Readers Without Borders
What killed the big-box retailer? Hint: It wasn't the Internet.
The justification for all those big stores proved faulty too: The Internet is far more adept at offering a huge selection of books. "The very large assortment size was an advantage early on before Amazon," says one former director of merchandise planning. "However, by its very nature the 'internet' was better at quickly and efficiently connecting customers with obscure titles and bringing the 'long tail' to market. Thus, competing on assortment size was especially vulnerable to internet retailing and Borders suffered disproportionately as the 'long tail' customers abandoned them."
In the end, you could blame the Internet for Borders' downfall. Retail has become a challenging, if not outright terrible, business, regardless of what you are selling. But, again, other companies adapted. Borders just didn't. Barnes & Noble may well not be around in five years. But at least it has built a business that recognizes the trends in bookselling—toward the Internet, toward e-readers, toward a more boutique retail experience, away from big-box stores. It is remarkably similar to the strategy Borders laid out in its bankruptcy filing. The company's management said it wants to "aggressively [grow] borders.com and eBook market share" and "[expand] the company's overall retail mix … to improve profitability and offset the digital effect." Alas, that strategy came too late.
Annie Lowrey, formerly Slate’s Moneybox columnist, is economic policy reporter for the New York Times.