Tuesday, February 22, 2011


This may seem a little off from my typical entertainment blogs, but books were escapist entertainment long before music, TV and movies. Tonight I'm discussing the Borders bankruptcy, what it means to me, a former retail bookseller and the future of bookstores in general.

Last week Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They are immediately closing 200 stores and likely more to come. Thousands of layoffs will come with.

Plenty of better sources and blogs have traced the history of Borders/Waldenbooks and what led to this, so I won't rehash that. I, however, spent nearly 8 years working for Waldenbooks, during which I witnessed much of the corporate B.S. that destroyed a once strong franchise.

Despite abhorrently low pay and seeing some of the worst that the public had to offer, I loved that job. More importantly, I loved my store. To many of my customers, I was "the Waldenbooks Guy." I knew their preferences, I knew their names...it was corporate retail, but I wanted my store to feel as independent and friendly as possible.

Believe it or not, we had the same problems that independents did. When superstores like Wal-Mart and Meijer started selling books at deep discounts, we couldn't compete and we wouldn't price-match. But eventually, we did start trying. The prices of new hardcovers climbed into the $30 range, but the discounts went to 40% or more and it still wasn't enough. We started hawking candy, DVDs, music, lip balm...the checkout counter space was a battlefield of "build the basket" impulse items.

While upselling and piling on is the name of any sales game, a noticeable transition occurred from helping your patrons find the best books for their tastes and making sure that your metrics looked good at the end of the day by pushing any little trinket you could find. Terms like A$T (average dollars per transaction) and UPT (units per transaction) were discussed more often than "I made that woman smile and walk out the door excited to read that book."

The desire to make every store look and feel the same may have been the beginning of the end in my mind. Thick merchandising books were sent to us every month with explicit details on where to position books each week...how to fill front of store wallbays, the A-frames that greeted customers on entry, even titles that should be featured in the window. My last manager and I often defied this thinking, opting to features titles that were actually popular for our area, local authors and books we genuinely liked. Upper management always frowned upon this. "People want to feel like every store is their local store." Except that when every store looks the same, there's nothing "local" about it.

I became disgruntled after getting passed over for promotion to take over my own store on several occasions. When a Borders superstore came to my area, I immediately applied. After three lengthy interviews I was finally offered a position...as the cafe manager...without a raise. Eight years of bookselling experience...I even trained three managers...and they wanted me to run their coffee shop?

I don't even drink coffee.

I left the Walden/Borders family in late 2005. My mall-based store, long rumored to become a Borders Express, closed down a couple years later. That Borders is not on the initial chopping block and I still shop there. I usually enter by the cafe and chuckle at the bullet I dodged. (Ironically...or not, I still work with books, now in textbook publishing.)

A lot of questions have loomed about what this means for brick and mortar bookstores. With the rise of digital books and online shopping, does the demise of Borders (assuming this is the first sounding of a death-knell) signal the end of browsing for titles, covers or synopses that excite the senses and beg to be read? Maybe...I admit I'm still old-fashioned enough to like the idea of randomly stumbling on a great book or CD, but still techno-savvy enough to like the concept of an eReader and find music on the internet.

Am I the last of a generation that feels sharing the bookstore experience is vital to the reading experience?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Best Sitcoms on TV

  1. Modern Family
  2. Community
  3. The Big Bang Theory
  4. How I Met Your Mother
  5. The Office
  6. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  7. Louie
  8. 30 Rock
  9. The League
  10. Raising Hope

* * *

I watched Moon with Sam Rockwell tonight. Very simple, smart little film that works because of Rockwell's performance. Obligatory mashup comparison: Solaris meets 2001.

* * *

The X-Men: First Class trailer debuted today. I'm not particularly impressed.

I guess I just don't see the point of a retro X-film that ignores the continuity of the rest, especially when said continuity already includes sub-par entries like The Last Stand and Wolverine.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm going to go right ahead and say it. Southland ranks among the best police/crime dramas I've ever seen. I'll mention it in the same sentence with Homicide, The Wire and The Shield. Major props to TNT for rescuing it after NBC let it go.

Parenthood is the best family drama on TV. Not surprising given it has a pedigree from creators of Friday Night Lights. Speaking of...NBC...will you hurry up and air the final season? I'm doing everything I can to avoid the DirecTV spoilers.

I realized in my Super Bowl wrap that I completely forgot to mention the Transformers: Dark of the Moon trailer. Probably because I forgot about it 10 seconds later. The first film is watchable enough to pass. The second was a complete and total mess. I'll catch the third on Netflix in two or three years on a whim.

Mumford & Sons is good music...I'm sorry it took me so long to pick up the album. "The Cave" is a great song.

Season premiere of Justified tomorrow night on FX. Watch it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Edition

The Pepsi Max ads might have been the best of the night.

I have no idea was Groupon is about, but that dig at Tibet probably won't make anyone rush to find out.

Volkswagon gets props for two great ads...I'd seen the li'l' Vader one already, but the madcap Beetle was clever, too.

GoDaddy.com needs a new schtick. If anyone is still rushing to their website to see "uncensored" videos when they can go find free porn just as quickly without server overloads...well, you deserve the diappointment.

Trailer recap:

Cowboys & Aliens...dumb title but I'm still psyched for this film.
Thor...I'm sorry, but this looks crazy awesome.
Captain America...I know I should be more excited for this, but I'm actually a little scared. Not sure why.
Rango...this looks pretty clever, unlike Johnny Depp's other film this summer..
Pirates 4...no, thank you.
Super 8...not as suspenseful mysterious as Cloverfield promotion was, but Spielberg/Abrams working together? I'm all in.
Battle L.A....is this the new District 9 or Skyline?
Green Lantern...wait, there wasn't a trailer for this? Nope...score another one for Marvel.

Half time show...ugh...not that I expected a lot or really watched.

Green Bay Packers...NFL champs...boo yah!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Today's Pop Culture Observations

Marvel Comics has been winning the big screen war lately (Chris Nolan's Batman films the only exception), but DC seems to have the small screen under control. Their animated series have been phenomenal since Batman: The Animated Series debut in the 90s. The latest, Young Justice, continues the trend of sharp writing, intelligent use of classic characters and new spins on familiar stories. Last night's episode might have been the coolest Amazo has been since Grant Morrison still wrote coherently.

Julie & Julia. Cute film. Meryl Streep as Julia Child is the selling point, but a toned-down Amy Adams is good, too.

Donnie Darko is one of my favorite films. Dark, mind-tripping and filled with great lines, apocalyptic imagery and an amazing soundtrack. Unfortunately, Richard Kelly has yet to impress me since. Southland Tales was a mess of genres and bizarrely uneven tones. The Box, which I finally watched today, is an arresting idea that simply goes nowhere. Darko succeeded in leaving the viewer with questions that intelligent discourse could resolve or at least agree to disagree...The Box simply asks the questions and ignores even the hint of payoff.

Does "From the Mind of James Cameron" and "Shot in 3D" compel you to go see a film? Because that is the entirety of the Sanctum marketing campaign. No thanks...

If you don't watch Archer, you're missing out on the best James Bond parody since Roger Moore had the role. Yeah, I said it...

Apparently Fringe is actually doing well on Fridays. Perhaps great TV can actually overcome network shenanigans. Somewhere Joss Whedon is...well, he's probably shrugging as he figures out where to put his impending Avengers cash.

Dear Nicholas Cage: Stop...just stop...please.

Best moment of this week's 30 Rock: Jack muttering "crap" and the voice activated TV switching to Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Community...brilliant. You almost made D&D cool again...if it ever was.

Justified returns next week on FX. Raylan Givens might be one of the best characters on TV and the new season ad featuring a conversation about Han & Greedo and "who shot first?" is awesome.

Go Packers!