It’s hard not to feel badly for Borders - especially for its dedicated staff of hard working book people - and it’s certainly unfortunate for many readers all across America, not to mention authors and publishers. A longstanding member of the book community and a once-important component of the book ecosystem will be gone. The seeds of their destruction were sown over a very long period of time and reach back more than ten years to a period when Borders failed to invest in their supply chain to fully modernize their inventory and book buying systems. When I was in book wholesaling and distribution, it was pretty obvious that Borders was being eclipsed in logistics by Barnes & Noble. And when they failed to understand or adapt to the revolution of online commerce, outsourcing their website to Amazon (of all companies!) they pretty much sunk themselves. Mike Shatzkin has told this story on his blog, The Shatzkin Files very well - "Borders Crosses the Final Frontier" and Ed Nawotka writing for Publishing Perspectives has also gone into detail about the Borders story with a piece called "Bad Decisions, Worse Luck: How Borders Blew It."
This is not to say that the overall context of the changing book industry was not working against them. Borders, along with literally thousands of independent bookstores, faced an uphill battle trying to cope with a rapidly changing book economy and many other macro economic and social changes over the past dozen years. It’s literally true that only the strong, agile, intelligent and sometimes lucky ones survive in times like this.
And of course, every challenge presents opportunities for innovative and intelligent players to rise to the occasion. Don Linn has a new post at Bait ‘n’ Beer (Let’s Get it on Indie Booksellers) challenging independent booksellers and entrepreneurs to fill some of the voids left by the closing of so many Borders stores in communities that have supported profitable stores for years. I wish I could believe that this will happen, but I agree that there are plenty of ways that independent bookselling could be remade (and should be - a new localism would be a powerful rebuilder of community and integration in the face of alienation, displacement, and the disappointments that globalization and mass corporatization of America has brought us). My own approach would be to create bookstores based on the principles we have seen in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
So farewell Borders and here’s hoping we can learn from your mistakes.