Another Escalator Abandoned

My kids are going to be devastated. What could be more fun than to ride the escalators at one of the nation’s largest bookstores after an exhausting day hopping museums in downtown Chicago?

This morning I opened the trades to read that Borders has “stunned” Chicago by announcing the ailing company’s plans to close the Windy City’s flagship Borders store.

The “Magnificient Mile” Michigan Avenue store, which opened in 1995, at just under 50,000 square feet of retail space, is not only the largest Borders store in the Chicago area, it’s the largest Borders in the US (the average Borders store is 27,000 Sq. Ft.).

I have to scratch my head and ask, did this really “stun” anyone? I mean, other than my children who will no longer be able to entertain themselves on the moving stairs while I carefully choreograph my movement from the business to the parenting section?

In a statement released by Borders, Steve Davis, Borders Group senior v-p, stated, “It’s a difficult decision to close a store and we’ve done all that we can to keep this location open. Therefore, we have no choice but to close the store in 2010.”

This store has not been profitable for a long time, if ever. At 49,881 Sq. Ft., was it just an ego location to begin with? Sitting ever so proudly right across from Water Tower Place, was the location alone supposed to shelter it from the storm that is raking the publishing industry, or any other industry for that matter?

Freakin’ Genius Marketing is the strategic marketing agency for several published authors who hired Freakin’ Genius to make up for the lack of marketing prowess from their book publishers. Highly respected book agents are left hounding the downsized staff at what used to be 5-Star publishing companies for any novel or even substandard marketing support. Many of the publishing companies are "modeling" marketing and even distribution plans around the results of previously published pieces, not even of the same author, and in most cases, not even in the same category. Does that make sense? What makes sense is self publishing and taking on the weight of the marketing and distribution challenge a la "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author Jack Canfield who's self professed "out of the trunk of my car" distribution method made him his eventual millions.

It’s an interesting industry. For an author, one might assume “paydirt” upon having an agent call and tell you that a major company has chosen to publish you. But more and more, the publishing companies are modeling books’ future sales by other books’ performance in similar categories. What modeling doesn’t take into consideration with authors and published matter, is that everyone has their own voice. A book on Heart Disease is not a book on Dieting or Cancer or Wellness for that matter. A book written by a nurse is not necessarily only of interest to nurses, but might be a seriously overlooked mainstream book because of the modeling by the publisher. Success could be realized with something as simple as a categorization of the book in multiple areas. Or, it might be realized with alternative channels of distribution, or in conjunction with integrated marketing through other media venues. Lastly, it could be as basic as unique merchandising once the book makes it to the shelf.

Walk into that store on Michigan Avenue…heck, walk into any Borders or any of the chains and be amazed as I always am- being an (as yet) unpublished book author, at the sheer volume of books. The shelves towering above you with opinion, essays, fiction, biographies, non-fiction – all works that the authors were as passionate about as Mozart at the keyboard. So much to read, so little time! So much to market and so many ways to do it, and so much goes undone. And before an author knows it, their passionate work lands on the $2 sale table in the lobby and the store puts up a For Lease sign.

As a consumer, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking of the proverbial food chain of how a book lands in your hands as you lay on the couch on a quiet weekend day, but as a marketing strategist who is NOT “stunned” by the shuttering of the flagship Borders Store in Chicago, I can tell you that the erosion started just after the author got the glorious call from the book agent.

It’s not that anyone specifically is to blame. It’s more the process that is flawed.

I fully support that modeling and profiling customers and markets is integral to growing ones base of customers. It is integral to knowing who a CORE CUSTOMER is and all those who could be CORE CUSTOMERS. However, modeling to template results is counterintuitive to the whole process, especially if the model being templated is only moderately successful to begin with.

In my humble opinion, Borders has many other issues at stake which I won’t begin to try to assess here. Their original selling proposition was that they carried MUSIC and BOOKS. When everyone else caught on to that, well, then it was just a matter of their loyalty programs, how fair their return policy was, and how good the coffee they serve was.

I, for one, will miss the escalators along with my kids. The experience of the flagship store in Chicago is one of awe for any book-loving human. To me, second only to walking up the glorious stairs of the New York Public Library, past the lions and into famed home of the written word.

“Stunned” I am not. Saddened is more like it. Saddened by the lack of insight into the marketing of the written word and all of the selling propositions each individual author creates. For fully engaged marketers who are charged with finding each book a place in the hands of its perfect owner, on the couch, on a quiet weekend day, this is a very challenging time. But, fully engaged marketers love a challenge, don’t we?


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