Borders, the second-largest bookstore in the United States, has filed for bankruptcy and will close 200 of its 642 stores. It may close another 75 if the company can’t get concessions from landlords.
You might think Borders was the first major casualty of the digital book boom, but the store’s problems may actually be tied up in the previous digital revolution. An Engadget commenter who claims to be a former Borders employee makes a good point to that end:
“Borders made a big commitment to selling CDs & DVDs — large sections of the stores were devoted to this content in the 90s and early 00s. new stores were designed and built in an effort to give multimedia a large segment of the store space.
“In the end, Borders has failed because [its] stores got too big and the demand for CDs and DVDs dropped — there was just no way to pay the bills.”
Even Best Buy is cutting back on CD and DVD space these days, but while the electronics retailer has plenty of other hot products to populate its shelves, such as video games, computers, smartphones and tablets, Borders can only fall back on books. And that’s going to get trickier as e-books become more popular.
If Borders wants to survive now, it will need a better digital book strategy than the one it has.The couple stores I visited recently kept their Kobo and Cruz e-readers locked away, with no area for hands-on demos. By comparison, my local Barnes & Noble has a Nook kiosk at the front of the store, with an employee standing by to answer questions. I don’t expect Borders to develop its own e-reader now, but it should at least try harder to sell its partners’ hardware.
Not that it necessarily matters; Kobo, whose digital book store powered Borders’ e-book service, is taking the news in stride. Kobo Chief Executive Michael Serbinis wrote in a blog post that “Kobo is an independent, financially secure company,” and that Borders’ e-book sales represented “a minority of Kobo’s worldwide sales.” I get the sense that Borders needs Kobo a lot more than vice versa.