Monday, March 22, 2010

Borders Wisely Brings in Book Clubbers

Anyone who's met me knows that I love book clubs.

I run a mostly-YA book club and am a member of a classics book club, and have been part of a smattering of other BCs since I moved to NYC four years ago. So, when I heard that Borders has opened its doors to my fellow book clubbers, I was pretty darn happy.

I first heard about the new trend from none other than my mother (yes, Mom, I'm mentioning you again). Living in a fairly suburban area, it's tough for the momma to meet people and make friends so she poked around her neighborhood Borders and found a book club that meets there on a monthly basis. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that news.

Then, last week, the Chicago Tribune posted an article online about the new Borders book club fad, to use the term loosely:
In the increasingly brutal book wars, Borders Group Inc. is learning what coffeehouses long have known: Encourage shoppers to think of you as a home away from home and they'll spend more, maybe even become regulars.

To spur that feeling, Borders quietly unveiled a program late last month that invites book club groups to convene at its cafe spaces instead of in club members' homes. The step is geared toward helping the money-losing bookstore chain drum up sales and reshape itself into a local gathering place instead of a faceless superstore.

Signs and posters telling shoppers to bring their book group to the store have gone out from corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., to Borders' 507 outposts, including 18 stores in the Chicago area, said Mary Davis, spokesman for the chain. Borders' Chicago flagship on North Michigan Avenue, which is slated to close next year, already has hosted a few private book clubs in its third-floor event space.

"We're encouraging stores to reach out to the public to say, ‘We're here,'" Davis said. "It's a way to drive traffic to the stores."

Last year, the company began book club nights hosted by store employees based on books that Borders selected, starting with Kate Jacobs' "The Friday Night Knitting Club" in April. At that time, the retailer also introduced display tables stacked with Borders' recommendations for book club discussions.

The latest effort focuses on bringing in readers interested in selecting their own books and leading their own discussions.

Read the rest of the article HERE

Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea. Not only will it succeed in building store traffic, but as a direct result, it will hopefully help to fend off the recent series of store closures. According to the Trib, Borders/Walden cut 10 percent of its workforce this past January, in addition to the 200+ store closures that occurred that very same month (Publishers Weekly). The book biz is fading at a quicker rate than many of us in the industry--myself included--expected or wanted to admit. So anything booksellers can do to help slow down the process--whether a big conglomorate like Borders or an independent--is a positive thing.

Plus, book clubs can be incredibly difficult to organize, especially when membership reaches more than, say, eight people. While hosting at members' homes is always a fun time, it's hard to find a place to house that many people comfortably, where everyone can be looking at one another for an engaging discussion. And when you try to meet in a public place--a coffeeshop or restaurant--let me tell you, it is anything but easy!

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