The Long Tail of Borders Books

The past two months have been a long hard slog of budgeting, reporting, meeting, writing, re-writing, making calls, taking calls and yes, believe it or not, here we are well into the 21st century, making copies.

What’s it all been about? Publishers still want to be on the newsstand. I’ve been working with several publishers who want expand their physical visibility and they want it to happen in the coming new year.

Publishers continue to participate in check out pockets. They will pay for retail and wholesale based promotions. Magazine publishers will participate in airport programs. It’s important to be “out there.”

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems above and beyond the competition for people’s time and “eyeballs”. Within our own industry we need to address and solve the question of Scan Based Trading. Who owns this product? How do we square the circle when we try to market an impulse item, but manage it within the store the same way as peach rings, troll dolls or note pads because, “That’s the way the retailer wants it!”

We still have difficulty managing our distributions. Our remote, centralized way of managing order regulation takes a lot of local knowledge and instinct out of the equation. No matter how savvy the data is, now matter how good you are, no matter how well meaning, if you’ve never been to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and all you know about the stores there are the demographic keys and the rack size, well, you don’t know anything about Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio or the people who may buy magazines there.

So who buys magazines in this town?

But one interesting item made itself very apparent while working through all of the data I’ve been snowed under for the past sixty some odd days: The loss of Borders was not only very big, it is still being felt. Even now, as we compare issues where there was no Borders distribution in the prior year, and in some cases, where we tried to find alternative sources of distribution to replace that lost retailer, you can see and “feel” where the volume is not the same. Where the presence of the other bookstore chains and related retail expansion simply did not pick up the slack.

On a related front, I am still surprised that our industry never made an overture to the independent bookstore market and tried to expand our presence there. While it’s a small market, would it hurt to try and pick up a few points of unit sales?

There’s been a long and worthwhile discussion about finding alternate retail markets for magazines: Beauty supply stores, craft stores, auto parts stores, dollar stores, outdoor gear and office supply stores. All of our major wholesalers have divisions dedicated to these markets and they all do a good job of locating, pitching and servicing these accounts.

But from what I can see in the numbers, for many magazines, five copies in a beauty supply store simply does not take the place of more than 50 running feet of mainline space in a large format bookstore.

There’s just no way around that. And it’s just one more thing on the long list of things our industry needs to address.

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One Reply to “The Long Tail of Borders Books”

  1. Good point about independents. One of the best indie ‘chains’ here in MI is Schulers. I say ‘chain’ b/c they have 5 stores in MI. They used to be a client store of Borders, meaning Borders did all their buying (except magazines). Walking into one of their stores is like walking into a Borders of old. Next time you’re in MI, check them out. If no one has tapped that store for promos or whatnot, they should. I miss my Borders every single day.

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