2.16.2011

Bye-bye, Borders

We are living in the middle of a revolution which, if you think about it, is perpetually true: we made tools, we learned language, we upgraded to indoor plumbing and then wireless internet. Now, though, we can't grab a table at Borders, sit uncomfortably close to a fragrant homeless guy, and read all the magazines for free. Not after today. Borders is bankrupt. How did that happen?

Don't blame me unless you blame milkmaids for factory farming.

Books are what your grandparents lined their walls with, using them for insulation almost as much as for intellectual stimulation, as demonstrated by the accumulated dust. Books are like albums, like 8-tracks and cassettes and paper towels. We have iTunes now, and washable towels (again). We share: solar and wind rather than coal and oil. After reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair, sharing is the fifth R (regift?). The future is not full of business models based on one-time use commodities. Sure, $30 hardback books can be shared, but not on YouTube.

Borders used to be the future: they stole it from the little, independent bookstores they stomped on and crushed while laughing all the way to the bank. Once king of the hill, they sat there, forgetting that revolution is dynamic. When you're in your fortress, complacent with achievements, ignoring every reason to improve, you're easily overtaken. It's simply a matter of time.

Even Barnes and Noble, the other king of the hill, jumped on the Nook.

Borders had this great set-up, like a library only with better refreshments, and all they had to do was capitalize on that. Charge something - a little bit - like a library with a entrance fee. But basing your business model on selling expensive hard-backed books? How is this commodity different than landlines, ice boxes, or physician house calls? Who would fund a business model based on those?

Borders had a good run, capitalizing on a product invented in 1450 with hardly an upgrade. Books predate the Dutch Tulip Bulb Bubble of 1637, indoor plumbing, and the exorbitant pay of CEOs who drive their businesses into the ground while collecting more pay than all the bottom wage earners put together. 

The next revolution might not be so easy. Or, thinking positively, not so hard. Instead of losing places to hang out, we might lose exorbitantly paid future-ignoring CEOs. Revolution is also evolution.