February 9, 2011

Documenting the Fall of Borders Through Its E-Mail Newsletters

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What is the issue?

There was a brief period when I chose to believe that the cheapest way to buy a book was to go in a Borders bookstore and pay for one with a coupon, an outrageously good deal of a coupon that seemed to appear in my inbox in a slightly different form every day: 30 percent off bestsellers one day; 50 percent off any one book the next. I decided that if I was already in the vicinity of a Borders, buying a book from Borders was cheaper than buying through Amazon (and with the coupons, cheaper than the Strand), and better for the planet because I would be doing the shipping of the book, via subway, to my house.

I got a number of paperbacks for under $8 this way, as well as hardcovers for under $15. But approaching the Borders register was always kind of sad: the cashiers were grumpy, even more so when I presented them with a coupon. One time, in my money-saving giddiness, I said something like, “It’s great…that you do this,” referring to the fact that I was paying $7.68 for a copy of Wolf Hall. The cashier responded with a terse “Yeah,” and frowned, shoving the book under the bar code scanner.

Borders is, by all accounts, about to shutter for good. Bloomberg reported that the company may be filing for bankruptcy this week. In that report, a spokesperson said the company is “doing everything possible” to “maintain relationships” with the publishers and distributors that stock it; in other words, to stay afloat. There was talk of a merger with Barnes & Noble, which is also foundering, though its stock is worth upwards of $16 a share, versus Borders’ pitiful value, which hovers around 50 cents. Anyway, that deal never happened.

Still, the most forgotten of brick-and-mortar booksellers continues to try to get customers to buy it some more time, and the ways in which is does so are becoming increasingly desperate. Being a subscriber to Borders’ e-mails, the only way to get a hold of those coupons, I’m privy to these attempts and all their overzealous subject lines, which seemed to culminate in a rather startling offer with this morning’s e-mail. In chronological order, here’s a selection of how it’s gone over the past few weeks. These are merely the subject lines of the e-mails:

December 27: WATCH ALL WEEK! 2-Day Deals — Deal #2: 50% off bestsellers
December 31: 50% OFF ANY ITEM! Don’t Miss the Last of Our 2-Day Deals!
January 3: Ring in the New Year with Big Books & BIG SAVINGS!
January 6: $10 in BONUS Borders Bucks — Limited Time Only!
January 6: Eat This, Not That — Shop Here, Not There… And SAVE! [Two e-mails in one day…things are getting serious.]
January 10: 500 Million People Like This [Not Borders, of course — Facebook. This was a Facebook-themed e-mail tied to the release of The Social Network on DVD. Clever.]
January 13: WOW! A Wireless eReader Under $100 — 4 Days Only!
January 20: 4 DAYS LEFT! A Wireless eReader Under $100 [Wasn’t that deal over on January 17?]
January 21: Snowed In? SAVE UP TO 46% at Borders.com [Winter-themed e-mails!]
January 24: Don’t Miss the Book BOGO: Buy 1, Get 1 50% Off
January 27: MUAH! Be My Valentine — Gift Ideas & SAVINGS! [Gross, Borders]
January 31: FREE SHIPPING — No Minimum Purchase! Stop Shoveling, Start Shopping!
February 3: Life Is Good with FREE SHIPPING & Ultimate Mochas! [What?]
February 7: Dare to Compare! Kobo Wireless eReader Now $99.99 Every Day! [Oh, so that deal is on for four consecutive days, repeatedly, forever]
February 9: 6 Hand-Selected Wines for $6.99 Each — Plus a Free Gift [?!?!?!]

Recap: at some point in time, Borders’ e-reader offering, the rarely-discussed Kobo, was worth about the same as a Kindle: more than $100, less than $150. In the New Year, and in a telling move, the company reduced the price to $99 for four days, then kept that offer up for another four days, then just gave in, and is keeping the price at $99 indefinitely. Is this enough to save the company? Definitely not. Is it kind of embarrassing, and an example of how the company has ridden the coattails of company (Barnes & Noble) that itself is riding the coattails of another company (Amazon)? Certainly.

And as for that last subject line, it would appear Borders’ person in charge of e-mail marketing is just completely drunk now, and is offering you bottles from his own personal wine cellar in lieu of books. He might be onto something. TC mark

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