How will Borders’ decision to display books with front covers facing out affect you, as author, agent, editor, or publicist?

Posted March 12th @ 12:15 pm by Roger C. ParkerPrint

An article in the March 12, 2008, Wall Street Journal describes Borders Bookstores decision to display books with front covers facing out poses several interesting challenges and opportunities for authors, literary agents, editors, and publicists. Front covers, as Kathi Dunn and Ron Hobart described on a recent interview for Published & Profitable members, play a major role in book sales. This was reinforced by Borders’ president, George Jones, quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, saying that their research indicated that titles with front covers experienced a 9% sales increase.

Yet, there is a penalty for that 9% sales increase. In order to devote more space to titles displayed front cover forward, the typical Border’s superstore will have to reduce the number of titles displayed from anywhere between 4,675 to 9,350 titles per store!

So, what does this mean for authors, agents, and editors?

  • For authors, agents, and editors, whose titles are displayed facing forward, it may mean 9% more sales per Borders outlet.
  • But, for those whose titles are cut from each store’s inventory, it means something else entirely, possibly a loss of visibility to casual shoppers who visit bookstores to scan the shelves and find out what’s available.

What do you think?

What’s your perspective? Who do you think has the most to gain, and who has the most to lose? I’d be interested to hear your comments. Does this change make your job easier or harder?


  1. Paul Swift
    March 12, 2008


    I’m no good at math (and please don’t post this innumerate comment) but the percentages (money-wise) seem to cancel each other out–9% increase on 10% less inventory.

    But I can spell. Make it Borders, not Border’s. Borders’ in the head, Borders in the text.


  2. Lou Bortone
    March 12, 2008

    Sounds like bad news for authors who self publish or have deals with smaller houses…

    All the more reason why writers need to work smarter and market much more creatively than ever.

    More reason why writer’s need folks like you, too!

    Lou Bortone

  3. Ron Peck
    March 12, 2008

    Yes, I would agree that face-out books are more attractive with a higher probability of getting purchased. However, space in any store and particular Borders, it will be almost impossible to place all books on the shelves face-out. Some technical books will be purchased because of the author and/or its needed content. Therefore front covers might or might not add much value.

    Not sure how one would make that determination for those techie books however.

    Personally I read the cover, inside cover and the back page before making a purchasing decision. However, before going to Borders (my favorite) I will do some internet checking with others like Barnes and Nobles, Amazon, etc. Therefore I am probably the exception for the amount of time spent reviewing the front cover live time then has been previously stated.

    Finally the design of the whole cover and especially the front and back page is extremely important for those looking to sell their book(s).

    Roger Parker has certainly thought through what is required from alpha to omega in writing a book to details about the cover jacket. As a novice and first time writer, having Roger Parker guidance with the WHOLE process is making things much more organized and logical. This does not mean easy. Thanks for all your help, support and direction.

  4. Stephanie Diamond
    March 12, 2008

    Roger, Because it will be harder for many authors to get shelf space in Borders, this should be seen as impetus for authors to really work on the online marketing and promotion of their book. Promotions will need to be more tactical and abundant to make up for lost book store sales. What was a necessity in today’s climate is only more so with this development.

  5. Hugo H. Troche Rasmussen
    March 12, 2008

    This will change the way you look at the book’s face design and generate a publisher & author pressure to be displayed in “selling mode”.
    In the long term books marketing will have to find a way to induce the buyer to go to Borders with specific books in mind.
    But the bottom line is the book content: Ddisplaying the book assures it will be reviewed by the buyer, not neccesarily buyed.
    The problem will be to find the good books ….

  6. Dan Janal
    March 12, 2008

    This is great news! People can’t judge a book by its spine.

    Showing the rich graphics, artwork and title create an image to the reader; and help build/reinforce the brand for the author.

  7. Raleigh Pinskey
    March 12, 2008

    Writing and promoting a book is often compared to birthing a child. Once it’s born you have to provide for its growth and development, and promote it to the outside world. I provide help to authors based on the principle of “How to Keep Your Book Alive.” This Borders announcement is not the best news, but then again not the worst news either. Yes, every avenue counts. However, statistics show that commercial bookstores contribute a small percentage to book sale numbers. Authors can take this opportunity to learn other strategies and platforms to “keep their book alive” and get their product/brand in front of their buying public. There are several great book promotion experts and Website stores filled with results oriented information on how to keep your book alive poised and happy to help educate you on the care and feeding of your book / audio..aka your child. In the long run it could be a great boon to the industry. Raleigh R. Pinskey

  8. Sarah Edwards
    March 12, 2008

    I would have to agree that books turn faced out in bookstores sell better. So if your book is one of those Borders decides to carry, you will sell more. With a growing number of books being sold online it is not as crucial as it once was to a Borders and B&N these days. When I go to a book store they rarely have the book I’m looking for. It’s much easier to order it online. There just isn’t enough shelf space be it filled face in or face out. So I don’t see it as a major problem for us as writers.

  9. Rick Curry
    March 12, 2008

    I agree with Ron Peck, when I am in the book store, Borders or others, I spend time with the front cover, inside jacket and back of the book. Depending on the book, I may also look at the table of contents and read at least part of the preface and maybe even a few pages from the middle area of the book to get a ‘feel’ for its style. All this to buy it.

    But when was the last time I was in a brick-n-mortar store? Hmmm, if memory serves me right, it was about a year ago last January. 90% of my books have been purchased online.

    There is also an assumption that Borders is making this decision without changing the shelving space. As a business owner and having experience in retailing, I would not make the implied decision — to simply reduce inventory to get 9% gain on some of my product. As Paul S. said, that simply balances out — sum zero. Instead, I would reduce the amount of space of open area even if it means removing some chairs/sofas to get that shelving in place and keep my inventory levels up defacto and still get the 9% gain.

    As for the small and self publishers, this will open new possibilities and could potentially bring back the mom & pop bookstores that I so dearly miss — where you could go and feel like you were more than a ‘customer’ making a sale.

  10. Mahesh Grossman
    March 12, 2008

    I wonder if Borders will be charging a fee to place books face out!

    But let’s pretend they won’t.

    Generally, books that sit on shelves spine out don’t sell unless people already know about the book.

    If they don’t sell in 90 days, the bookstore will return them.

    So you have to drive people to the store. Less shelf space will make it more competitive, so the authors who publicize and market will get the shelf space. And what this move does is reward the authors who publicize and market– with almost 10% greater sales than they would get ordinarily.

    Bad news for the folks who don’t do that– but in the age of the internet, there are plenty of other ways to get people to find your book without bookstores!

  11. Shel Horowitz
    March 12, 2008

    Lou and others say this will make it more difficult for self-published authors. I don’t think so, because physical bookstores are not that big a market for most self-pubbed authors in the first place–or even for second-string/midlist authors at major houses (I’m married to one of those, and used to be one).

    But those who get the face-out treatment will definitely benefit. It may not be company policy, but I’ve noticed that both my local B&Ns have put a lot more of the stock face out in the last year or two–because it definitely works.

    In fact, I tackle this issue directly in my seventh book, Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers–the book allocates two chapters to the bookstore system, and 15 chapters to other channels.

    –Shel Horowitz, copywriter/marketing and publishing consultant

  12. Mark Joyce
    March 13, 2008

    The shift toward showing more covers has already begun in Borders and is also evident at Barnes & Noble.

    Taken in the context of the information in the links below, the impact may even be greater than just a reduction in the number of titles in the store.

    The links indicate a significant shift in the mix of what Borders will be emphasizing, as they attempt to shift the “Borders experience” they provide for us. (In my Borders store, the number of computer titles on the shelves are about one-third of what they were five years ago.)

    New Concept Borders Store

    Preview of the New Concept Borders Store

    More on the New Borders Concept

    I think they need to think through the placement of cover-to-the-customer books in aisles.

    It would be better for authors if they placed these books on the top two (maybe three) shelves on two adjacent 4-5 shelf cases, than on all 4 or five shelves.

    The reason: You can’t readily read (if at all) the titles on the lower shelves. The shelves were designed to accommodate the depth of books. (I suppose that creates a potential market for fold-and-tab cardboard spacers to push the books forward. Hmmm…)

  13. Terry Whalin
    March 13, 2008

    I agree with Raleigh that this article in the Wall Street Journal is a mixture of good news and bad news. The bad news from my view is there will be less physical titles from publishers in the bookstore. The good news for the consumers is the books will be easier to see.

    The answer for any author from my view is to learn how to take an active role in the promotion of their book–whether it is in the bookstore or not. It continues to surprise me the number of published authors who have no plans or drive in this area–then they wonder why no one knows about their book. Continual promotion is the author’s responsibility. I recently wrote about this responsibility in my blog on the Writing Life:

  14. John Kremer
    March 13, 2008

    The new Borders policy should help smaller publishers and unknown authors, because they are responsible for many of the best books out there. Those are the books, if Borders is smart, that will get face-out display.

    I expect that we’ll do fine with Borders’ new policy. In some ways it will be a god-send because we won’t have to deal with the returns from the books they were not about to sell anyway. And have less returns from the greater sales of the books they do choose to feature face-out.

    John Kremer, author, 1001 Ways to Market Your Books

  15. Dick Bolles
    March 13, 2008

    My first thought, on reading this, is that online bookstores (Amazon, B&N, etc.) never display just the spine of a book. They always show the front cover.

    So, this move seems more like leveling the playing ground between online vs. bricks and mortar bookstores.

    People like John Kremer, Shel Horowitz, and Raleigh R. Pinskey have been telling us for ages that we authors need to take charge of our own marketing. Bookstore displays are only one of many avenues open to us.

    Thinking out what’s unique about each of our books (i.e., “branding”) will ultimately trump front covers.

    - Dick Bolles, author, What Color Is Your Parachute? 10,000,000 copies sold

  16. Jan V. White
    March 13, 2008

    Take advantage of the displayed front cover by making it useful, not just pretty. Magazines insist on having “coverlines” to persuade the potential buyer why they need this issue. All that type spoils the picture, but it fulfills its function of selling.

    Authors and book-designers must pass beyond the old image of what a book is s’posed-to be, i.e., a “creative” symbolic visual that’ll look good in a full-page ad in the New York Times book review. They must expose the book’s subject and content so the casual passer-by realizes at first glance why they need this product. Clever title and punning image are not enough. You need good old words, and as many of them as will do the job.

  17. Jan V. White
    March 13, 2008

    Oh yes: Jan V. White, design guru, author of Editing by Design and a whole bunch of other books on the process of communication in print.

  18. Jere Calmes
    March 13, 2008

    Possible results of Borders move:

    1. Actually will increase those faced out books
    2. They will order less titles
    3. adversely affect smaller publishers
    4. Good for good selling books, should increase sales
    5. More effective in fiction, children, specialty, but not so good for business books (new)
    Overall gutsy and good move for them.
    Jere Calmes
    Entrepreneur Press
    2445 McCabe Way, Suite 400
    Irvine, CA 92614

  19. Jeffrey Fox
    March 13, 2008

    Roger: Retailers of any product should merchandise their products in those ways that increase sales. Generating more profitable revenues is the responsibility of retailers…to their owners and employees. Cereal boxes and pickles and pasta packages are always displayed face out. Batteries and bath hardware are displayed face out. CD’s are displayed face out. Clothing retailers display their products shoulder out, which is why those clothes displayed in the store or in the window sell more.

    Authors know, or should know, that one might not be able to tell a book by its cover, but customers buy a book by its cover. So, what’s a book cover? It is the title, perhaps a sub-title, the graphics, size of book, reputation of the author.

    Thus, authors and publishers must learn to be consumer package goods marketers. They have to hire talent from P&G, and other people who know how to generate impulse purchases and consumer demand. Unfortunately, many publishers are C-grade marketers, and have a million excuses as to why they act the way they do.

    Publishers rarely, if ever, do market research. They never test package graphics. Gillette marketers would never introduce a new razor without getting a deep understanding of the impact of the package on purchase motivation.

    Other book retailers will follow B&N’s leadership because they will sell more books, have reduced merchandise, less returns, and all kinds of benefits.

    Selling books is like selling candy, wine, artwork, although publishers will probably disagree.

    All the best, Jeffrey Fox

  20. Rick Frishmn
    March 13, 2008

    I agree with Jeffrey-
    We have to think like Kelloggs. The return rate on books is crazy- averaging 46%- We get the books on the shelves and they come back! What a crazy industry. We have to get less books out on the shelves – and then SELL THEM!
    We have a 8% return rate at Morgan James Publishing-because we only publish authors who know about PR and selling. I wish they sold as many as our friend Jeffrey Fox- but they are learning from him!

  21. Spencer Smith
    March 13, 2008

    Obviously we would like all books to be displayed face out but that doesn’t happen in any book store. The books that will be squeezed off the shelves by this proposed trade-off will be the slow-moving or specialist titles that benefit less from face-out display. If you want a special interest title you always have had to be willing to search through the spines–or search on Amazon.

  22. C.J. Hayden
    March 13, 2008

    If the result of this move is fewer titles on the shelves, as seems likely, it’s a strong impetus for authors to strategize on how to create ongoing backlist sales. It’s already common for a new title to spend less than 3 months in brick-and-mortar stores, then only be available online and directly from the publisher and/or author thereafter.

    Without really strong sales in the first quarter, your book disappears from the stores completely. But, you can get it back on the shelves if you have consistent backlist sales. That’s exactly what happened to me with Get Clients Now! A year after publication, it was only available online, but two years later it was back in the stores because of ongoing demand.

    I think too many authors put all their emphasis on the launch and don’t make a plan for how to keep sales going year after year.

  23. Book marketing newbie
    March 14, 2008

    Well, this seems a little over the top. Don’t most books already have covers? If they didn’t, I doubt that Borders would order or carry it as they are a large chain. Just seems like a way to eliminate certain books and carry only the ones that the big companies spend money on promoting and on positioning.

  24. David L Hancock
    March 14, 2008

    As you can image this is really good news attached to really serious consequences.

    Everyone knows books face out draw more attention and sell more copies. Cereal companies and grocery stores figured that out decades ago.

    So it is really good that Borders has seen the light… but… the really bad news is now even less of the 700 books published each day will get shelve placement in Borders.

    Borders has been traditionally good to us at Morgan James, but it will still affect us, as it will every publisher. This likely means that Borders will begin raising their prices for cover out placement. You know, the whole supply and demand thing.

    But since you are an Entrepreneurial Author, fear not. You know that physical bookstore sales only represent a very small portion of overall sales and a very small portion of the overall big picture of leveraging the book to grow your business and your position in the marketplace.

  25. Matt Wagner
    March 14, 2008

    With Amazon and online sales accounting for more and more backlist and so called “long-tail” sales, this is probably an inevitable result as the brick and mortar stores try to generate more turns per square foot, i.e. more sell-through. It’s good news for my bestsellers, not necessarily good news for the rest of my list.

  26. Joni Lacroix
    March 14, 2008

    Has anyone heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” I am more interested in a selection of books, not just pretty graphics. Although maybe now we need to ask whether quality over quantity is better? I am losing my own argument here…

  27. Julie Isaac
    March 23, 2008


    When the Mega bookstores came, many independent bookstores disappeared. Now, with and Wal-Mart taking away a lot of their business, Borders has set record losses in the last two years (although a lot of last year’s loss came from selling the U.K. and Irish arms of their business). This past Thursday Borders announced that they are open to merger or sale. So the fact that Borders is changing with the times and going more digital, as well as trying to increase revenues by setting more books face-out on the shelf, is a good thing. Change, evolution, survival– call it what you will. I’d rather have less books in the bookstores, than less bookstores to go to. As convenient as is, it is no substitute for the joy of walking through a bookstore surrounded by thousands of books, and being able to pick one up and leaf through it.

    As far as these face-out books go, it’s more than simply curiosity, ease, or cover art that makes us pay more attention to these books. While they do naturally stand out and catch the eye, we’ve also been carefully trained to look at them. There are shelves and shelves of “new books” and “bestselling books” and “staff favorites” that are all face-out. The same with the tables highlighting certain categories or sales items. We have been trained for years that face-out books are special, and perhaps more worthy of a closer look.

    What does having more face-out books, but less books overall mean to authors? That first-time authors and specialty books will have an even harder time getting into bookstores. But as other commenter’s have already mentioned, finding specialty books is easier on the web, anyway, and first-time authors have always had a challenging time selling their books.

    Whether we like it, or not, times have changed. Even when you’re published by a traditional publisher, you get very little marketing support. A publisher may be able to get your book out into the bookstores, but it’s up to you to market your book like crazy to get people to go there and buy it.

    As an author you have a choice how to look at this. You can be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the marketing arena, or you can recognize how empowering this change really is. If you study the history of bestselling books and authors, there’s one thing that most of them have in common—they marketed their books non-stop. They made their own success. And so can you. The best part is that you don’t have to put boxes of books in your trunk, and drive around the country like some of them did. All you have to do is master your marketing skills (and there’s plenty of help for that, now, including here on; get on the Internet (with gas prices the way they are, virtual book tours are a triple blessing); and, yes, step out into the world and give a class, speech, or reading every once in a while.

    It’s an exciting time in book publishing, with more ways to publish and market than ever. So Borders’ change of policy is simply the next evolutionary step, and will be a further inspiration to authors to get busy and market, market, market.

    Julie Isaac

  28. Rob Lebow
    March 26, 2008

    The World Has Changed…Not for the better or the worse…Change is the ever-present element in our lives and adjusting to change is a given…it’s not an option…So, the energy around this discussion should be how an author’s strategy for marketing his or her book will adapt to the ever changing markets, winds and frailties…Here is mine…I bought a “push-cart” and I’m on the road…Best Wishes…to all!

  29. Sharon Bailey
    April 30, 2008

    I wanted to know how to publish a book of short stories and poems, and whether Border’s would sell it. Thank You

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