Disruptive Technologies and the End of Borders.

In the electronics industry, one of our truisms was that change is the only constant.  We also talked and thought a lot about “disruptive technologies.”  The term was coined by Clayton Christensen in a 1995 article and elaborated in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma.  Even well managed firms (and Borders does not seem to have been one of these), can be blindsided by failing to recognize “the next big thing.”  This is because its first manifestations tend to be clunky and crude.

The makers of fine coaches were probably not too worried when the first loud, dirty, and expensive horseless carriages appeared.  The empty factories and smokestacks in Rochester, NY are mute witnesses to Kodak’s failure to recognize the threat that digital photography posed to their chemical business.  Tower Books, which I loved, failed to develop an online presence, and Borders, among other things, was late to the eReader party.

There is no good news in this for anyone, least of all the 11,000 employees who are out of a job.  Or everyone who found wonderful things while browsing the stacks.  Even the idea that disappearing big-box bookstores will give indies a second chance seems unlikely.  One writer interviewed on NPR, whose books are carried by Borders, suggested that future bookstores may resemble what you find in airports:  “cookbooks, vampire novels, and celebrity tell-alls.”  http://www.npr.org/2011/07/19/138499967/mich-book-chain-borders-closing-after-40-years

I remember a college town where a wonderful independent bookstore closed soon after a Borders opened. Now it has come full circle and both are gone.  All I can think of are these words of the late George Harrison: All things must pass.

4 thoughts on “Disruptive Technologies and the End of Borders.

  1. I received an email from Borders this morning offering a chance to win a $500 Kobo e-reader gift card. I’m a great one for entering contests, but I didn’t see the point. It’s so sad. I’ve always enjoyed shopping at Borders and just hanging out there and, especially, meeting with my critique group there. I’m very sad for the people losing their jobs. Most probably worked there more because they love books than any other reason. It’s terrible to be out of work, but especially when it’s something you love and not just a paycheck.


    • First, on their eReader – I don’t know the various file formats, but I *thought* there was some compatibility among the various non-Amazon brands, and at a minimum you could download the software to your laptop – in other words, if you have a free shot at $500 worth of ebooks it might be worthwhile.

      And yes, the Roseville Borders coffee shop area is uniquely nice.


  2. Interesting point about Borders once being the destroyer and now is destroyed. Blockbuster, too – I remember when it was reviled for killing indie video stores. Now it’s filed for bankruptcy protection and we have the Blockbuster Express kiosks; since each movie costs only $1 you have to return it within 24 hours. Just like when I first started renting movies, I have to drive back to the kiosk to avoid a late fee (well, a second day’s rental, but same idea).


  3. Pingback: What Goes Around . . . | I Blog, Therefore I Am

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