Ben Kay runs an excellent advertising blog ITIABTWC.
Recently he was telling me how sad he was that Borders on Oxford Street had closed.
Ben said he missed it because he used to go there during lunchtimes.
He used to sit in the comfy armchairs and read books.
In fact, he read all of Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’ there during his visits.
He didn’t buy it because it was too big and bulky to carry around.
So it was very convenient for him to read it in Borders every day.
Can anyone hazard a guess why Borders closed?
I’ve got an opinion.
I think they confused being a bookshop with being a library.
I think encouraging lots of people to sit around reading books is not how a bookshop makes money.
Selling books is.
A chain of bookstores is different from an individual bookstore.
In the richer, quieter, more exclusive areas, of Seattle or San Francisco or Hampstead, it may be enough to encourage people to visit your store and enjoy the experience.
These are rich people and, in the process, they’ll spend money.
But Oxford Street isn’t rich, quiet, or exclusive.
It’s mass market.
In fact, quite a lot of the visitors are down market.
If you offer them the choice of using something for free or buying it, guess which they’ll choose.
So Borders closed because it didn’t sell enough books.
On the other hand Foyles, just around the corner, sells lots of books.
There are no seats and you’re not allowed to sit on the floor.
You can read a book, but you have to do it standing up.
And you may do that for ten minutes, but not much longer.
Then you have to decide whether to buy it, or put it back.
Foyles has forced you to make a decision.
So they get fewer people reading books.
But they get more people actually buying.
Of course, being human we tend to let people put off the point of decision.
In case it’s a negative outcome.
But the truth is, a no is often better than a maybe.
Take a pitch or a job interview.
When we don’t win, or get the job, we console ourselves when the client tells us we came second.
But the truth is, if we finish second ten times out of ten we still end up with nothing.
Whereas if we finish last nine times out of ten, and first just once, we end up with a job, or a client, or a sale.
We don’t need everybody to not-dislike us.
We need some people to love us, even if means some people hate us.
We are so busy avoiding rejection we are afraid to force a decision.
As Bill Bernbach said, “If you stand for something you’ll find some of the people for you and some of the people against you.
If you stand for nothing you’ll find nobody for you and no one against you.”
By polarising people earlier we force them to choose.
Hire me or don’t hire me.
Give us your business or don’t.
Buy the book or don’t buy it.
Of course, there are times when you want people sitting around, and times when you don’t.
American museums understand this.
If you go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s $20 admission.
The European Sculpture Gallery is beautiful.
A long room with a skylight running the length of it, and a small cappuccino stand at one end.
And light, movable chairs everywhere.
You’re encouraged to take your time and study the art.
When we went, my wife, son and daughter and I pulled up the chairs, and sat and drew various sculptures.
Then we had a coffee.
Then, refreshed, we went back and drew some more.
It was so welcoming, that we went back several times while we were in New York.
Just like the people in Borders, we’d spend all day sitting around.
The difference was, we were paying $20 each.
We didn’t have to buy anything, they made their money by encouraging us to relax and enjoy ourselves, and come back.
That’s exactly the opposite of what Borders should be doing.
Because Borders don’t get paid by the visitor.
They sell a book, or they get nothing.
And that was Ben’s point.
Ben felt bad that Borders had closed.
He felt customers should have supported Borders by buying other things there.
Coffee, magazines, wrapping paper, greeting-cards.
But Starbucks ran the coffee shop.
And Paper Chase ran the wrapping paper and greeting-card concession.
The place where Borders made their money was the book section.
And they were giving that away for free.
There is a belief that all anyone has to do to be successful is get lots of people to feel good about your product or service or brand.
Then money will automatically follow.
I don’t think that’s always true.
I know it’s fashionable, but that doesn’t make it true.