- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

NEW YORK

The Borders Group chain, which has been struggling to stay in business, is seeking renewal through the timeless art of “hand-selling” books.

In January, soon after CEO Ron Marshall was hired, Borders began an independent-style strategy on a superstore scale. With thousands of titles from which to choose, the idea was to select a few works favored by Borders national sales officials and promote them nationwide in the spirit of a local seller, from prominent placement to personally advocating (“hand-selling”) books in stores.

Borders calls it a “make” book program.

“There has to be the in-house passion,” Kathryn Popoff, Borders’ vice president for trade books, says. “So we ask the buyer (sales official) to write a letter and work with other buyers and work with publishers to get advance copies to the store so the people there can read it and share that passion.”

So far, four titles have been selected: Jeffrey Zaslow’s nonfiction chronicle of the lifelong bond between 11 Iowa women, “The Girls From Ames”; Jamie Ford’s debut novel, “On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”; the paperback of David Benioff’s World War II novel, “City of Thieves”; and the paperback for Kelly Corrigan’s “The Middle Place,” a memoir about enduring breast cancer.

All four books have been best-sellers, and publishers have credited Borders with either being an early factor in the book’s success or a key in turning a hit into a major hit.

Borders has featured books selected by its own people before, through its book club and other programs. But Miss Popoff says the current strategy is more aggressive and more focused, with no more than two titles chosen at a time, compared to the 35 suggested monthly for the book club.

In a Borders earnings call held in April, Mr. Marshall cited “The Middle Place” as a prime “make” book. He noted that the memoir was not a big seller in hardcover, but still was designated as a likely paperback hit after Borders officials saw a video Miss Corrigan had posted online.

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