Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Borders displaying more, stocking less

Borders is taking a different approach to displaying its books -- one that will result in better display of some titles, but fewer overall being stocked.

The approach is a simple one: Display more books with the cover facing out, rather than in the traditional bookshelf approach of showing only the books' spines. The CEO of Borders says he learned as a young buyer at Dillards that dresses sell better if fully displayed rather than hanging on a rack.
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 percent to 10 percent.

That makes the strategy a big gamble for Borders. 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 Inc., which offers a vast selection online, made it even more important for stores to offer deep inventories.

"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."
More titles facing makes sense to me. I often buy books I wasn't planning to simply because they caught my eye (as my overflowing bookshelves at home will attest), and a cover is more likely to catch my eye than a spine with text running sideways. The downside, though, is that the new policy is likely to result in a reduction of five thousand or more titles from the typical Borders inventory of about 93,000 titles. Borders already stocks fewer than Barnes & Noble in most cases.

And the effect on suppliers?:
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, says Alexander Chernev, associate professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill. "If Borders carries fewer titles, then they may prefer larger publishers that have more marketing push," he says.

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