On The Borders: What People Aren’t Buying

Apr 2nd, 2009 // 58 Comments

As part of book giant Borders’ slashing of its DVD and CD sections, the store here in Athens, Ga., is selling its CD and DVD inventory at 50% off. The standard pre-liquidation price for a CD? $18.99. So at 50% off, most of the remaining inventory was still as much as it would have been at Best Buy, Target, or Wal-Mart. In fact, in most cases the prices were exactly twice what they were at the Big Boxers, particularly in the DVD/Blu-Ray section. I decided to document the dregs of Borders’ music collection to see what people weren’t buying, much like I did last year during the Circuit City fire sale. All of the releases documented after the jump had at least four copies for sale.

The shelves are picked over. If all of the Borders are on the same timetable, you better hustle. I did see that awesome Forever Changes two-disc collection for 10 bucks.

This is endemic of what I saw. The Killers, Bavarian Tradition, and a 2009 Grammy Nominees CD, all lying on top of Igor on Blu-Ray. I don’t know why, but this is one of the saddest things I have ever seen.

The Airborne Toxic Event and Loudon Wainwright III: together again for the first time. These guys were all over the place, never where they were supposed to be. Not a bad deal on TATE, if you’re into that sorta thing.

There was plenty of Sinatra to be found, all of it originally overpriced. These are great records, sure, but they had Super Savers in there for $16.99!

Maybe someone at Borders was a big Andre Rieu fan. There were at least 30 of his CDs all told. Looks like a nice enough guy. He’s really going for on the cover of New Year’s in Vienna.

Not to pick on Mindi Abair, but she joined Andre Rieu as the most un-bought artist at Borders. There was another stack there, next to a whole bunch of Michael Franks and Earl Klugh. Who did Borders’ stocking? The Weather Channel? My dad?

You could get “snowed under” in Snow Patrol CDs (haw haw), probably because this CD+DVD combo was priced at $21.99 originally.

Nothing against Atmosphere, but there was absolutely no reason for Borders to have ordered eight copies of this in our current music-selling climate. You can always order more. You can’t order less.

I’d like to think that Saul Williams was here en masse because everybody had already downloaded it, but I’m not so sure of that. Borders’ selection was overall more interesting than Circuit City‘s, if a little more mystifying.

Ingrid Michaelson was well-represented. “As heard on Grey’s Anatomy” doesn’t mean what it used to, but this thing was priced to sell and didn’t. It looks like a 90s cut-out bin record, like it should be laying next to Ednaswap and Echobelly.

I have this and have never listened to it. What am I afraid of? Oh, yeah…it sounding like the artwork.

Delta Spirit was out in force. I don’t have any good puns for this.

Wow! I wonder why this never sold? As a music consumer, I can think of no more inspiring words in the year 2009 than “Goo Goo Dolls, Vol. 2.”

The theme song is on this. ‘Nuff said.

There was lots of John Legend on display; maybe people heard him sing at the Academy Awards.

Now this is just a shame. Who doesn’t love “Lido Shuffle”?

Plain White T’s: One of those bands that seems more popular in theory.

I know Switchfoot and Nickel Creek are popular, but seven copies of the collaboration between members of those bands is probably overestimating demand just a bit.

Turn away, Maura! Turn away!

These Melissa Etheridges were like this when I got there.

No love for My Love by Celine Dion.

This Atreyu package would be a good deal if I liked them at all.

Some around these parts will feel no small amount of schadenfreude at this picture.

These things were everywhere, a symbol bit of music industry detritus.

Just plain odd. Somebody must have a really bad back. It shows you how much they cared about the aesthetics of the music section.

Howie Day: the loneliest featured CD ever.

Who thought this was a good idea?

This is my version of hell.

Oh, no, wait. This is.

Overall, in most cases, it’s not hard to see why what’s not selling is not selling. A lot of times it what the pricing, but a lot of it had to do with target markets. This is a Borders in Athens we’re talking about—the chamber of commerce practically hands you cardigans, ironic mustaches, and plastic-framed glasses when you move here, so it’s no wonder Dream Theater DVDs aren’t moving out the door.


  1. Lampbane

    Bookstores have always been about the overpriced classical, jazz, and adult contemporary CDs. I’m surprised it took them this long that pricing CDs at $18.99 was a bad idea.

    I wish I had taken pictures of the Times Square Virgin Megastore’s stock in its last few days. Lots of James Brown and Bjork box sets, Fall Out Boy tees, and a bazillion copies of Wall*E and Incredibad. I’m surprised anything moved at all considering their retail price for things was always too much. Though at $10, I couldn’t pass up a copy of Incredibad.

  2. Christopher R. Weingarten

    how did they feel about some dude taking pictures in their store all day?

  3. King of Pants

    I always went to Newbury Comics.

  4. Lucas Jensen

    @Christopher R. Weingarten: I was kinda sneaky about it, but a few people asked me if I needed help. I just said “nope, just looking” and that seemed to suffice. The music was relegated to this dim back corner, so nobody noticed me. It was a sad sight.

  5. Anonymous

    Yikes. Just when I thought perusing Borders’ music offerings two years ago was as depressing as it could get…

    Somebody should do one of these posts about Daeleus Books in Baltimore, assuming their music section still exists. Jess? Al? Whaddaya say?

  6. Anonymous

    The Mindi Abair are easily explained–it’s a Borders Exclusive so however many they ordered is however many they have to sell–there’s no place to send them back to even if they wanted to.

  7. Anonymous

    I used to work at a Barnes & Noble and we were always full up on Andre Rieu. It seemed weird until I realized the only person under 50 in the whole place was me.

  8. Lucas Jensen

    @tim_loves_cats: I like the phrase “full up on Andre Rieu”.

  9. Captain Wrong

    “There was plenty of Sinatra to be found, all of it originally overpriced. These are great records, sure, but they had Super Savers in there for $16.99!”

    Preaching to the choir, I know, but there’s the reason Borders is failing hard right about now. Long before it was so easy to find stuff online, I sucked it up and paid Borders’ prices because they had a killer selection of jazz cds I couldn’t find elsewhere. Nowadays, their selection has gotten worse and the gap between what they charge and buying on line is huge. It’s been hard for me to believe how stubbornly Borders (and Barnes and Nobles) have stuck to those top of MSRP prices when other retailers who engaged in similar pricing have fallen aside. You’d think someone would notice that $20 CDs weren’t selling.

  10. kicking222

    I was in a Borders for the first time in god-knows-how-long last week, and I was simply shocked that the CDs were so ridiculously overpriced. Even at 50% off, I can still get it for the same price on iTunes, so why bother?

    Also, I have never heard of Mindi Abair.

  11. BawstonSean

    @King of Pants: Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout! Do you remember how they used to put $3 off coupons in the comics section of the Sunday globe, and when they weren’t doing that it was proabbly a $10.88 sale? Damn, that store busted it’s ass to get all of my allowance money.

  12. Anonymous

    At the “Store Closing!” sale at the Virgin Megastore in San Francisco, the CDs are all 30% off of $18.99. And they wonder why nothing’s moving.

    Even if the stock is slightly better than this Borders selection. Yeesh, Mindi Abair?

  13. Cam/ron

    Aw, this brings me back childhood memories of saving up money for weeks and weeks to afford a mere CD at Borders.

  14. Thierry

    You sould really listen to that Mudcrutch cd – it’s great! I may be a Petty/Heartbreakers apologist, but I think it’s his best since Wildflowers/She’s the One

  15. Anonymous

    @King of Pants: Newbury Comics is still great.

  16. moomintroll

    @Cam/ron: Ha ha, yeah I went to high school in Raleigh NC and all we’d do is sit in Borders looking at $20 CD’s and buying magazines of an evening (I really loved Borders, I could get all my UK music mags…)
    I went to a Chicago Borders this weekend with a 40% off coupon and there was NOTHING I wanted, not even for 40% off. Their CD and DVD section was much like Lucas’ experience, uber depressing. I tried to find something in their music performance DVD bit, but I think I’m all set for Celtic Woman live. The only good music DVD I saw was the Gorillaz’ Demon Days live one, I already have it, but you can get it for $7.00 right now.

  17. tylerw

    @slowburn: same thing with the Denver Virgin Megastore’s closing “sale” … 30% $18.99 CDs is still waaaaaay overpriced. And the box set stuff is ridiculous, pretending as though it’s some sort of good deal to get a multidisc set for twice what you could get it for on Amazon. Do these types of sales get down to like 80% sooner or later? There’s still a ton of stuff in the Denver megastore.

  18. iantenna

    wait, isn’t borders just shrinking their music section, not going out of business? can’t they just return all this crap rather than sell at a loss? what am i missing here?

    also, michael franks rules.

  19. Cam/ron

    @moomintroll: Indeed, I remember staring at the overpriced Can CDs in my local Borders and thinking, “One day, I’ll own those. One day.”

    Is it just me or did the quality of the Borders music selection take a dive? Back in the late 90′s and early 00′s, many Borders shops had a great array of electronica, jazz and indie CDs. A greater emphasis on bestsellers then followed.

  20. Lucas Jensen

    @Cam/ron: @Cam/ron: There was some good indie stuff in there as well as jazz but it was here and there. The deal I missed (a friend got it) was the Jesus of Cool reissue for 7 bucks. Now THAT’S a deal.

    @iantenna: My dad had Michael Franks’ Skin Deep on cassette in his Chevy Blazer. And, yeah, I guess Borders is trying to make it look like they are so great with the big sales, but in the end it just looks depressing in there.

  21. tylerw

    @Cam/ron: yeah, i think borders music selection really went south sometime in the early 00s. Used to be really well-stocked, but is generally pretty poor these days. Might depend on the store/location, too.

  22. alternatestory

    I actually stopped by my local Borders last night, to see if there were any good deals to be had. The selection wasn’t bad, actually, but the prices were pretty ridiculous. I did find Jenny Lewis’s “Acid Tongue” for eight bucks, so I bought that.
    And I do usually shop at my local independent record store, but my broke ass was lured by the clearance signs in the Borders windows.

  23. Tenno

    One of the reasons I was so in debt was the mixture of Border’s and Virgin both having this awesome selection of weird electronica when I first got into it. So many CDs bought that I now look back and go, “WHY!?” why did I need this overpriced crap.

    Also, Circuit City. Alas.

    Then i discovered REAL record stores like Zias and Big Bs and proceeded to go in debt one swipe at a time much cheaper.

  24. Anonymous

    at one point Borders’ music mag selection was IMMENSE – to the point that i’d spend like three hours just reading shit then blow $20 on magazines like WIRE and Option and Puncture.

    Times long, long gone…goodbye, Columbus.

  25. toominator

    I never buy CDs in Border/B&N/etc. as they are super-overpriced, no matter what the discount.

    That said, the 50% off DVDs yielded some great bargains – single sets as cheap as deepdiscount and the entire Star Trek Movie collection – double DVDs with tons of commentary Retail: $94 – that was a bargain at $47.

  26. Al Shipley

    In a perverse way I love posts like this. I might have to do something similar next time a record store closes here. I can’t imagine I’ll have to wait long.

  27. Anonymous

    record & tape traders, al!

    how many of those are left open, anyway?

  28. Lucas Jensen

    @Al Shipley: Well, the reason I’m doing them is an ethnography of sorts. I think you can learn a lot about why the stores are having problems by seeing what didn’t sell. You also learn a lot about what’s really popular. I’d love to see a Baltimore edition!

  29. Cam/ron

    I just got back from a Borders shop, they only have a couple of stickered items that were slashed by 40%. A Daniel Johnston CD was slashed but all of the Radiohead special edition CDs were at full price.

  30. Anonymous

    @Lucas Jensen: could be a book in this, man.

  31. Anonymous

    I’m almost sad about this, because I helped set up that very same music department when this Borders opened in Athens in late 2000. I noticed, upon repeat visits after leaving, that both the quality of the selection and the number of employees who knew ANYTHING about music was dropping severely. Talk about a company that drove itself into the ground, always thinking with the policy of selection over price when it came to customer service. I had several loyal customers who, even when buying $100 worth of CDs, were still only walking out the doors with four or five items.

    If only they thought about keeping their classical and jazz selections, they may have been able to get away with it for a while longer.

  32. Lucas Jensen

    @raycummings: Not with this level of photography. But thanks!

    @Cam/ron: I don’t think every Borders is doing it in this manner. It depends on the store, I think.

  33. T'Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: you said Echobelly. That’s awesome. “Lips Tits Hips Power,” baby!!

  34. T'Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: you said Echobelly. That’s awesome. “Lips Tits Hips Power,” baby!!

  35. T'Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: you said Echobelly. That’s awesome. “Lips Tits Hips Power,” baby!!

  36. T'Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: you said Echobelly. That’s awesome. “Lips Tits Hips Power,” baby!!

  37. T'Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: you said Echobelly. That’s awesome. “Lips Tits Hips Power,” baby!!

  38. Anonymous

    The promo stickers on the shrink wrap offer an interesting sadness. The featured songs, musicians, bonus-DVDs, etc. did nothing to move these products when so absurdly priced. So now, the CDs sit there telling no one about their attributes (not even their once-neighboring albums). Bummer.

  39. Lucas Jensen

    @extratastycrispy: I think it’s certainly interesting that so many of these are Borders Exclusives and Special Editions. $24 for a CD is $24 for a CD, if we’re gonna get all tautological about it. That’s just a lot of money, particularly when things like rad Super Saver records are there for $9.99 (or less at other stores). What’s really sad is I saw Super Savers here for $16.99? What?

    I was thinking…when all of these end up in landfills, things will only get sadder.

    @TVBath: I remember the music section being pretty darned good back then. Do we know each other, perhaps?

    @AquaLung: We’ve done it before and we shall do it again! You saw the Circuit City one, right? [idolator.com]

  40. AquaLung

    You guys should do this again.

  41. Lampbane


    The Times Square Virgin never went below 50% for the media stuff.

  42. Anonymous

    damn yall and this thread, I stopped by the Borders near work on the way home and spent $85.00

  43. Anonymous

    Also noticed a trend, the Borders near work in Commack NY, which is a newer Borders where the size of the music section has not been greatly reduced since it opened has a lot of clearence cds. The Borders near home in Bohemia NY which is one of the older stores where the music section is probably less than a quarter of its original size has very few clearence cds.

  44. Lucas Jensen

    @MhS: What did you buy and for how much apiece?

  45. Lucas Jensen

    @DocStrange: That’s interesting…I smell an investigative report.

  46. Anonymous

    @DocStrange: that is interesting, my local Barnes and Noble has almost completely phased out cds.

    @Lucas Jensen: Heres what I bought, I’ll list the clearance price:

    Explorations: Bill Evans Trio: $7.19
    (I should go back they had lots of Bill Evans stuff)
    Kick Out the Jams: MC5 $5.99 (didn’t have on cd)
    Light as a Feather: Chick Corea and Return to Forever $7.19
    Return to Forever: Chick Corea $10.79
    Psychocandy: Jesus and Mary Chain $7.19 (didn’t have on cd)
    In the Wake of the Poseidon: King Crimson $9.59 (a what the hell selection)
    Money Jungle: Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus(the sleeve says Charlie but he hated being called that), Max Roach $10.79
    Slack Key Guitar Volume 2 $9.59
    You Are(Variations): Steve Reich $10.19

    And the thing is that only a couple of these would be carried in the average Best Buy

  47. DocStrange

    I actually own that Snow Patrol album. Bought it back when I had money to spend on mediocre followups to great albums.

    As a fan of indie and someone who would know these things, most of my friends consensus is that Black Kids had one good single (“Hurricane Jane”) and an alright one (“Boyfriend”) from a terrible album.

    I have a Barnes & Noble near my house. And instead of killing its CD and DVD section, it’s expanding it (they’re moving the coffee table books of house plants to the back near the children’s books)

  48. Lucas Jensen

    @MhS: Holy crap that Psychocandy deal! And others are good, too.

  49. MrStarhead

    “new releases” are still full-price at the Borders I went to in suburban Atlanta. That seems to be anything put out in 2009, plus 2008 releases that are still hovering in the Billboard Top 50 or so.

  50. MrStarhead

    What I don’t understand is why a store that made its name on deep-discounting of books and a willingness to practically give stuff away in clearance sales (seriously; the one I went to had eight or nine shelves towards the front of the store with deep-discounted clearance books, buy two, get one free) won’t go beyond the 50% discount they’ve been offering for the last month.

    I don’t want the entire Live discography for $9 apiece; I might pay $2 apiece for it, though. And at the store I was it, the complete Live discography was about as good as it got.

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