A World Without Borders

There has been much hand-wringing in the media and on social networks over the announcement that Borders is going out of business. A lot of talk has been centered around the death of printed books and how the closing of Borders is a sign of this trend. Let me tell you a little secret: eBooks didn’t kill Borders

Mismanagement killed Borders

Lack of vision killed Borders

Failure to adapt killed Borders

It is clear that eBooks are changing the book publishing world just as digital music changed the recorded music business and the Internet changed the news publishing industry. And certainly businesses must adapt to the changing landscape. However, it doesn’t mean that eBooks are a certain death for printed books or stores that sell them.

While the growth of eBooks drove the final nail in the coffin for Borders, it wasn’t the eBook itself that killed Borders. Borders could have adapted to eBooks and even could have used eBooks to save the company. However, missing the eBook train was the last in a long line of mistakes the company made dating back to the early 1990’s

I read two articles back in January (one from Newsweek, the other from The Washington Post) that relayed the story of Borders, detailing the mistakes that took down the company, especially their lack of both Internet and eBook strategies.

The story of Borders is a case study in how technology can either create a business or destroy it. Borders came to prominence because of their technology. Their innovative software allowed the company to better predict which books consumers would want to buy and what to stock. This allowed Borders to create the model of a book superstore, offering not only bestsellers, but a plethora of harder-to-find titles. It is therefore ironic that what ultimately killed the company was the failure of Borders’ management to identify emerging technology and how it would change the competitive landscape.

Take the time to read the articles if they interest you. But ultimately, the moral of the story is that the bad guy isn’t technology. Change is inevitable. It is the inability or unwillingness of companies to adapt that leads to their failure. It is the story of Blockbuster. It is the story of Ultimate Electronics. It is the emerging story of RIM (Blackberry) … and maybe even the not-too-distant future story of Microsoft.

If anything, I believe the emergence of eBooks opens the door for smaller, local bookstores to successfully cater to those who seek printed books. They can provide services and the personal touch that big-box or Internet stores simply can’t. Perhaps, instead of mourning the death of Borders, we should be looking forward to the opportunity small business has in front of it.

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