Don't Feel Too Bad About Borders

It's sad to see a bookstore close forever, but in this case, it's just not that sad

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Today Borders stores will begin liquidating their wares. Liquidation, that's a depressing word; very final. The closure of a national chain that sells something as beloved as books and the layoffs of 10,700 people generally elicits feelings of nostalgia and sadness. But, even Gizmodo's Brian Berrett, who very badly wanted to make fun of the dying bookstore feels a little bit bad about it all. "Just when the snarkbot in me wanted to giggle at Borders like a great big jerk, they go and send this genuinely heartfelt farewell message. In summary: they got their butts kicked, and they're sorry. So am I." We may feel sorry for Borders. But should we really feel that bad for them? No. They did themselves in, and others will benefit from their dissolution.

Many, including Borders, have attributed the closure of the chain to the inevitable demise of bookstores as digital retail dominates the market. "The headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, e-reader revolution and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now," Borders President Mike Edwards said in its corporate communication note about the impending closure.  A series of technological and cultural shifts has caused the store's demise, it's obvious to The Atlantic's Derek Thompson. "And now, 40 years after Borders Book Shop opened, Borders Inc. is closing, undone by a perfect storm of book digitization, the growth of Amazon, and an inability to turn a brick-and-mortar company into a zeros-and-ones business"

However, the digital retail revolution doesn't fully explain the company's failure. Other similar organizations, like Barnes & Noble, have adapted, as Slate's Annie Lowry explains,

Other companies have adapted to the e-reader revolution, and even benefited from it. Other companies have changed to fit the new bookselling paradigm. And other companies are dealing with the drawn-out aftereffects of the recession. The better reason for its demise is that Borders had long lost its competitive edge on many fronts, from corporate strategy to coffee.

Borders botched its relationship with the Internet, by outsourcing online sales to Amazon; they neglected e-books until just a year ago; they expanded their DVD and CD sections of their stores as sales for those items dropped; and expanded their physical stores when people migrated to the Internet, explains Lowrey. "In the end, you could blame the Internet for Borders' downfall. Retail has become a challenging, if not outright terrible, business, regardless of what you are selling. But, again, other companies adapted. Borders just didn't."

These bad decisions came from messy management, argues BNET's John Baldoni, "I think it is fair to call Borders’ demise a failure of leadership. Its executive team never seemed to get the essence of booking selling and book buying in the 21st century. As such the Borders brand, for those who knew it, withered and eventually died."

Even if Borders brought on its own demise, those who value the tactile experience of perusing books inside a well-lit store, might mourn its loss. But, bookstore culture still exists. In fact, Borders closing means good news for independent bookshops, reports the Wall Street Journal's Sarah Needleman.

BookPeople Inc. of Austin, Texas, used to compete with three Borders book stores in town until late last year when they shuttered. For the month of June, BookPeoples’s sales were up 3% from the same period in 2010, and so far they’re up 7.5% this month compared with the first three weeks of July 2010, says co-owner Steve Bercu. “We’ve picked up business from people who use to shop at Borders,” he says. “That’s self reported by people telling our staff.”

So books and even bookstores will soldier on. The best place to direct your sympathy is to the human casualties of this liquidation. There are thousands of laid-off employees as well as writers and publishers who now have one less big retailer to buy advance copies of their titles, as Kathleen Schmidt, a book publicity firm owner explained in a series of tweets collected by Business Insider: "Here's how the Border's closing will impact publishers... If you're an author with first print 30k (a lot), you prob don't have price clubs or Target. You have B&N, Amazon, Borders, and indies. Now take Borders OUT of that 1st print equation... that 30k turns into 15k." Then again, maybe these publishers should learn from Borders' mistakes and adapt to the new digital market.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.