Borders bankruptcy offers warning for stagnant businesses

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In one of the worst kept secrets in business, Borders has now filed for bankruptcy. Borders was once considered one of the evil monsters of the industry when they, along with Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, were blamed for killing the local independent bookstore. But Borders itself was undone by the popularity of e-books, Amazon.com and Costco Wholesale.

I haven’t seen a single word about the importance of Costco as a bookseller in any of the reports I’ve read about the Borders bankruptcy. Costco’s Pennie Clark Ianniciello is actually one of the most influential bookbuyers in the country. And the warehouse club has done a great job of selling a massive volume of books almost as afterthought on those 2 tables they set up in the middle of the store.

As for Borders, they will now have to attempt to operate moving forward as a shadow of what they were just a few years ago, following the closures of hundreds of stores to come.

In business, you have to continually change your stripes or you’re doomed. Take Amazon. They were considered yesterday’s news as an online seller of hardcopy books at the start of the e-reader era. So what did they do? They went and developed the Kindle, their most successful product ever, and that in turn has hastened the decline of the traditional book.

At the same time, Amazon also became a mass market retailer of all kinds of good. I’ve even read they’re experimenting with grocery delivery now! Their leadership never stops reinventing the company to deal with ever-changing business conditions.

But back to the book business, the indie book stores that were decimated by the superstores will live on and actually see new blood come into the market. There are really 2 reasons for this. Some people will always prefer real books to e-books. And customers may be looking for expertise in a particular area.

When my wife and I were in London, we went to a bookseller that only carried scripts by playwrights, that was their specialty. Expect to see more specialty book retailers, especially in major metro areas.

The question in business is not what are conditions like today, but what will they be next year and the year after that and the year after…and how do you adjust to those conditions?

It was clear to many that Borders was headed in the wrong direction when they sold their rights to sell books electronically. Instead of facing the future, they buried their head in the sand. Now, as a result, they may not have any future to face!



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