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Waldenbooks RIP

07.24.2011, Uncategorized, by .

This week marked the end of Borders Books and Music. There are thousands of articles, posts and comments. Most lamenting the demise of one of the largest book sellers in the nation. Many pointing out the problems. This post is to remember the forgotten sibling, Waldenbooks.

Waldenbooks started to die when the company was purchased by KMart and absorbed into Borders. Then they moved to Michigan and started to quickly lose it’s identity. Borders hastened the death by deciding that 3,000 sq. foot mall stores were no longer viable. Bigger was better. The superstore model was the only way to go. Borders started to bleed Waldenbooks profits and put them in the Borders superstore concept.

Some facts about Waldenbooks:

  • At it’s height, there were over 1,200 stores. By far the biggest in the nation and sold more books than any single company.
  • Celebrated GENRE fiction when most bookstores ignored. WB sold Romance, Science-Fiction and Mystery better than anyone.
  • Didn’t look down on less expensive mass-market titles. At that time many bookstores didn’t like that format (still don’t).
  • Had lists of MILLIONS of devoted readers through their “Preferred Reader Programs.” These were focused on ROM, SF and MSY.
  • These names were invaluable and today it is still a target for booksellers — get the names of the rabid readers and ‘own’ them.
  • The first to embrace scanning technology and utilize bar codes for inventory tracking.
  • Opened stores in communities that were not served by bookstores. Almost every mall in America had a Waldenbooks.
  • When a new book of commercial fiction arrived, WB had a lease-line program that announced it to millions of people. People walking in the mall would see it even if they were not ‘book people.’ It was tremendous exposure.

Waldenbooks is another casualty in the death of the bricks and mortar bookstore. It started decade ago, but the final nails were just driven by the end of Borders. Waldenbooks dies with it – although they had been dead for years.

I still believe a chain of mall-based bookstores can survive.  3,000 square foot stores that are focused on genre and customer service. Combine it with a strong curated on-line precence and re-establishment of the Preferred Readers club. It is still something that can be effective (possibly more on this in another post). Add in bargain and Children’s books and it would be successful. Counter-intuitive?  Yes, but that is part of the success.

Waldenbooks was the only bookstore within 50 miles of my home when I was growing up.  Waldenbooks game me my first job in book-selling and opened doors for me to decision-makers in publishing. I owe my career to WB. It is sad to see a friend die. It is sad that WB is also forgotten.

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