Borders is Toast–But Don’t Blame E-Books

By  |  Monday, July 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm

And so it ends. Borders, which went bankrupt and announced plans to close hundreds of  stores last February, is going to finish the job. Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers are buying what’s left of the chain, and plan to liquidate the 399 remaining stores and lay off 11,000 employees. (The companies specialize in buying up once-mighty brands: they also acquired Polaroid and The Sharper Image.)

It’s tempting to blame e-books for Borders’ death. Amazon released the first Kindle in 2007; Barnes & Noble, while slow to respond, came up with the Nook two years later. Borders, however, only dabbled in e-books–selling Sony e-readers at first (via kiosks that shoppers always seemed to ignore when I checked) and more recently partnering with Canadian e-book company Kobo. The last time I was in a Borders, which was last week, the first thing I encountered when I entered was a great big table of Kobo readers. But it was clearly far too little, far too late.

But while the rise of the Kindle and its competitors may have helped do the chain in, electronic books clearly didn’t start Borders on its death spiral. The company been ailing for years–and shuttering stores along the way–and its strategies for getting healthy usually seemed to make things worse. I mean it wasn’t until 2007 that it decided that it made sense to have its own Web site rather than to outsource online sales to archrival Amazon.com. How hard would it have been to figure out that the Internet was going to be kinda important?

While Borders was busy giving the Web and e-books short shrift, it was also doubling down on the notoriously tricky business of running brick-and-mortar superstores. Until late 2010, San Francisco had four Borders stores–three of which were within a mile and a half of each other. I’m no retailing genius, but I couldn’t figure out how the city could support so many giant bookstores in so little space. Now we know it couldn’t: the three ones that were practically neighbors are all gone now, and the last store will close as part of the final shutdown.

(Borders’ smarter-but-also-challenged rival, Barnes & Noble, only had one store in San Francisco, although that, too, is now gone; there will be no major chain bookstores in the city once the last Borders is history. We’re lucky, though–a bunch of excellent independent stores which managed to survive the Borders/Barnes & Noble era are still with us.)

At the end, my local Borders was a truly odd place, with ratty carpets, rows of empty shelves, a CD section that practically had tumbleweeds rolling through it, and space dedicated to off-topic stuff such as noisy Dungeons & Dragons tournaments. I still shopped there, but I knew it was marking time.

Bottom line: If e-books didn’t exist, I’m pretty positive that Borders would have still collapsed in much the same way. It might have cratered even if the Internet had never been invented. I’m sorry to see it go, and particularly sorry for the folks who will be out of work. But the market worked. Borders is dying because it simply wasn’t very good at selling books in the 21st century.

 
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39 Comments For This Post

  1. Lisa Huffling Says:

    goodbye borders! everyone is on ebook. in the future no one will read printed books. they will be considered collector’s item. -lisa @ newport city condo

  2. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    I was working at a bookstore in 1995 when Amazon came in, and all they sold at that time was books. I asked management what are their plans with regards to the Internet? They said "huh?" Many in publishing are still saying "huh?"

  3. JELorenz Says:

    “..rather than to outsource online sales to archival Amazon.com.” Did you really mean archival or arch rival?

  4. Peter Says:

    Don't be confused by shareholders who are befuddled to learn it's no longer 1994. Print continues to rake it in. Newspapers, books, you name it. Return on investment outstrips any number of the so-called legacy businesses.

  5. SirWired Says:

    FWIW, games like Dungeons & Dragons are not entirely "off-topic." Each player usually must purchase at least one (and most have many more) books, each of which often retail for $30+.

  6. Stilgar Says:

    I live/work in Michigan (where Borders HQ is). We interviewed a Borders employee. This person said that Borders has a phone number to call everyday where an automated recording would tell you if you were laid off or not.

  7. Fred Zimmerman Says:

    Yes – I think people don't appreciate enough that Gary Gygax was a genius *as an indie publisher*.

  8. The_Heraclitus Says:

    The number of book stores in the populated area I live in has been declining since the early 80's. eBooks didn't start this trend.

  9. Letting Glasgow Says:

    Short & sweet

  10. troktiko Says:

    yes STOP Blame the e-books , is better than a real book!!!

  11. taneagr Says:

    I love this article, Keep the comming mate.

  12. Nuratrim Says:

    Yes, you're right we should not blame ebooks.

  13. top kids fun site Says:

    The above comment is about right.One has to run with the times and find ways to be competitive in a tough market.Businesses folding is regrettable but inevitable

  14. Healthy Says:

    Its a tough world for us all out there,just gotta get on with it

  15. auto repair answers Says:

    Thanks for the information.
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    E-book is one of the greatest inventation of 21st century! (via auto repair answers)

  16. Basenfasten Says:

    ebooks are totally different so it's not fair to blame them. Books will always be there no matter if ebooks are getting more popular or not.

  17. removal jobs Says:

    Paper books are by far better than e-books. But maybe i am a bit oldfashionate.

  18. Resume Templates Says:

    yes, e-book snatched the place of printed book. Now-a-days very few people preferred reading printed book. but I myself prefer paper book.

  19. ResumeTemplatesfree Says:

    and forgot to mention that I recently got job in Barnes & Noble. I am quite exciting about my new job.

  20. Nuratrim reviews Says:

    I couldn’t figure out how the city could support so many giant bookstores in so little space.

  21. corombo Says:

    that's great
    i like it
    really like it

  22. Manly Sydney Says:

    Agreed Borders would have closed anyway.

  23. jackson Says:

    yes, e-book snatched the place of printed book. Now-a-days very few people preferred reading printed book. but I myself prefer paper book.
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  24. supersmoker Says:

    I never thought of using ebooks until I got me a kiddle for christmas. Actually I cannot imagine how I didn't like it first. ebooks are great and definately CAN make printed books look old fashion.

  25. No Deposit Insurance Says:

    This is a sad news but I am personally an audiophile person and it is more convenient for me to have them than compared to physical books and stuff.

  26. Healthy Says:

    Tobehonest i'm not surprised as ebooks are so much cheaper than regular paperback books. It seems like it's going to be the end of the high street. We will all be buying from our favourite online stores Health and Safety Consultants & Advisors

  27. Lancome mascara Says:

    With the new kindle and nook out recently expect the bookstore to be empty. Paperbacks nowadays is good for decorating your library. :)

  28. quit smoking Says:

    Dont forget the ever powerful ipad and galaxy tablets.

  29. Private House Sales Says:

    This is why Amazon are spending Millions on readers.

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  31. Corporate Says:

    When it comes to buying books I always found borders compared to barne and noble was far too expensive and in all fairness not somewhere I woud buy books from Corporate Team Building

  32. cancun packages Says:

    e-books is the reason. you can't ignore that fact. with a lot of tablets into the market, libraries and bookstores will included in the list of endangered species.

  33. orerarak2564 Says:

    i still find it hard to read on tablets. i can't last for more than an hour reading. the good part is that more trees are saved because less paper is consumed.

  34. Marty Says:

    Amazon offers ebooks that are so much cheaper compared to that paper thing readable books. I'll jus go online and have my own ebook purchase. Best Semi-Pro Digital SLR Cameras

  35. florist penang Says:

    looks like physical books don't have any future any more.E-books and e-books reader will be used in the future.

  36. wedding photographer Says:

    more stores to shutdown soon enough.only the strong and the lucky one will survived.

  37. florist in penang Says:

    too bad border goes bankrupt.i like to read physical books.

  38. budget hotel penang Says:

    borders must change with technology but somehow they lagged.

  39. florist kuala lumpur Says:

    books will still be available but not in high quantities in the future.