Documenting the Fall of Borders Through Its E-Mail Newsletters

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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 [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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  • kidcouture

    Luckily I live in Portland, OR and have been going to Powells books since before I could read. I hope and pray that iconic book sellers like Powells or Ken Sanders Rare Books (Salt Lake, UT) don't suffer similar fates.

    • indiebookstore
    • Epanastrophe

      I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. I remember when Borders /was/ one of those iconic local booksellers.

    • Iluvtrees Oregonbaby

      Powell's is doing lay offs

      They're okay, IDK there has been a change with them in the last year that I can't put my finger on. I don't know if I'm finding Powell's more to be a tourist attraction or an actual bookstore.

  • Anna B

    So sad. I love Borders :[

    • lizee

      too sad =(

  • christopher lynsey

    Loved the ending.

  • phmadore

    Kobo is not owned by Borders. Borders backs Kobo and hooks it up with top-shelf offerings. Kobo started as just an electronic bookstore but now they have a reader, like you mention, of their own. I buy most of the books for my Sony Reader at because they are the best priced on the internet, beating the Sony Reader store, the Kindle store, and the pricey

    • Jack W Perry

      Borders has a 20% stake in Kobo.

  • from Seattle

    Kidcouture… Powell's just laid off 31 employees.

  • reverser

    does anyone remember when borders had live music? i had forgotten about that- we used to finance our tours in the late 90s by playing borders gigs – usually $100 and there were so many of them up and down the east coast. they stopped paying at some point, and i guess they stopped offering music altogether. just an anecdotal observation…

    • Iluvtrees Oregonbaby

      I currently work at a borders and we have live music every saturday at 7pm. Our bands were never paid-they play for free and sold their CD's after they played.

  • Raquelle M.

    I remember the days in which Borders had really amazing well-written newsletters. I wish I had kept them. :-( I had even written to them about a particularly amazing newsletter for March a few years back. ::sigh::

  • Jack W Perry

    It seems like I receive a Borders email blast every day now. I think they are trying to sell off as much as possible and convert to cash before they close the doors for good.

  • Sirperry

    Anyone else see a sad, sad banner ad for Borders on this page ? lol

  • booklover

    My heart is breaking…..I worked for Waldenbooks and Borders in the 90's, and again recently. The company has been devastated by poor executive decisions and the rise of the internet. Those cringing cashiers were/are frustrated beyond belief at the coupons, which we were ALL aware cut away all profit. The hope was that customers would make additional, full-price purchases but that became more and more rare. Instead, we were faced daily with gleeful coupon-holders, often attempting to use them more than once.

    What many (most??) customers do not realize is that there is very little profit in books to begin with. Once the discount hits 25-30% the retailer is selling them at a loss.

    I read ebooks, but only to discover and support new authors. I shudder to think what digital means for the future of print…..

  • Book Cellar

    Former employee at a Borders store. Obviously things are bad right now, but to be fair, this time of year is generally a sales slump for retailers, especially book and media ones. I worked merchandising and would be amazed at how much different stuff would come in and how frequently. A lot of those ones are typical (BOGO, %off, etc.).
    Wine? What is this I don't even.

  • HappierWithLess

    Really so sad. I loved Borders and had great times sitting there while writing. (I also bought books there too). I don't care how great Kindle is, nothing compares to a book in your hand.

  • ManOfLaBook

    I have to disagree with your assessment. What I see is the marketing people in Borders slowly moving from “selling books” to “selling an experience”.
    In my opinion that is the right path and the future for all bookstores, especially independent ones.

  • Stephsco

    As for the coupons, I am one of those excited couponers who usually buys a book at a time with the coupon. Sometimes I buy several, but I've priced checked amazon first. Borders sends out weekly coupons, which used to rotate between 20%, 25% 30% and the more rare 40%. Since the holidays the coupons are almost always 40%. Why bother with their new membership program when you are almost guaranteed a 40% deal every week?

    Look, I get it. Borders is failing. However, consumers are getting smarter and have more options to buy. There are some books I would have paid full price for at Borders just so I could get them right away, specifically technical books my husband uses for a side job, but often Borders does not stock them. Sometimes we are forced to shop around, and if I can't find the book I need in stock, then I'm also not going to pick up that novel from the bargain table either.

    I still buy from Borders regularly, but if they are losing money on their coupons, then I think there is a larger issue here. Don't blame us for using the incentives they are providing!

  • Jenn

    I'm one of the schmucks who paid to upgrade my Borders' reward card in December. Probably not the best decision I ever made.

    I'm going to miss them too. Though not as much as I miss the local bookstore they likely drove out of business.

  • Matthew

    Funny… on the 9th the e-mail I got said “$10 in BONUS Borders Bucks — Plus $100 in Exclusive Savings!”

  • Cynpauw

    The barrage of email coupons was not solely from Borders. I get the same thing from Barnes & Noble several times each day, in all manner of variations.

  • Bunnygohophop

    *current employee of Borders* Honestly, the cashiers are not cringing because you are using a coupon (unless you are a customer that throws a fit because the coupon doesn't apply to what you think it should). They are cringing because Borders new push is the “Borders Plus” upgrade to your free account. We have to give a speech to EVERY customer. Does not matter how long the line is or how out of patience the line is at waiting. We have to do this 5 minute speech and meet certain “goals” of obtaining that new upgrade each shift. Among other things. But that would probably be the biggest and the most recent one.


    Borders should merge with Toys R Us, another relic of a forgotten era.


      Sorry I couldn't do the “R” backwards.

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