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What Would You Do to Save Borders?

Borders Magic Shelf

By Edward Nawotka

It always seems like drama surrounds the big digital publishing conferences. In January 2010, attendees at the first annual Digital Book World eagerly awaited the announcement of the iPad. This year at Tools of Change in New York people have greeted the official announcement that Borders Book Group has filed for bankruptcy with a variety of reactions, ranging from “So?” to “Oh, no!”

Throughout the day, we surveyed several TOC attendees to see what they would do to save Borders.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.com, suggested that “Borders get closer to Kobo — the only way for Borders to be saved is if it can build up a strong e-bookstore just as Barnes & Noble has done.”

Robin Lenz, managing editor of Shelf Awareness, floated the idea of running it as a franchise operation. She said: “Instead of running it as a big chain badly, let individual booksellers who know what they are doing take the existing spaces and work with that.”

Richard Nash, founder of Cursor, pointed out that “anything that needs to be saved isn’t worth saving.” But, he added, “It has to become radically skinnier– perhaps 50-100 really well managed, large niche stores scattered around America’s college towns.”

Patricia Arancibia, Manager of International Content at US bookseller Barnes & Noble’s Digital Group, said she was specifically concerned about the two Borders stores in Puerto Rico. “The one on the Plaza de Americas is the bestselling Borders in the entire world and the bestseller of Spanish-language books in the United States protectorate. These two stores in Puerto Rico have their own staff of buyers and they have an avid audience for their books and they sell very well. So what I suggest is they work together with some of the very interesting independent publishers in Puerto Rico, and with help from here, set up a co-op to sell titles in English and Spanish and provide for the whole island.”

Now, tell us, what do you think can be done to save Borders?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Kate
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Borders might look to independent booksellers which are doing fairly well with niche marketing. It does sell used books, but it could also facilitate trades of books and DVDs similar to a used bookstore that buys books back at a reduced cost or gives people a discount when they bring in a number of books (i.e. bring in 10 books, get a 20% discount a new one). There are sites that charge a couple of dollars for people to trade items that are doing pretty well, and many people would be a lot more comfortable going through a credible store like Borders than trading online.

  2. Posted February 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    1) audio versions of Google books, especially those out of print; theology; computer science

    2) Roku channel with big screen TV reader for the elderly, hard of sight

  3. Posted February 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Borders is a prime example of a failed business model.

    They neglected to see the trend towards online retailing in the late ’90’s, outsourcing their web properties to Amazon. They neglected to see the rise of eBooks and missed the opp to enter that market in meaningful way. They recognized the rise in self-publishing a full 5 years too late and their half-hearted foray into this market is too little, too late.

    They should be left to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions.

  4. Posted February 18, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Richard’s comment seems a bit harsh on the surface, but he is correct. There is no tolerance for a business which fails to see the turns in the road, or sees them and chooses to let someone else lead them. This is even more true now than it was in the 90’s when Borders missed its opportunity to become an on line bookseller. It is a complete shame because once they were a good bookseller. But that was long ago…

  5. Peter Turner
    Posted February 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Well, it’s a little late in the game, no? Whatever they do, they should not try to compete with Amazon or B&N. If I were their CEO, I’d ask myself (and the key staff) what Border’s unique strengths are and what specific needs do these strengths address for the consumer. Then, I’d pour as many resources as possible into a creative, experimental, and independent venture to devise ways of magnifying those strengths. At this point the question is whether there are the available resources (human and financial) to do this.

  6. Posted February 18, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Running it as a franchise operation probably will not work. Little Professor, which operated in this manner, is no longer in business. A store called Legacy Books in Plano, TX, which took over the space of a Borders store and was run by its former manager, lasted no more than two years. Borders had other problems not noted by others in these comments, among them a poorly run returns program that prompted many publishers, including the university press I directed, to stop doing business with them some years ago.

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