Borders: “Our Covers, Let Us Show You Them”

Read now before it becomes pay-to-access: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Borders plans to display books with the cover facing out in attempt to drive up sales – though “the new approach will require a typical Borders superstore to shrink its number of titles by 5% to 10%.”

“We always had face-out titles on the shelves and on tables, but they were used as punctuation and tended to focus on popular titles,” says Anne Kubek, senior vice president of Borders U.S. stores. “Today we’re showing the front of books even when we only have two or three copies.”

The approach is evident at some other retailers, as well. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for instance, displays virtually all of its books face-out, a spokeswoman says.

Will this mean an improvement in cover art? Or more open-shirted-men adorning the romance shelves like buxom male Rockettes, minus the high heels? I can see it now, an endless march of mantitty, female butt cleavage, cartoon legs, and that girl with the pink flippy skirt who is everywhere.

Oh! And don’t forget the monster thumb girl. If we’re really lucky, Borders will start stocking more Mills & Boon titles, such as Kate Hardy’s Sold to the Highest Bidder so we can see lots and lots of monster thumb girl on the Border’s cover-out book shelves.

While the article discusses some of the pros and cons of the decision, such as the potential of visually overwhelming the browser with so many titles and so many selections, the decision to sell books using that cover as a primary tool will probably yield some interesting results in terms of sales data.

Thanks to Renee and to Jill F. for the links.



General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    K.L. says:

    If we are lucky, it will mean that cover artists use Hugh Jackman as their model more often.  I’d buy those books.

  2. 2
    Leah says:

    While I hate to see the number of books on display diminish, I do think that placing all books cover facing out is a good idea.  I know that when I go to my local Books a Million, I am operating on preschool time, and there are only so many “Mommy books” I can look at before we MUST get to the Thomas table.  So I rarely look at those books shelved with just their spines out, unless I am looking for a particular author.  I imagine they’ll see a jump in sales for some previously overlooked authors, and for the backlists of others.

  3. 3
    Rachel says:

    Interesting.  I’m sure some surprises will pop up to the Borders management team, but generally a shrinking inventory means more conservative purchasing strategies for the stores; you don’t want to take up limited shelf space with titles that won’t sell as well. 

    (“fiscal15” is my verification word.)

  4. 4
    J.C. Wilder says:

    Another issue is what happens to series titles. As it is now, Borders is usually pretty good about keeping an author’s series titles in stock. Now, when book 5 comes out, chances are they won’t be carrying books 1-4. Basically they have cut their shelf space by 1/2.

  5. 5
    Chicklet says:

    One of the things I find most interesting in the article is that the data from Borders’ concept store says that shoppers in the covers-out format thought the store had more books than other Borders stores, when really there were fewer books in the store. To me that indicates that people’s eyes drift over book spines and are captured by face-out covers.

    It also indicates that Borders is making a concerted effort to be a store for browsers, not people who come there searching for specific titles. That’s what the book section at Target looks like—all face-out, no spines. I suppose the theory is that people looking for specific titles will find them regardless—the point of the brick-and-mortar store is to capture the browsers’ money right now.

  6. 6
    Myriantha Fatalis says:

    Heh, well they’re going to fail to capture my money.  When I’m browsing, I go to eBook stores (Fictionwise, eReader, Baen).  When I walk into a treeBook store, I’m looking for a specific book by a specific author.  With this sort of policy, Borders is increasing the chance that I’ll give them a miss and head straight to Amazon.

  7. 7
    SB Sarah says:

    eBook and treeBook!?


    that’s brilliant.

  8. 8
    oakling says:

    hee! treebook store! I do hate the ways that big stores are decreasing their inventory. But I guess we can let it inspire us about how to get our books out there in more innovative ways. I’ll tell you one thing though, that big thumb book isn’t going to be anywhere on their shelves. But it probably wasn’t anyway….

  9. 9
    Laura says:

    Does anyone here have both a Borders and a B&N in their neighborhood?  I don’t—I have Borders only—but when I go to the closest B&N, which is about half an hour away, I notice that their romance selection is…iffy.  One of the good things about our local Borders has always been the breadth of the Romance section.

    Facing books out…it’s been shown time
    after time, survey after survey, from both independent booksellers and chains, that the books that are faced out sell more.  But that’s usually because so few books *are* faced out. Your eye gets tired drifting over all the spines, and it naturally catches on the face out one.  Same with the “new release table”, where the books are stacked face up.  Will that happen when so many are faced out?  Time will tell, I suppose.  But one thing’s for certain…it will soon become a lot easier to tell which publishers subscribe to the same stock art catalogs.

  10. 10
    Kalen Hughes says:

    As a newbie author this gives the shivers. What’s going to happen to all the debuts and midlisters?

  11. 11
    Stephanie says:

    I have both a Borders and a B & N in my neighborhood. Well, more accurately, the nearest either is both. There’s a mall that has them approximately a block from each other.

    Same situation in my parents’ neighborhood: B & N on one side of the mall, Borders on the other.

    Guess what happened to both of the independent bookstores.

    (Heh, spamblocker: problem86. Yes, my brother, who is a problem, was born in 1986.)

  12. 12
    Abby says:

    “It also indicates that Borders is making a concerted effort to be a store for browsers, not people who come there searching for specific titles.”

    Chicklet is 100% right. Some of the commenters here aside, research always, always shows that the browser spends more money in a visit than the in-and-out specific shopper. This isn’t just bookstores either. If a retailer can make you happy to wander around looking at stuff, chances are you’ll pick up a few items and buy them.

    A lot of brick-and-mortar bookstores aren’t really aimed at the uber-readers like us – they can’t please us anyway. They’re aiming at the person who reads a small stack of bestsellers a year, probably for the commute to work, and will buy them if they’re displayed nicely.

    This could be a boon to online booksellers, but only ‘cos they’ll get the business of hardcore book addicts like us.

  13. 13
    Randi says:


    I have both a Borders and a B&N. And you’re right about B&N and their romance section. They will have large selections of the big sellers (La Nora, Beatric Small, etc), but I couldn’t find CT Adams there. Borders, on the other hand, has a much larger selection of romance, and more of the harder to find/backlisted, midlisted, new authors. On the other hand, Borders has a very small SciFi/Fantasy section, whereas B&N’s SciFi/Fantasy is huge. So I guess it evens out.

  14. 14
    Ciaralira says:

    That’s awful. One of my very favorite activities is browsing bookstores, and I definitely want MORE books to browse. I can and do pull them out to view the cover. I don’t want anything that gives me fewer books to browse. I want Moooooorrrrreeeeeeee.

  15. 15
    quichepup says:

    As a former bookstore employee I can guess what the staff is thinking—crap. More face-outs mean less shelf space for already overcrowded shelves. It also sounds like stores will be getting 20 copies of a single bestseller title instead of 5 copies of 4 different titles. Another cause of grief for staff, especially those who like new authors. I can also tell y’all many people who don’t find the books they want on the shelf are NOT going to be happy or willing to order them, no matter how quickly the book arrives. If customers do order their books online chances are they will go to Amazon before they go to the Borders website. I see lots of unhappy employees, cranky customers and more sales for Amazon and Barnes and Noble.   

    except71-except for the 71 copies of the Oprah book, there’s not much out there

  16. 16
    thebooklass says:

    I finally got treebooks.

  17. 17
    J.K. says:

    I work at a Borders, and let me tell you it is a major pain, and ultimately those customers that are loyal are not very pleased. We have a B&N down the street, and people come to the store specificaly because we have a greater variety. I spend eight hours trying to fit 20 books on shelf that can only fit 10 and in the end it does not look as nice. I love that we have harder to find titles. Thus far the new program has served only to irritate loyal customers that come to browse,and helps only those who were told by Oprah what to read next.

  18. 18
    dianewb says:

    I’m curious what this is going to mean for the covers of romances.  With so many covers to look at, I can only imagine that the covers that really stand out and appeal to readers will sell better.  Will this affect the abundance of clinches?  Will we see more or less of them?  Surely, more people will gravitate to an artful cover without the faces than to the man-titties?

  19. 19
    loonigrrl says:

    I’ve got access to 2 different B&Ns and 2 different Borders in my area. I almost always end up going to one of the Barnes and Nobles. The romance section isn’t as varied there, but the displays are neater and they always seem to put the newer releases promptly on the shelves.  When I go to borders, I feel like the books are just thrown wherever without much organization. I’ve often been unable to find a book-despite a thorough search-even if the computer says that there are one or two in stock- because the shelves are just that disorganized and overcrowded and/or the books get misplaced.

  20. 20
    Tae says:

    I’m a browser.  I love seeing the covers of books, in fact that’s how I found most of the fantasy books I read early on.  The pretty, pretty pictures caught my eye. 

    When I’m caught up on reading the latest my favorite authors have out, and trust me this happens even when I read over 150 books a year, I like looking at covers to find new books.  The titles never tell me anything.  Of course, I never buy anything without reading the blurb on the back.

  21. 21
    RedSonja says:

    The Borders in my neighborhood is absolutely incapable of alphabetizing their books. I have seen books filed by author’s first name, first word of title, second word of title, and by ways I can’t even begin to figure out. Cover color? So I don’t browse much there. I’m spending too much time trying to find the stuff I actually want to be inclined to look any longer.

  22. 22
    Gem says:

    Cover out could go either way. Better idea, why not catagorize the books differently. “Books so bad you have to read them” “Books you should have bought last time but didn’t” “Take me home you wild thing” “Beasts, Basoons and a guy named Ned” Catagories that make browsing fun in a new way, since they seem to be going for a browse market anyway.

    points41.. damn so close to 42.

  23. 23
    rooruu says:

    If you can’t access the WSJ version of this article (I couldn’t), then here’s another link:

  24. 24
    Lady T says:

    Another former bookstore employee here,who is surprised that this is such a big story. Granted,I only worked at a small indie store but face outs seemed to be a rather commonplace practice,according to some of my co-workers that used to work in both chain and indie stores.

    It’s funny that Borders was once known as the more reader friendly bookseller,with their variety of titles and college town type of set-up(which B&N has been slowly copying over the years)and now B&N seems to be taking that spot back again.

  25. 25
    Kelly Anne says:

    I work as a supervisor for said bookstore, and I can tell you that at the mement it means we are returning TONS of books (and DVDs and CDs).  It’s going to be a long, grueling process.

  26. 26

    I checked out the article and I might have missed it, but what about trade paperbacks? They are so much larger than mass market and would take up gobs of room. Most of the TP books that I’ve noticed seem to be erotic romance. That would be interesting to see some of those face out. I can’t see them doing that, though. Probably just MM.

    Sucks. I think it’s really going to hurt authors, especially midlist.

  27. 27
    Erin says:

    I’m actually surprised that it’s taken them this long to adapt the strategy. There’s an excellent book (Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping) that explains the cover-out preference for shoppers (in addition to some other ploys that merchandisers use or should be using).

    But like Laura said, it will be very, very interesting to see what happens when ALL of the books are sold face-out. A good example is Target. I hate going through the book section in Target. I guess it’s because there’s no mystery? No scrounging along the bottom shelf looking at the spines…conducting a sort of screening process to decide which one will be deemed Interesting Enough to exhert the energy to bend down and pluck it from its close quarters on the shelf. I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be sensory overload to see all those covers? More images and fewer words?

    But on the other hand, I do hope it will make some of these covers better. I do sometimes judge books by their covers (just like I choose wine by their labels…it’s evil, I know), so maybe that’s a pro.

    Hubby and I are definitely browsers when it comes to B&N and Borders. When we need That Specific Book, we go straight to Amazon or B& So there is a definite con.

    So, now that I’m done rambling, I think everyone should read Why We Buy. It’s really, really interesting, and includes discussions of such scientific concepts as the “butt brush.”

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