Saturday, May 10, 2008

Borders Tries About-Face on Shelves Counting on Covers to Sell, Bookseller Changes Display While Cutting Titles Stocked

*THIS ARTICLE BY JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG HAS BEEN EXCERPTED. It recently appeared in Jerry D. Simmons' newsletter - TIPS for WRITERS from the PUBLISHING INSIDER. It has been reprinted here with permission from Jerry D. Simmons,, and the author.

Borders Group Inc. has decided you can sell a book by its cover.

In a radical move aimed at jump-starting sales, the nation's second-largest book retailer is sharply increasing the number of titles it displays on shelves with the covers face-out. Because that takes up more room than the traditional spine-out style, the new approach will require a typical Borders superstore to shrink its number of titles by 5% to 10%.

Reducing inventory goes against the grain of booksellers' efforts over the past 25 years or so. Chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble Inc., the nation's largest book retailer, became household names with superstores that stocked as many as 150,000 titles or more. The rise of Amazon made it even more important for stores to offer deep inventories.

Borders has little choice but to experiment. Competition from the Internet, videogames and other electronic devices has flattened growth in book sales in recent years.

The new display strategy is the brainchild of CEO George Jones, who says he learned when he was a buyer at Dillard's Inc. early in his career that dresses sell better when the entire garment is shown rather than hung sleeve-out. So he recently decided to test sales of books shown with the cover visible at a newly built prototype store in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the company has its headquarters. Results were so encouraging after the first two weeks -- sales of individual titles were 9% higher than at similar Borders stores -- that all of the retailer's superstores have been told to adopt the new strategy.

The retailer says customers throughout the country should be able to see the difference in displays within six weeks. While books shown face-out will still be in the overall minority, as many as three times the titles as in the past will be shelved with covers showing. Certain categories, such as books about food, cooking, travel, art and photography -- and children's books in particular -- lend themselves to the new approach.

Shoppers in the Borders store where the new face-out display was tested Borders says customers visiting its prototype store said their impression was that more books were available. Even so, its new strategy -- which at a typical superstore will mean a reduction of anywhere from 4,675 to 9,350 titles from the former total of around 93,500 -- could make Borders vulnerable to a marketing campaign from Barnes & Noble that promotes its own vast selection. The average 25,000 square-foot Barnes & Noble superstore stocks approximately 125,000 to 150,000 book titles, and the chain says it has no intention of cutting back.

The Borders push may affect small publishing houses, which can often place a debut novel in Borders because it has such a broad selection. Whether that will be more difficult in the future is unclear.

From Cheryl:

I have always bought books that are facing out, unless I've gone in for a specific title. It is always the cover that grabs me first, then the author's name, then the title and back cover or inside flap text. This is how I pick a book.

What about you? What makes you buy a book? Does it matter to you if it's facing out?

If you're an author, have you ever gone into a store and turned your books face out? :)

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif, bestselling author

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