In the Twilight of a post-Potter world, Borders makes a run for teen readers

Borders Group (BGP), the second-largest bookseller in the U.S., recently unveiled Borders Ink, a store section that will target teen readers. By the end of August, the retailer hopes to have the sections in 80 to 90 percent of its 513 superstores.

A few years ago, the idea of a bookstore specifically aimed at teens would have seemed laughable. Given the demographic's reputation for limited attentiveness and fascination with TV, book retailers have traditionally ghettoized young-adult fiction, either placing it in the children's section or refusing to carry it altogether.
Then came Harry Potter. And in the wake of that hurricane, it's become clear that one of the biggest things separating teens from the printed word is an industry that has long neglected its adolescent audience. Faced with the ignominy of leafing through stacks of Horton Hears a Who and The Hungry Caterpillar, many status-conscious adolescent customers might have been inclined to take their interests elsewhere.

Ironically, just as Borders is banking on the appeal of books, Borders Ink will replace the CDs and DVDs that the chain is hoping to supplant. As audio and video sales increasingly migrate online, the retailer hopes Borders Ink will be a better use of its floor space.

The new initiative makes a lot of sense. In addition to centralizing its graphic-novel, fantasy, and young-adult lit into one area, the move will help it expand its offering of lit-branded items like magnets, pencil boxes, and bookmarks. In the wake of Harry Potter, Twilight, The Golden Compass, and other popular youth-oriented novels, the book-related ephemera market has exploded.

Beyond this, however, marketers are beginning to recognize just how huge the young-adult lit market is. In 2008, the segment earned $659.1 million; this year, even with the recession, it's on track to increase revenues by 13 percent. If it achieves this increase, young adult lit will comprise almost 8 percent of the bookselling market.

In many ways, Borders Ink is a Frankenstein's monster. As any fan of From Hell, The Road to Perdition, or A History of Violence could attest, classifyng graphic novels as a teen genre can be something of a stretch. For that matter, the dark perspectives and often-bleak themes of the Harry Potter and Twilight books guaranteed that they resonated far beyond the 13-to-18 age group.

In many ways, however, this is reflective of the larger paradox of the teen literature market. As far back as Judy Blume -- if not J.D. Salinger -- the battle has raged between the books that adults consider appropriate for teens and the books that teens want to read. If Borders Ink can navigate this treacherous passage without alienating either party, the retailer may have found the key to big recessionary revenues.
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