The Downfall of Borders

The news that the company that owns two large bookstore chains in Australia had gone into voluntary administration last week came like an expected cold, hard slap, particularly since it came the day after Borders in U.S. also revealed that it was going to administration too. Red Group, who took over Borders a few years ago, also owns Angus and Robertson, one the first and oldest bookstore chains in Australia.

Yes, it came out of nowhere that two ubiquitous, Goliath retail chains has been bought down on its knees but, really, those who frequently pop in to have squiz around can’t really be all that surprised. The stock is uninspiring, overpriced and usually always above the RRP, staff were usually rude, blase, or run off their feet, and the arrangement of books frequently made me dizzy (this last part might just be me). A couple of years ago, I posted a rant about Borders and I suspect that many of their little faults have all become one huge mess.


Yes, the store’s design was well decked out and it really did looked inviting but I rarely bought anything from there. Exceptions were their sometimes fabulous coupons they would send out in their weekly emails. I always waited for their 30-50% off ones but it really irritated me that they would force us to print out the actual coupons when they didn’t actually need it. They scanned their own plastic barcode up at the register. Not really saving the environment.

Another concept I never really quite understood was the store’s ‘mission’. Did they want us to buy books, meet friends, grab some magazines/stationery/DVDs/music, or grab a coffee? I understand that they wanted to create a welcoming and comfortable environment for customers to be able to settle down to browse their potential purchases and to do so without any pressure but I think they did that a little too well. People treated the store like a library. They would grab a book or magazine, settle down at the cafe at the back and flip through it therefore damaging the product (I don’t know about anybody else but when I buy new books, I like them pristine!), then they see their friends or decide that their train is due to arrive and then rush off without making a purchase. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone snoozing on one of the couches!

The biggest criticism regarding Borders is, of course, the way they stormed into Australia around five years ago and pushed out other smaller, independent bookstores. Borders seemed to have thought that bigger was better and I think we were all seduced by its shininess and newness. I know I was. It was a haven filled with books – a basic bibliophile want. But I suppose they forgot that bibliophiles also know their books and know what they want. Not rows and rows and only rows of the latest top thirty. After awhile, we crave something of substance, of some individuality, quirkiness or eccentricities found in the best independent stores. My love relationship with the chain ended in 2009 when they didn’t have any Camus, de Beauvoir or Sartre in stock when I wanted to use my gift card. A store that large that finds room for a cafe and rows of imported and overpriced magazines but none of the most influential and well known authors had certainly lost its way for me.

Like the Starbucks giant that came, conquered and then disappeared, Borders have also been felled in a similar way. Too big, too fast, too much. Except this time, unlike Starbucks, I’ll be sorry to see it go. Yes, Borders had its faults in term of quality and service and yes, I did end up skulking back in time and time again with discount coupons in my hand but really, if something had to dominate retail space, I would much rather it be books.

The future of the book industry has never been clear, particularly for the past decade but I still think that the ‘old fashioned’ bricks and mortar bookstores will prevail despite a new mammoth bookstore taking over the world. Will it go down the way of Borders in half a decade’s time? It is certainly rather dire times for book retail but right now, I’m just shouting a little hurrah for those independent bookstores that have withstood the onslaught of such a large corporation.

Other interesting viewpoints, largely debating online vs offline purchasing:

Finally, here’s a clip from the wonderful Black Books where Bernard and Manny competes with Saga books:

Watch for 2:29. šŸ™‚

Because book buying is fun

New acquisitions, largely due to Border’s 30% off coupons. Who could resist?


  • Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte
  • The Sonnets and ALover’s Complaint – William Shakespeare
  • Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
  • The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James

Discount coupons are always a great time to pick up classics. The lovely hardcover editions of the Penguins are so beautiful and wonderfully priced. Jane Eyre was part of last year’s batch and I’ve been meaning to get myself a nice little copy of my favourite book. The Sonnets was just recently released.


These are really the most beautiful books and designs. I’m itching to buy more. Little Women is especially pretty except I just bought myself a new copy recently. If you’re interested in the designer, here’s an interview with her after the launch of the first batch. The series is exclusive to Borders, unfortunately.

The Disillusionment of Borders

I was going to title this post ‘The Rape from Borders’ but perhaps it might have been a little too extreme.

Having received a gift card for my birthday (hoo-rah!) for Borders, I was no doubt in a hurry to spend it – even after all the books I’ve recently bought. I went in after uni and decided I might settle for the 3-for-2 promotion to get more bang for my buck. Well, the selection was dismal and that idea was soon forgotten.

So I proceeded to browse through the stacks, and because I actually had money to spend on whatever I wanted (kind of) I looked at each shelf carefully rather than skimming. I started at ‘A’ and by the time I got to ‘C’ I was suffering neck pains and feeling quite nauseaus from constantly squatting down to the see the very bottom shelf – where all the good literature happened to be shelved. The placement is horrendous and the short shelves makes browsing annoying. Skimming is fine, but it makes it hard work for browsing.

I found a few books I would have liked to get but the prices Bordesr charge is riddiculous! Prices have obviosuly been inflated. I would rather go buy from independent bookstores at those prices.

The final disillusionment came when I looked for several books and authors – M.J. Hyland, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre – (yes, I was probably slightly too optimistic) and found that they were not stocked by Borders. I think I found one extrememly tattered copy of Sartre hidden away on one of the bottom shelves.

I was never particularly fond of Borders but now I don’t think I’ll be able to shop there again. They were pretty good for the more popular reads but with such bad placement, inflated prices and lack of stable literature (not too mention somewhat rude service) I don’t think I’ll go there again after the gift card has been used. I finally understood why someĀ  bloggers and friends say they feel slightly ‘dirty’ shopping in Borders. It’s back to independents and Book Markets for me!

Note: the Borders I went to is located in central Melbourne so you would assume it’ll be the premiere of all Borders…