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Borders Bookstores No More

Updated on November 19, 2015

Yes, in fact it happened, Borders bookstores closed its doors and made their final curtain call after serving millions of customers for more than 40 years!

This farewell departure was ushered in by several converging factors.

The Internet and Technology

The prolific force of the Internet giving online access to books, magazines, newspapers and other informational products placed it on the chopping block.

In an ironic twist of fate, ten years ago Borders reached out to now behemoth Amazon to develop its online presence. That move to outsource such a critical operation was the beginning of the end.

At the time, it was under tremendous pressure to regain profitability which was based on the old school business model of the bigger the physical footprint the bigger the profits. This assumption could not have been further from the truth.

To add further insult to injury, during the last five years the eReader revolution began to take hold and dominate the marketplace.

A growing number of customers who once only made purchases inside a store now began to read from such electronic devices as Amazon’s Kindle to Barnes and Noble’s Knook.

Furthermore, the arrival of Apple’s resurgence with its I-Pad and its other competitors internet based tablets was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Changing Customer

It’s fair to point out that customers themselves have tactically contributed to the demise of Borders. An evolving pattern of undermining the physical bookstore sales model has been occurring for the past decade.

They range from the loyal “customers” who met with friends over coffee several times a week and never purchase so much as a newspaper during the entire year.

Then there are the “patrons” who visited on numerous occasions to completely read a $30 dollar hard back classic book from cover to cover without the slightest intention of buying it.

If that weren’t enough, the large tables and comfortable individual seating which was meant for paying customers slowly succumb to the changing customer profile of " thanks for the hospitality but I'm not buying"

A particular group, amongst others, that exemplifies the “clientele” shift in proper business usage was the local college student. They would meet together and commandeer Borders as a favorite study hall spot without any accompanying revenue sharing.

Unfortunate Lessons Learned

Borders neglected to make the hard decision to creatively restructure and utilize its own resources to build a more branded online experience for its customers.

They failed to recognize the acceleration of change and direct its flow rather than resist its authenticity.

It by passed the opportunity to engage in long term sustainability. Instead they digressed to a short term priority of profits and real estate expansion.

They overlooked the “writing on the wall” that revealed a certain exponential increases in the cost of doing business as usual.

This viewpoint was essentially the same as clinging to a sinking ship rather than adapt and change and set sail for rescue from the adequate lifeboat options that were available.

These are the unfortunate lessons of a once great American business story.

A story about how Borders helped back to back generations cultivate its love and enjoyment of reading throughout the country.

Saturday morning children’s reading clubs, up and coming author meet and greet sessions and the early propagation of the audio book on compact disc were just a few of its bright lights shown before the final curtain call.

Brick and Mortar Bookstore 2.0

My question is what’s next? Some of us who embrace the benefits of the internet and technology are still not quite ready to dismantle our home book shelves.

We continue to embrace the notion that the tactile experience of holding a good old fashion book and turning paper pages is a very worthwhile experience.

Yes it’s handy and useful to have huge amounts of information contained in a small electronic device but should that be the final chapter to the personal experience of reading?

I submit that the aura of the physical bookstore goes beyond the act of a transactional purchase.

Perhaps there is room for a second generation of the local bookstore with a different revenue model. Envision a regional bookstore presence that caters toward different markets yet is accessible to everyone.

For example, suppose this type of bookstore provided an exceptional and targeted user experience for its customers in exchange for their support.

This model would be similar to the personal touch of the local barber shop or neighborhood hair and nail salon with one major exception as follows:

Five Dollars a Month

As the traditional enjoyment of the bookstore is primarily a self-directed activity the main revenue could be derived from a modest customer membership model. This would be in contrast to a book sale driven bottom line. For example, there might be a two tier levels of membership 2.99 /mo (basic) or 4.99/mo (premium).

Customers would choose the level of access or services they would like to enjoy and that would promote the fulfillment of expectations on both sides. That revenue stream along with other product and relevant service sales would allow them to offset the reduced pricing from the online stores and still make a profit.

No longer would the retailer lament over the “use of their space for free “and customers would be able to enjoy one of the great activities many have grown up enjoying from childhood without being relegated to the public library.

It’s really similar to a pay as you go or play model that has been effective across other industries.

There are those who may say the days of the all physical retail bookstore are numbered and good riddance.

I’m certainly not one of them and will definitely miss Borders being around!

I hope you join me in that sentiment :-)



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