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Slate and PBS News Hour on Why Borders Died and Barnes Noble Survives (For Now)

Like me, many readers were probably saddened by the news last week that Borders is shutting all of its remaining outlets.  In comparison to Barnes Noble, I often found Borders stores to carry a higher brow selection of books and to have a more complete and better presentation of magazines. 

Book stores — even an Ann Arbor used book stored that turned into a corporate giant like Borders — are among the great public spaces to found in cities and towns.  I particularly miss the giant Borders on Michigan Avenue in Chicago and wonder what a city like Bangor, Maine which lacks a Barnes Noble, will do once its Borders closes.

Fellow Big Think blogger Austin Allen reflected on the loss of Borders in a post earlier this week at Book Think.

For me, bookstores are the very best of the clean, well-lighted places a community has to offer. They’re a kind of spiritual retreat amidst the giant American mall; Jerry Seinfeld called them “one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” If they die out, the culture of our cities might become Amazon’s culture writ large: an endless sales pitch with no space for reflection.

A number of articles have appeared analyzing the reasons for Borders’ demise and to blame the fall of the retail giant on Amazon is too narrow of a focus.  The best article I’ve spotted so far, comes from Annie Lowrey at Slate.

Here’s the causes for the fall of Borders identified by Lowrey:

1. Borders miscalculated the Internet in its strategic planning, making fatal errors as early as 2000, even before the rise of Amazon.

2. Borders was fatally slow in recognizing the rise of e-books.

3. Borders failed to diversity, slow to react to the loss of DVD and CD sales, and woefully behind Barnes Noble in competing in the coffee market, losing out on exclusive contracts with Starbucks and instead settling for subsidiary Seattle’s Best.

4. Borders mishandled its Big Box strategy, opening way too many stores and signing lease that were too long, meaning that the company had trouble shutting down the stores that were not making a profit.

Lowrey talked to the PBS News Hour about these root causes in a story last week.  Video below.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.


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