Borders, Bankruptcy and Strategy

Over at TechCrunch, Paul Carr ruminates on the fall of Borders Books (whose original store I used to frequent in Ann Arbor).  The problem, he posits, wasn’t that Borders was overwhelmed by Amazon‘s technology and marketing.  Rather, it is that they made a weak strategic move:

I suspect the death of Borders might actually cause something no-one in the book trade ever thought they’d see: a resurgence in independent book stores.

For a while, Borders – and the bigger (and for now more solvent) Barnes and Noble – represented a kind of mushy middle for bookselling. On one end of the spectrum sits Amazon – colossal of inventory, quick of delivery, soulless of personality. If you know exactly what book you want, Amazon is the place to buy it.

At the other end of the spectrum sit the independents – mom and pop stores and dusty used bookshops, staffed by knowledgeable bookworms eager to recommend something quirky (and possibly second hand) that they themselves have read, and think you might like. Borders plunked itself awkwardly in the middle, trying to out-stock the former (and failing) and to out-personality the latter (and failing). Even if Borders couldn’t replace the independent bookstore experience, the existence of a giant competitor in the their midst certainly hit mom and pop’s bottom line. No-one did well from the fight except for Amazon.

Now, with Borders out of the way, leaving absolutely no major chain book store in some markets (including San Francisco, which had three Borders but no Barnes and Noble), the independents have a real opportunity to push back.

Borders was trying to compete using an “experienced-based” retail strategy, without being able to provide a compelling and distinct experience.  Carr suggests that this leaves an opportunity for those independent booksellers that can provide worthwhile service and a unique experience for customers.  We shall see. . . .

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