-another-at-half-price” look like Scrooge? There’s a thrift shop in my neighborhood that gives a 25% discount every Monday, and on that day, the place is packed—packed! The lines are around the block. Booksellers, Hear me: Here’s a word that’s magic in the ears of every customer on the planet: FREE. Find a way to use it, lads and lassies, and you will be successful—my Uncle Jack told me that. He tried to tell people that they would get free bands with the cigars he sold in his cigar store, and when that didn’t work (and it didn’t—everything has its limits), he gave a free (imprinted) end-cutter (worth 10-cents, but priced at 50-cents) with every $20+ box purchase. There were five thriving Jack’s Cigars all over Brooklyn (and two on Long Island) when Jack passed away. 

7. Bookstores: Become centers for cultural enlightenment… and for God’s sake, provide the people who go there for it with a place to sit down! Would you ever consider buying a pair of shoes without trying them on? What would you say if a shoe store allowed you to put the shoe on, but wouldn’t let you walk a few steps in them.? Or would let you put on a pair of running shoes, but wouldn’t let you sprint a few yards to see if you could run in them? What would you think about a store that would let you try on a suit, but wouldn’t let you sit in a chair while wearing it to see if it was a comfortable fit? You wouldn’t patronize such a store. But that’s what’s happening with book stores. What they are forgetting is that people are not trained or prepared to go to bookstores to simply pick up the works of their favorite authors, because they don’t have favorite authors. They haven’t been given enough reading training or experience to have favorites or to know how to develop new favorites. The stores are going to have to fill in that gap. In times past, publishers provided things like sample chapters; magazines often contained excerpts of new novels or stories by writers of new books that allowed people to sample an interesting new style. Those avenues are not available today—though I think someone would do well to start an on-line magazine that offered (in addition to reviews), samples of writing that would give people a taste of what’s new out there. We believe the reading experience is still and will always be centered on the physical book, but the electronic medium can serve a useful purpose in this area. There may be other ways, but whatever those may be, it will be necessary to give people the opportunity to read in the store and to discover new writers and new forms…and that generally requires a place to sit!

8. Bookstores: Become “Temples of the Writer’s Art.” I may be pushing things too far, but I also believe bookstores are the logical, most sensible place where the art of writing should be promoted and even practiced. What I have in mind (I guess) are workshops involving local schools, libraries, and civic organizations. This brings up an idea I have had for a long time that perhaps deserves some serious consideration: a national day (yes, a holiday) devoted to a writer, or group of writers. Do we really believe that the quality of life—particularly the strength of democratic institutions—relies heavily on writers, and on the ability of citizens to appreciate and be informed by writers? I do. 

9. Bookstores: Become real bookstores again by staffing with knowledgable people. That charming little movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan—written and directed by Nora Ephron—about rival bookstore owners who fall in love on the internet (is it just me or should the proper response by Meg when she discovers that it’s been Tom who has been e-mailing her all along should have been to call a cop!) does seem to have one clear and unassailable message: the real quality of a bookstore is directly dependent on the knowledge of its staff and their ability and willingness to share that knowledge with the customers. Most bookstores can’t afford to hire additional help, so perhaps this erudition can be provided electronically through a help line that is made available in the store itself. See the note after the next item.

10. Bookstores: Make the technology work for you. Let every bookstore have a social media presence. There is no reason why bookstores shouldn’t use the technology of the internet to their advantage. A local bookstore has everything to gain by establishing an on-line community with readers in its community–alerting them of special events; sales; appearances; workshops… or just chatting with people in the neighborhood interested in what’s happening in the book world. And there should be an internet presence in the bookstore itself. I have campaigned with both major chains (to deaf ears so far—but tomorrow is another day—though it could be organized to service bookstore of all affiliations) that authors who appear in one store should be webcast to all stores to maximize exposure. I think the same is true with live performances of chamber music, jazz, folk music, poetry, comedy, story-telling, etc. A bookstore should be a happenin’ place, especially on the weekends, and at night. It’s asking too much for a small neighborhood independent bookstore to do this every week all by itself, but with a little help…

…IF THERE IS ANYONE OUT THERE WHO WOULD LIKE TO JOIN ME IN WORKING TOWARD SETTING SOMETHING LIKE THIS UP FOR THE BENEFIT OF LOCAL BOOKSTORES, SIMPLY COMMENT ON THIS BLOG POST (WITH CONTACT INFO) AND I PROMISE, I’LL GET IN TOUCH WITH YOU. —   Harold


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Can Borders Books Be Saved—And Should It?

When I first wrote my dire predictions about Borders Book Stores—in the waning days of 2010 (preparing to post it on New Year’s Day), I didn’t anticipate the soap opera we were going to witness these past few weeks. Now it seems my fears about Borders lasting out the year may have been optimistic—by the looks of things we’ll be lucky if they make to February! Whether they are able to “restructure their finances” (in other words: beg, borrow or hoodwink creditors for some financial breathing room) without Barnes & Noble making too much of a fuss about any special treatment the publishers and distributors will extend to them— after all, business is business), remains to be seen. The simple fact is, however, that the demise of Borders Books would be a major blow—to the book business, to readers, to our culture… to everyone who cherishes reading and deems books and solid writing of fiction and non-fiction a vital part of the nation’s life and soul. And it won’t do Barnes & Noble any good either.

Why do I say that? Because of Mr. Sander, that’s why. My father had a dry goods store on Havemeyer Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and right around the corner there was another dry goods store operated by a man I knew only as “Sander” (though I always called him Mr. Sander), almost identical in size and very similar in the kind of stuff sold. I remember thinking that my father would probably be doing a whole lot better if Mr. Sander didn’t have his store so close by selling virtually the same thing as my dad. Once I said this to my dad and he laughed and said I couldn’t be more wrong. “People come here instead of going to the department stores, boychik,” he said, “because they know that if Rabinowitz doesn’t have it, Sander might. Besides, with both of us here, and so close, they can be sure nobody’s charging more than he should.” When Mr. Sander had a heart attack and couldn’t come into his store, Dad took care of Sander’s store and kept it open for a few weeks until Mr. Sander was well enough to return and Mom took care of our store alone—that’s how important it was for Sander to be there. When Sander’s store closed (he passed away in the late 60s), my dad was sad to lose a friend, and when he came home from the funeral, he said, “Well, there goes the business.” It didn’t take me long to realize he meant his business.

The Demise of Borders would be a Tragedy for Books and Book Culture in America

The relationship between Borders and Barnes & Noble should have been like the classic competitions that made for healthy business sport in American commerce over the past one-hundred years—McDonald’s and Burger King; Hertz and Avis; Ford and GM; Boeing and Lockheed; Apple and IBM… (I once used the old saw, “Macy’s doesn’t tell Gimbel’s and Gimbel’s doesn’t tell Macy’s” to my 20-something staff, and they all looked at me fish-eyed and said, “Who’s Gimbel’s?”) And that should have been what happened: there should have been Borders stores opening up near B&Ns everywhere creating a healthy competition between the two. I saw a little bit of that when I lived in the western suburbs of Philadelphia—in Ardmore, to be exact. In neighboring Bryn Mawr there was a large Borders Books and a few blocks away a Barnes & Noble bookstore opened up a few years later—and right between them was a really great used book store, Beverly Potter’s Title Page, still there; and just for good measure, on the campus of Bryn Mawr College, another fantastic used book store, The Owl, now defunct. (Talk about a pig in you-know-what. Maybe you’ve got notions of the perfect way to spend a snowy afternoon, but do I really have to lay out the four stops on my “Okay-Lord-you-can-take-me-now” day at this point?)

But Borders had trouble getting a toehold in New York City. (The rumors about why that was the case—whispers that business interests colluded with government to keep them out; use you’re imagination—seem even more credible today than they were when they were first circulated.) But the disappearance of Borders Books will be a debacle for books and book culture in America. A recent New York Times article published an item from the US Government Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract that claimed there were 10,600 bookstores in the U.S., but what the item did not indicate was that that number included all bookstores—religious bookstores; college and professional textbook stores; children bookstores—plus music stores (i.e., stores that sell sheet music along with musical instruments); periodical emporia (which look more like large news-stands); and, of course, antiquarian and used book dealers. All are included in classification NAICS 4512 in that US Census document (available on-line, naturally).

How many bookstores are there in the U.S.?

So how many bookstores are there in the United States? Well, the recent stories about the troubles that both B&N, Borders and bookselling in general are having gave us some numbers. The number of general trade bookstores—bookstores that you and I can walk into and browse the current crop of new books and recently published books and look at a selection of titles in fiction and non-fiction in many areas—that number is now under 2000! That’s 2000 for the entire United States—and frankly, that’s a generous estimate. I’d say 1500 is a more realistic ceiling figure. Borders operates about 510 stores; Barnes & Noble operates about 720 stores; Books-A-Million operates about 220 stores; and the number of independent bookstores account for another few hundred. From where I sit, independent bookstores are closing fast (as are chain outlets), even in the New York City vicinity—closing faster than I can manage to go visit. Losing Borders Bookstores would mean losing a large chunk of what remains of the book-selling terrain.

But it could happen. In fact, last month it seemed to me that was just the way things were going and Borders was heading for Chapter 11. My only consoling note was to also predict—also in that posting—that new blood was going to enter bookselling and learn from the sorry experience of Borders. All right, so what is that sorry experience and what are those lessons? Some of those lessons had to do with poor business decisions made by people who negotiated leases for stores who evidently didn’t know nearly enough about real estate. The reasons most often given for why no one is interested in taking over Borders is that whoever would take them over would find themselves saddled with horrendous leases for many of their stores. I once had a conversation with the manager of that store in Bryn Mawr and he laid out for me that store’s financials. Afterwards I had to accompany the poor guy downstairs to Gullifty’s bar in the basement and get him (and me) a double vodka.

Mistakes were made—many mistakes

A new president of Borders Books took over a few years ago. He had come from a major retailer (What difference which major retailer and who he was? Who am I, Frank Drebin at a traffic accident telling onlookers, “Nothing to see here, folks; move along…”?)—and in his inaugural speech, infamously webcast on the Borders website, he announced that it was going to be his goal to “give people reasons to go to Borders for reasons other than getting books.” The assembled staff in Michigan clapped politely, but you could see the look of confused panic on their faces. Someone who was there told me that she then knew what it must have felt like being at the Republican Convention that nominated Goldwater. Naturally he was gone a year or so later, but the stores became reflections of that confusion and that panic.

But there were other mistakes made—simple ones that any retailer (any retailer—in fact, anyone who has ever bought anything in any retail establishment) could have spotted and corrected. I’m going to list some of them here, and I’ll bet dollars to the proverbial donuts that Borders people will argue that what I’m saying is just not so any more, that those were the bad old days and that things are different now—but here’s what I say to you and to them: As a publishing professional, I’ve dealt with Borders directly—locally and nationally, and tried to communicate many of these problems and issues to them. I visit bookstores regularly. I’m that nut-job whose idea of a good time is a day spent in five different books stores. And I’ve visited seven Borders Bookstores in the New York area often—all in the past six months. All the shortcomings listed below apply to all of them. (And they apply to some degree to many of the B&Ns, so don’t go preening yourselves down on Fifth Avenue—all these problems are nearly as true of you. But we’re not talking about you right now.)

I’ve long recognized that Borders aspired to be a higher class of book-dealing operation owing to its origins in Ann Arbor and growing out of University Microfilms, and I realized that they were fighting against the old Mencken maxim that lay at the heart of American cultural enterprise, namely: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But that’s no excuse for ignoring the basics of retailing and consumer relations. Even without Barnes & Noble breathing down its neck, Borders should have realized that: (a) independent bookstores were a difficult proposition financially (for the same reason corner grocery stores were); and (b) an electronic revolution of some kind was on its way that was going to have some impact on information delivery—and that was going to effect books and book delivery—which meant bookstores at the very least. Even dinosaurs like me understood as much as early as the late 1970s. Borders was on board when the superstores came on the scene; they were even keeping pace when bookstores discovered biscotti and added cafés. Very nice. But that’s where their innovation genes ran short. Some of the things B&N tried Borders shied away from—Borders made only a half-hearted foray into publishing and is a very late-comer into the e-reader game; so late as to be virtually a no-show.

It’s time for Borders—and for the “new blood” that’s going to come into book-selling (as well as the old blood that’s going to survive into the next decade) to regroup and learn from the mistakes of the past. None of this is rocket science; all one has to do is walk into a Borders store and spend ten minutes there and you’ll be able to tick these off on a clip-board and make it official (if that’ll make you happy). So here’s that list—mistakes made and correctives prescribed:

1. Discounting. Borders has always been unclear about what their discount policy was, even to the point of being unclear whether they had any discount policy at all. Did they discount best-sellers? Did they discount any featured books? Their Rewards program required a PhD to decipher. (I’ve been carrying it around on my key chain for years; I have no idea why.) I know from personal experience that they did not discount books of authors who appeared in the store—not the books the authors were promoting and signing, nor any of their other books, and they certainly didn’t discount anything by those authors in any other stores. I got the impression that there was somebody in the Borders hierarchy who was allergic to discounting anything. Start discounting things regularly and consistently—and discount books that people want and are looking for. Oh, and tell somebody about it!

2. Store Design. For years, Borders designed stores so that many books could not be reached by anyone but NBA players—and not backcourt players, but forwards and centers. Bookcases were floor-to-ceiling affairs and they were deep bookcases so that books on lower shelves required getting down on one’s knees and donning a miner’s lamp-hat. Walking down those chasms of bookcases and not being able to see the store was also sometimes a scary experience, especially with a child. I’m sure some of that has changed—but I’ll bet some of it hasn’t (I know several Borders in the area where it hasn’t). Of the seven Borders Bookstores I visit regularly in the New York area (including one over the GWB in New Jersey and one up north in Yonkers), the criticisms and shortcoming listed here apply to all of them. My advice to the execs: Spend a little time in a Target and then redesign the stores. The B&N stores are only a little better, but not much. (But as I said, we’re not talking about B&N right now.)

3. Customer Service. The attitude I have encountered in Borders Bookstores over the past three decades is that they believe people who patronize bookstores not only need no help, but are offended by the very suggestion that they may need some assistance. We all need help, no matter what we’re shopping for. Who isn’t lost in a wine shop? “The only person who doesn’t need help in a wine shop is an alcoholic.” (I don’t know who said that; I may have just made it up.) The same is true in a bookstore. It may be too much to expect every store to provide the kind of expert knowledge that used to be available in bookstores—you remember, stores run by walking encyclopedias who were happy to lay their fund of knowledge at your disposal whether you bought anything or not, just for the pleasure of sharing the joy of books and the thrill of bringing a discovery to your doorstep (like that Mrs. Potter I mentioned earlier—I should really give her a call). But the internet has not dispensed with the need for such guidance, certainly not in the store itself. So if you can’t staff the stores with more knowledgeable people, then provide computerized kiosks that provide the information so that people aren’t wandering around blindly, clueless about what is the best book to get them started on a course of study on whatever interests them at the moment.

4. Merchandise Selection. When one walks into a Borders, one is assaulted by a mish-mosh of fluffy toys, ghastly cards and stationary, and what looks like candy. Did they seriously think they could compete with Best Buy or Toys-R-Us? I can understand wanting to have impulse items near the cash register and placing must-have items in the rear—that’s what super-markets do when they place milk and staples in the rear. But the material that has now replaced the books is simply absurd and violates the simple rule of merchandising: people don’t buy something where they don’t expect to find it—no matter how good the deal it is. (Otherwise, why not stock toothpaste; people need that, don’t they?) If you’re so interested in reading, then get in touch with Levenger and produce a line of products for readers to sell in your stores. Or: highlight audio books (I am amazed at how popular they are among readers who have difficulty with type of any size—a growing demographic, trust me.) Design merchandise that appeals to your customer demographic based on real research, not the guesswork you’ve been relying on.

5. In-Store Events. Most of the Borders stores I’ve walked into are like monasteries—quiet, unpeopled, ghostly. It’s been years—maybe decades—since I’ve been in a Borders that was really hopping, crowded with customers. But here’s the most disturbing thing about that: it has always seemed to me that that’s just how they like it! Surely that can’t be, right? So why don’t they have people–friendly events? I was walking through a Borders in New Jersey and chanced upon a knitting group. I was surprised—first, because it was nestled invisibly behind tall bookcases (the “Knitters of Amantillado” perhaps?), and second, because there was no announcement in the window or in the front of the store that the group was meeting. I went to the manager and asked him why and he said that he was allowing the group to meet only because it was a project of the mother of one of his cashiers. “We really don’t want that kind of thing going on here,” he added. What kind of thing—people in your store? Or events that bring people into the store for a good time? So here’s my advice: Start having events in your bookstores that bring regular people in for a good time (even if you have to force yourself).

6. Coordinate Stores to Locale. I don’t know shinola about real-estate, so I can’t comment on those supposedly terrible lease deals Borders got into (though I begin to smell a lame excuse and a scapegoat for a lot of other harebrained management decisions). But I do know the real-estate agent’s mantra: location, location, location. If your business is a bricks-and-mortar operation, use location to your advantage. Even McDonald’s, who tries to get every burger in every location tasting the same, knows that the décor and ambiance of every store has to reflect the culture and demographic of its locale. But I don’t see any of that in any of the Borders stores. They’re cookie-cutter versions of each other—the Penn station store doesn’t seem to me any different from the Columbus Square store or the Ft. Lee store, and you wouldn’t know which store you were in if you were suddenly whisked to any one of them. So make every store reflect the culture of the customers who come into it. The people who come into the Penn Station store are not the same as the people on Park Avenue; one is a commuter and the other is an Upper East-Sider. (Wow, is there a difference!) The stores should reflect that; don’t let them be carbon copies of each other.

7. Communicate and Understand Your Customer. I have never been asked by anyone at a Borders for information about me. Robert Klein makes fun of the way Radio Shack employees ask everyone who comes in to buy a simple battery a whole list of questions, from their address and date of birth to the frequency of their bowel movement. Amazon sends me e-mails alerting me of books I might be interested in based on previous purchases. Not knowing who they’re dealing with, they can’t know that 99% of the time, I’ve already got it. (Sometimes I got it from them, and I wonder why they don’t know that—a glitch in the old computer, I guess.) But Borders (or B&N, come to think of it—pay attention guys…there but for the grace…) never does. And I don’t get that. If there is any business that should be all over me like a cheap suit, it’s a book store. Start learning about your customers and start conversing with them. This is going to cost you in two ways: it will cost you to develop the system to do it; and it will cost you in providing the offers that you will have to make to the customers to make their cooperation worth their while. But in the end, it will be worth your while.

That’s my list—for starters, anyway. Bringing bookstores back is going to be a monumental task that is going to require a lot of work, by many people. (It’s one of the tasks of this site, it so happens.) Losing Borders would be bad news for everyone who cares about books. I hope the people at Barnes & Noble realize that. I know many people I consider my friends at B&N and at Sterling (B&N’s publishing arm)—people I respect and care about—do. I hope it’s true of the people at both those places who regard me as a nuisance and a gadfly, a crackpot and a malcontent (it’s okay, gang—I never take it personally; who loves ya?) as well. So I hope everyone—everyone—will pitch in and help Borders weather this to the other side.

We all need me to be wrong on this one.