Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on the Demise of Borders

I just finished doing some research into the history of the Borders Bookstore chain, which of course began liquidating its stores last Friday.

I learned that it was founded by two college students as a single small independent used-book bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI, in 1971.

I LOVE small indie bookstores--the ones that still survive and haven't been driven out of business by retailing giants (like Borders!)--there's always such a good feeling about them.

Anyway, the business grew and grew until it was bought by KMart in 1992 and then spun off as its own company, Borders Group.

Although for the most part I despise the traditional brick-and-mortar American publishing establishment, I've got a soft spot for retailing giant Borders, because I always liked their stores.

The one in LA in Westwood, in particular, was just such a nice place to browse, work on my laptop, sip coffee and eat snacks, and just generally hang out. The people in the stores I visited were always friendly and knowledgeable, and I liked the fact that, unlike Barnes & Noble, Borders carried music CDs (with headphones and listening kiosks) and software.

Now that's all history, with the last of the stores expected to shut down in September.

Most folks are attributing the fall of Borders to ebooks and sites like Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble. Borders didn’t change with the times, they say, and so the company went the way of the dinosaurs—which is what happens when you don’t change and keep up.

When I heard someone on the radio say Borders was still operating in 2011 with a pre-Internet 1990s business model, I wondered why its executives didn’t follow the lead of Barnes and Noble and get into ebooks. But then I learned that in 2008 Borders signed an agreement with Lulu to distribute self-published ebooks through the Borders Web site. And in 2010, Borders opened an online ebook store and provided ebook readers and apps in conjunction with Kobo.

Apparently this was too little, too late. 

Would getting into epublishing sooner and creating its own ereading device have saved Borders? I don't know. But I do suspect its execs had a head-in-the-sand attitude about the danger presented by ebooks in general and self-published ebooks in particular. I suspect they thought we self-pubbing authors were a fad, and would fail, and would just go away. If so, obviously they were wrong.

One online blogger positively cheered at the demise of Borders, saying the stores were poorly organized and the employees were idiots.

That's the exact opposite of my experience. I don't like the fact that Borders' cut-rate prices contributed to the deaths of many indie bookstores, but I did like Borders.

I'm sorry to see the stores go, and I especially feel terrible that all those people at Borders lost their jobs, especially the nice friendly people who worked for low wages in the stores.

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