Notes on the Borders Affair

We’ve been hearing for some time now that Borders was on shaky ground and recent word that they’d stopped paying publishers confirmed that more bad news was sure to come.  Today Borders announced that they will go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  

What is that likely to mean?   The most immediate impact will be the closing of many of their stores — 30% according to today’s story in the New York Times.   I look at this story from at least three different perspectives. 

As a reader, I like Borders and have found it to be the friendliest of the two book superstore chains.  I grew up loving books and even though I’m a techie, I still like the feel of a book in my hands and expect that I’ll continue to read real hard copy books for years to come.  I could also see reading books on a reader such as the Kindle, Nook or IPad, but can I really curl up with one of these?  I’m sure it won’t feel the same. 

As a writer, the path to publication is now a multi-channel business and e-publishing gets stronger every day.  In my favorite genre of science fiction, many of the periodic publications have been cutting over to e-publishing and the trend seems likely to continue.  I’ve recently been reading the 60th anniversary edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction with great delight, but it’s been years since I’ve seen F&SF on a newstand.  

As a business person — I’ve been doing marketing in the high tech world over the past decade — the heart of this story strikes me as being about business models.  Around 1997, I toured on a road show with office equipment vendor Pitney Bowes, talking about the future of facsimile technology in my role as an industry consultant.  Another panelist talked about a different kind of future — new Internet-based business models.  Even at that time, the rumors were strong that bricks and mortar stores would soon be a thing of the past.   He told stories about meeting the CEO of a young company called Amazon and offered us the following quote from the relatively unknown young man, Jeff Bezos.  

“I’m Jeff from Amazon and I’m into getting rich.”  

At the time, Amazon only sold books, but it wasn’t long before Amazon took its mission of being the leading Internet storefront and went way beyond books.  Amazon still cares about books as a business and has created a number of innovations in marketing them.  In the process, they’ve  done more than any other company to change the prevailing business models of the publishing industry. 

Will Borders survive?  It’s hard to say.  In the comments section of the article in the Times, several people mentioned that Borders had put many independent booksellers in their area out of business.   At the time, the superstone was the innovation in the sale of books to the public, but Amazon has shown that a company can sell a lot of books without ANY bricks and mortar presence.   By contrast, Apple has reinvigorated the concept of  a physical store in their business and done very well with it.  So it is possible to be successful with a combination of a storefront AND online presence, but Borders is currently failing to innovate and is not likely to recover unless it can re-invent itself. 

Ultimately, we the readers will be the decisive factor.  If you care about independent booksellers, vote with your dollars and patronize them.  If you like the atmosphere of places like Borders and Barnes and Noble, where you can browse magazines, buy a book or CD, and perhaps get a great cup of coffee, again, you should vote with your wallet.  Amazon has a very effective business model and also carries books that I can’t find  in the superstores.  I like shopping for books at Amazon, but I hope that won’t be my only choice in the future.


About the author

James Rafferty has been a published writer in a variety of magazines and journals for over twenty years. He has also written a coming of age novel entitled Growing Up Single which he is querying. He is currently working on his second novel. He blogs about writing, travel and personal technology on the James Rafferty blog and its Writer's Notebook series. James belongs to the Writing Wombats writing group and Grub Street, a Boston based writers group. He also has written a variety of short stories which can be found at under posts. James has also been active in the telecommunications business in recent years and ran his own consulting business during the Nineties. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. In addition to writing and reading, he enjoys playing guitar, exploring the outdoors and spending time with his family.

»» 3 Responses to “Notes on the Borders Affair” »»
  1. Eric says:

    I love the App. I do agree that I wish I could change the clroos and/or make some of the designs a bit less girly (my fiancee and I are totally nontraditional in style). Hoping I can swap the background image in a coming release soon and choose the border clroos (that would be incredible).Thanks for everything!

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Beth, Fine post. There’s an information wants to be free crowd out there, with lots of cool ileltnectual justification by various pundits(check out Wired for some examples) on why free is so good. The problem is, that an artist, be they musician, writer or another sort whose content can be exchanged in digital form, will be very hard pressed to make a living if they can’t gain any compensation for their work. There are two sides to the copyright story, but the tightening of rules on things like fair use has probably helped prompt the backlash, which entails ignoring copyright altogether. I think it’s up to the artist to allow what they’d let out there for free and what’s released only under copyright. Distributing free samples is a very workable marketing strategy, but enabling people to steal property and post to 3rd party web sites is totally unjustifiable in my view. As for administrators changing test scores, that simply sounds like criminal activity to me and fraud charges are in order, particularly if there’s a potential money grab from the government involved.

  3. Pat says:

    Beth, utterly bnlrliait and I concur 10000%. It makes me want to hunt down these folks and smack them. I choose to believe that the universe will balance, and that what goes around comes around and that karma is a total bitch.And then I go and read about the storm in Chicago that shut down Lake Shore Drive and stranded a thousand people in their cars. Good Samaratins climbed over fences and waded through snow to bring these folks coffee and granola bars and news. It makes me feel much better about humanity.