No, they weren’t, writes Sue Walsh at our sister blog Gadgetell. Walsh points out that if e-books were responsible for killing Borders, they’d have done in Barnes & Noble and Amazon as well.

Many people, especially publishers, are quick to accuse ebooks of being harmful to the book industry when in reality they are breathing new life into it. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me they started reading MORE when they got their e-readers. Both new and established authors are embracing the new technology with many well known authors getting the rights to their back catalogs and releasing them on ebooks themselves. If you love books, ebooks are a good thing.

Wash points to poor management as the primary culprit. And certainly that’s what the post-mortems we’ve covered from people who were actually associated with the chain said.

I would suggest e-books could have been a contributing factor, but only insofar as Borders’s poor management meant the store couldn’t figure out how to profit from them in time—something that fellow bookstores Amazon and Barnes & Noble have both managed pretty well.

Of course, Barnes & Noble has itself been struggling lately—it managed to hold this off for a bit by hopping on the e-book bandwagon with the Nook, and the excellent sales performance of the Nook Color has helped a lot, but let’s not forget that the company tried to put itself up for sale this past year but couldn’t find an interested buyer.

E-books may not be a direct cause of bookstore death, but I think they’re a sort of test for bookstores that it is possible to get wrong. Getting the answer wrong, or at least not right enough, may not be enough to doom the store by itself, but if it’s part of an overall pattern of poor decision-making, it’s definitely going to help that process along. And conversely, getting the answer right or mostly right may not be enough to save Barnes & Noble in the end.

The publishing market is in the throes of change, and only the fittest entities, be it publishers or stores, are going to survive. Borders just wasn’t fit enough.


  1. It’s a little naive to think that ebooks weren’t responsible just because only one bookstore chain out of three went down. Exactly the same thing happened with record stores, which became CD stores. The least economic ones that were barely making a living shut down first; that drove their customers to other stores, which were thereby enable to keep going a bit longer, until the least economic of those closed, and so on. Borders was just the wobbliest brick in this particular wall.

  2. eBooks weren’t ENTIRELY responsible. It’s making that general statement – like how iTunes, MySpace, streaming music and Napster (and everybody else) were supposed to kill the traditional music industry. Yes, things have changed – the traditional music industry reports lower numbers, but it’s hardly close to dying, even with musicians out there, reaching the people without having to go through the big guys.

    Every business must keep up with the current technology, but it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone’s going to collapse. Borders couldn’t keep up and B&N and Amazon were able to figure a niche to jump into. That sounds more like bad business than technology making things obsolete.

    I mean, really? I know folks who still buy vinyl…and there are still 8 track tape players available on eBay. Books (and bookstores) will survive.

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