Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hey Borders! Here's Why You Suck!

Borders, remember when you used to be cool? I do. What happened to you? You've gone from a super hip place that had it all to a sad shell of a bookstore that has a selection more akin to a Wal-mart than anything else. I hear that you've been struggling to make ends meet. Is this an attempt to make yourself more profitable? Well, I'm sure your scratching your metaphorical head and wondering why I'm so upset. So let me back up a bit and explain, just so we can make sure we are on the same page.

See, I was at Borders last weekend and decided to pick up a book. I make no secret to the fact that I enjoy science fiction. Uh, that may not be entirely accurate - science fiction makes the world go round and without it I'm certain the universe would explode in hopeless despair. I haven't been avoiding sci-fi at Borders on purpose, it's just that it seems like I've had better luck finding what I want on amazon or at a used bookstore.

I still buy pop science, sports and general fiction at my local super Borders (btw, this rant could have been about Barnes and Noble, but I wasn't at Barnes and Noble, I was at Borders), but not science fiction. Over the last year or so I've been trying to pay attention. I figured out that my selection was limited there and have been trying to anticipate what I want to read and order accordingly from Amazon. My issue with that is that sometimes I'll either learn about something new that captures my imagination and want to read stories from the same author, or topic, or whatever, but if I want to read it now I either have to run to my local bookstore and cross my fingers that they have it or I have to order it online and sit on my hands until it gets here. I may lose interest during the wait (that has happened to me) or I may just up and decide that I don't know what I want to read but I will go to the store and figure it out while I'm there.

That last sentence describes my mood when I stumbled into Borders over the weekend. I didn't want a sports story, or pop-science book, or biography. I needed a sci-fi fix. In my last post I spoke about how I used to go to the bookstore and just see what they had in the sci-fi section. All those gems I talked about in my top 10 list that are more than 10 years old were books that were just sitting on the shelves at my local Borders or B&N.

I've always been a bit annoyed that fantasy and science fiction are mixed on the shelves at most stores. In fact, it bugs the hell out of me. I understand that demographically, those that buy fantasy novels are almost exactly the same group that would purchase science fiction. I don't care. Keep them separate. I can understand if Kroger's does it that way. But if you are a bookstore with 20,000 square feet of nothing but books, then you're just lazy.

Anyhow, before my rant becomes more of a ramble, let me get back on topic. Why can't I find my sci-fi at Borders. The picture above was taken on Saturday night (Jan 23) at one of the Borders stores in Knoxville.

After going through their selection again and feeling a bit frustrated I decided to do a quick semi-serious inventory of what they were offering. Just in case I'm just getting picky in my old age.

The picture I've posted was a single rack in the sci-fi/fantasy section. I counted 29 total racks in the section. I decided to see just how many sci-fi books were represented versus fantasy.

First off, I wanted to pick a rack at random, that was tough enough, R.A. Salvatore has his own, so does Terry Goodkind, Star Wars has three, another one was for Warhammer. In all, I found a large percentage of space was dominated by a surprisingly small number of writers or series. Of the racks not solely dedicated to a single author or series, many nearly were. I didn't have many choices, only an illusion of choice.

But I found one. At least one I felt would suffice. Here's what I found.

Total Book Titles: 128

Science Fiction Titles: 21

At first glance that might seem at least like I would have a few choices. But the sci-fi titles included about 7 books from E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series, another was a story I'm not familiar with about Egyptian gods that had the SF label. A few military sci-fi books, some steampunk novels. Ursla LeGuin had several books there but her stories really blur the line between sci-fi and fantasy anyway.

The number of books I felt I had to choose from given my preferences totaled 0.

Damn. I won't pretend I can't find books by Jack McDevitt, Kevin Anderson or Charles Stross. But I guarantee I won't be discovering any new talent based on what is represented there. I left very depressed.

Borders, why? Have some dignity. Your business model isn't working right now. At a time you are losing customers right and left to the internet and indifference, you should work harder at not sucking.

You're welcome.

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