This past Monday, Borders, one of the largest booksellers in America, said it would liquidate its assets, lay off its employees and go out of business. By the numbers, this means 399 stores will close and 10,700 employees will lose their jobs. Of course, the actual economic impact will be much larger. Most of the big book distributors and publishing houses have teams dedicated to Borders and there is a very good chance that many of these support jobs will vanish as well.
There’s quite a bit of writing about how e-books, digital downloads and piracy are responsible for Borders demise. It’s nonsense. Borders is going out of business because management didn’t adapt. To be sure, they miscalculated the rate of technological change around them over the past 15 years, and completely misunderstood how consumer behavior would change with it. But, Borders had many chances to bridge the gap between physical and electronic communities of interest – it just didn’t do it.
Amazon is not a bookstore, it is one of the most sophisticated technology companies in the world. Apple is not a phone company or a computer company; it is one of the most sophisticated technology companies in the world. Ford is a car company, but it is adapting to become one of the most sophisticated technology companies in the world. Borders was a physical bookstore, and in the 21st century, it is no longer a viable business.
People have been waxing poetic about physical books for a couple of years now. I always answer the question with a question about Fox Movietone News Reels, which were produced from 1928 through 1963 here in the U.S. Do you miss getting your world news once per week in a movie theater? Probably not. It’s nostalgic, but it has no place in modern times. I assume that the there was some romantic notion about Town Criers of the 18th Century, as “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” was replaced by broadsheet newspapers. Town Crying was awesome when there were physical town squares to cry out in. Today … not so much.
“Survival of the fittest” is a misinterpretation of the thesis of Charles’ Darwin’s 1859 classis, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. It is much better described as, “Survival of the most adaptable.” Borders wasn’t, so it didn’t survive. It is truly that simple.