It’s a little odd for people to be writing about the end of the bookstore chain Borders when it has only declared chapter 11 bankruptcy and not chapter 7 liquidation. I still hold out hope that the chain will survive, albeit in a smaller form.
I have to root for Borders- it’s a Michigan-based chain, started in Ann Arbor. I’ve always liked the store over its rival, Barnes and Noble. I remember when I was living in the Washington, DC area in the mid-90s and I would spend hours in a few stores in the area, especially the one in Rockville.
Eli Leher remembers Borders fondly. He also believes he had a part in its downfall:
At it’s prime, Borders did a great thing: it provided a place where people could buy nearly any piece of recently published or classic literature or music and hang out for hours on end without any overt pressure to buy. Its welcoming, even comfortable interiors were a wonderful respite from loud, overly bright stores geared towards speed of sales rather than the browsing that good books demand. Its reading groups and arts events—Chicago stores often featured pretty good jazz groups—offered a real cultural outlet. Borders did a lot more good than bad and forced its competitor, Barnes and Noble, to match these perks.
All that said, I’m partly responsible for Borders’ demise. When I lived across the street from a Borders and cut through it every morning on my way to the metro, I spent well over $100 there most months. When Amazon started “Prime” service, these visits slowed to a trickle. When the Kindle came out (around the time I moved away from that Borders) I stopped buying hardcopy books altogether.
I would agree that the advent of Amazon and e-readers like the Kindle have made bricks and mortar stores obsolete, but I also think the damage done to Borders was just as much the fault of Borders than it was technology. The bookstore chain was slow to getting online and even today, it’s web presence is not that great. Recently, I was looking to purchase a book and wanted to see if I could buy it at the Borders website. The price for that book was twice as much as it was on Amazon. Borders wasn’t even close to being competative with the Amazon. If the chain wants to survive, it’s going to have to make the website on par with Amazon and be ready to play hardball.
Barnes and Noble saw the handwriting on the wall and has been able to keep up with Amazon, not only on the web, but also in the e-reader market with its own machine- the Nook.
Will Borders survive? Well, it’s too soon to write its obituary, but if it fails to face the future, it will go the way of Circuit City.