Borders has lost a hunk of its financing, suspended its dividend, and hired Merrill Lynch & Co. to "review its strategic alternatives."
I've got an alternative for them: stop going to the usual suspects for answers. Enough with the strategic reviews of the book business. Skip the expected branding nonsense, and start asking different questions, like why couldn't the business be recast as a social medium?
No, not just some chatting experiment prompted by a twentysomething in the marketing department. Skip creating inane video or other viral contagion. And turn off the dumb TV monitors they recently announced would be added to the stores. It's clear the marketers at Borders haven't been allowed to market their way out of a paperback.
I'm talking about a model for the entire business.
First, can can anybody say "book club?"
- What if buying a book at Borders got you some access to a living community of fellow fans of the author, genre, or subject?
- Perhaps there could be inputs into these communities from authors and critics, thereby increasing the value of the media
- Participants could accrue points for contributions and/or breadth of involvement, which would dovetail into a loyalty program of some sort.
- Reading a Borders book could be made a different experience than that of any other retailer (online included), and the experience gets more valuable over time.
- Let the competitors bemoan the lack of "big books" to drive traffic; anyway, that's like clothing retailers complaining about the weather. Real communities don't rely on such invented and inconsistent prompts
What about becoming a home for user-created content?
- Everybody and their brother feels inspired and technically-empowered to create extended riffs on their favorite movies, TV shows, and books
- The Internet is awash in these homemade episodes of Star Trek and "what happened then" chapters of The Vampire Lestat. Borders could become the official, sanctioned home for this copyright-daring content, so buying some packaged media product there would include access to all the other stuff that commands so much time and attention (from would-be customers, thank you very much)
- If authorized (it would take some work to make this happen), these communities could truly thrive, and not exist in fear (or under the radar) of the original content creators. Borders could bring all of this content together
Couldn't Borders stores get stocked to serve local buyers/specific communities?
- Retailers of all sorts are struggling to invent answers to the question "why do I, Mr. Consumer, need to visit?"
- With detailed purchaser data (Borders should know what books I buy just like Blockbuster remembers all the movies I’ve rented), couldn't stores get allocated media products based on the interests of people who live near them?
- Ditto for one or more of the communities that it formed via social media: perhaps there could be sections within a store, corollated with local tastes, on "leading" titles by genre or subject...voted and reviewed by neighbors (and augmented with "expert" involvement)
- This would allow stores to take deep dives into subject areas of particular interest to local customers. So forget about putting the same "bestsellers" into every store, displayed the same way. That’s not branding; it's boring
There'd have to be real business models based on these ideas (or others like them). It would represent a fundamental reconfiguring of the book store model. And it could all fail miserably.
But, clearly, that model is broken right now, and no amount of remerchandising, financial wizardry, or hopeful branding is going to fix it. Dire circumstances require bold action, not just a standard list of actions for which we can all pretty much see an outcome.
Maybe it's time to print a new version of the Borders strategic plan?