Friday, February 20, 2015

Help save Borderlands!!

In a real-life reenactment of the movie Empire Records (only without Liv Tyler), a grassroots effort is being launched to save Borderlands Books, the coolest sci-fi bookstore I know. The basic idea is that you can buy a membership (called a "sponsorship") for $100.

You get some cool benefits from being a Borderlands sponsor, potentially including:

  • Reserved seating at author events
  • The ability to rent the cafe and / or bookstore outside of normal operating hours for private events at cost (which is roughly $25 to $100 per hour)
  • Invitations to a quarterly gathering at the cafe where you can socialize with other sponsors, members of Borderlands' staff and occasional special guests
  • Access to preview sales of rare and collectable books whenever we make a large acquisition
  • The opportunity to purchase occasional items produced by us for sponsors and not offered to the general public (such as limited Ripley prints, chapbooks, and so forth)
  • A selection of unique apparel and accessories showing your status as a sponsor and not available to the general public
  • Invitations to sponsor-only events, like small gatherings with authors, exclusive writing workshops, and more
Obviously these things are more valuable if you live in the Bay Area, or visit frequently.

This is what's called a "quasi-public good". By supporting Borderlands, you help support a business you like for reasons other than the value of the goods and services you buy from it directly. Think of "fair trade" coffee as an analogue. Borderlands creates positive externalities by bringing together the nerd/geek community in downtown San Francisco. By becoming a sponsor, you donate to help preserve this positive externality, and receive some services in return as well.

To become a Borderlands sponsor, you just have to call and give them your credit card info (or mail a check). I did it this afternoon. Here's the specific info:
To pay in person, just come into the store anytime between noon and eight and inquire at the counter. To pay by credit card, please call 415 824-8203 or toll-free at 888 893-4008 during the same hours (please be patient if you get a busy signal as we only have two phone lines).  To pay by check, please send the check to - Borderlands Books, Sponsorships, 866 Valencia St.  SF  CA 94110 and make sure to include your phone number, email address, and mailing address.
The people at Borderlands, and their far-flung network of allies, are thinking of additional schemes for keeping the store afloat. One obvious scheme is to open an Amazon store or other e-commerce store (currently the store sells online through Biblio but does not have its own infrastructure in place for shipping large volumes of orders). This could potentially be combined with a membership fee, like what Audible does, so that you get one book per month for a year.

If anyone has any other bright ideas for saving Borderlands, please leave them in the comments! I know there are lots of people with more business savvy than myself (or most of those involved with this effort) who read this blog. Lend your wisdom!


  1. Anonymous7:07 PM

    Borderlands could add a sponsor-only section of its website with exclusive content and discussion forum. This would not require much additional cost, could entice people to become sponsors, and does not depend on physical proximity to the store.

  2. A very old-fashioned approach (which you hinted at near the end) was the book club. You pay a membership rate and get a book every week/month/whatever. There may or may not also be meetups/events/discussion groups for each book. This allows bulk ordering of the books which might reduce costs, and doesn't add noticeably to the required required retail space. A variant is to send people, say, 2 books a month and let them pick the 1 they prefer. The reject can be returned & used to stock the shelves at the store. Making the books high-end gilt/leather bound can increase margins & draw in wealthy people who are less interested in reading than decorating their walls.

    But, I've been out of publishing for a few years, so I don't know if this strategy still works at all.

  3. 1) BoardGame Friday Night -- Face to face boardgame playing of multiple games with multiple parties, and books to browse while waiting for next game (if you've gone Monopoly bankrupt). Full cost non-members, half-cost members (first time free? half-price?) Maybe all night long? Maybe require at least 2 member trained volunteer organizers to take care of the shop (while on-site owner/ manger sleeps).

    2) Sell coffee, wine/beer, snacks, deserts; small but popular selection of high profit items.

    1. Great!! Actually yeah, a bunch of us have floated the idea of turning the cafe into a gamer hangout at night.

  4. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Noah, you great fan of science fiction and of armchair philosophy of science, it has been three days since Leonard Nimoy died and no eulogy from you? You have no thoughts on how Mr. Spock did or did not accurately reflect science? I'm surprised by your silence.