Friday, June 11, 2010


I'd be interested in observations from American readers about Borders Books.

I went into the San Francisco branch the other week and I was astonished by how good it was. In terms of backstock of classics, at least, it was extremely comprehensive - about four shelves of Dickens, two or three of Dostoevsky, pretty much complete runs of the modern greats - Roth, Updike, McCarthy etc, and an impressive array of notable authors. Even RF Delderfield was there in force, and I can't remember the last time I saw him in an England shop. I can't say about its coverage of contemporary fiction because I don't know it well enough. I did pick up Ron Rash's Serena, but not his others. But otherwise, as I say, impressive.

Borders UK went bust just before last Christmas, and no wonder. Their shop in Cambridge, probably not that much smaller than the San Francisco branch, nonetheless had nothing like the range of stock. A huge chunk of the store was given over to non-book materials, and it had the same lame array of fiction you find in Waterstone's: the current and maybe the last novel by most decent authors, only the odd exception, like Ian McEwan, afforded a complete backstock. Classics: separated out into a couple of bays. I expected to find much the same in America, so you can imagine my surprise.

How are Borders viewed over there?


Ken Hannahs said...

Personally, I enjoy the competition: Barnes & Noble over Borders. B&N has the nook, which is a very smart e-reader (I'd say better than the Kindle), and always a very "smart" atmosphere. I can't speak for all the Borders, nor all the Barnes & Nobles, but the latter has always seemed brighter, and less interested in being a warehouse of books, and genuinely happy to have you as a customer.

I'm never greeted in a Borders, but in Barnes & Noble? Every time. In terms of books, I would say similar collections, but with its own e-book store, B&N blows Borders out of the water.

And that's basically it. Borders has always come across as shoddy and second-rate to me.

courtmerrigan said...

B & N and Borders always seemed pretty interchangeable to me, Wal-Mart vs. Kmart. To be honest, I haven't bought a book from a bricks and mortar in years, and that wasn't even in the US. In due time, Amazon and Apple are likely to make these dinosaurs disappear.

I can see mourning the loss of independent bookstores as they happen, but the M.O. of Borders or B & N is no different than that of Wal-Mart or Kmart (minus the discount prices), so you won't see me shedding any tears when it happens.

Georgia Choate said...

According to, it's hit or miss. I really liked our Borders in Connecticut. I have heard good things from others about Borders too (Texas and California).

I've always been a Barnes and Noble shopper myself. I found Delderfield at B&N. We have a fair number of English immigrants (CA). Maybe they're catering to them in that way? I'd say your good experience means a good manager.

The big stores may die out some day, but there will still be a lot of us who want to hold the books in our hands.

Glad you had a good experience!

Tom Conoboy said...

thanks all. Yes, these comments are pretty much what I expected. Ken, I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to look in a Barnes and Noble, as we haven't got them in the UK.

Court, likewise, most of my book purchasing is through Amazon and Abe. But the librarian in me means I can't resist going in and looking at - touching - books. Incidentally I realised the other day, I have spent over £1 million on buying books in my life, which I guess is a pretty enviable record...

Georgia, in the UK I don't think our managers have very much say in what goes on display or what's in stock. That's why they all look and feel identical.

Mark P said...

I have to agree with courtmerrigan there. I have found that Borders does have a surprisingly good in-store selection, but I almost always buy fiction from a local used bookstore. They have a very good selection of novels, generally speaking, and since I read mostly novels for pleasure I rarely have an immediate need for a novel. Yesterday I picked up Everyman, Rock Springs, and Hitler's Niece at the used bookstore for myself, then headed over to Borders to get Homicide by David Simon for my father (which I highly recommend if you haven't read it already).