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On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - John L - 07-26-2011

Sandy Ikeda reminisces on the passing of a book giant.

Quote:The Breezes of Creative Destruction
So long Borders.

Posted July 26, 2011

Waiting for a lunch date in Wall Street last week, I noticed a large Borders sign across from Trinity Church, where I happened to be standing. “That’s a much better place to wait on such a hot day,” I thought.

I hadn’t heard the news that Borders was closing all its stores, so looking into its windows as I crossed Broadway, I was surprised to see the inside cavernous and empty. What was a few days ago a lively gathering place was now, seemingly, dead space.

***

The first time I set foot inside a Borders was in Fairfax, Virginia, during a sabbatical in 1998, long after it had become a successful business and an important social hub among many of my friends. One of them, long-time libertarian intellectual and fellow Grove City College alum Walter Grinder (with whom, thankfully, I still correspond), had invited me to meet him there. I had never heard of it.

It turned out to be big, very big. Our business that day wasn’t buying books but talking about them. There was a coffee bar inside – unusual for a bookstore, I thought at the time – and we took our drinks back outside to a patio table in front of the store. I recall talking about the urbanist Jane Jacobs, whom I’d only recently begun reading, and naturally Walter knew all about her. I had just gotten an unpleasant grilling on a paper I had given on her work, and Walter’s advice was (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Don’t let harsh criticism keep you from writing!” Well, I’m still writing about Jacobs.

While each of us may have fond memories of Borders and will miss it, our preferences for the competition – Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, and the iPad – are what have led to its failure. And as dramatic as this bit of business news has been, in the larger scheme of things economic change happens fairly slowly, at least compared to changes caused by governments.

The Age of Mind-Boggling Change

I’ve written before how Joseph Schumpeter described competitive forces as “gales of creative destruction.” Seen from the perspective of someone who has lived through the greater part of the twentieth century, the social change wrought by markets and the freedom to experiment that they unleashed in art, science, and social attitudes may indeed seem rapid and radical.

My father-in-law passed away a few weeks ago. In his 93 years he lived through truly incredible economic, political, technological, and social changes. Indeed, his generation has experienced more such changes than any other generation in history – not American history, but in the history of the world. (Just in terms of wealth, the past 100 years has been staggering. The Economist magazine recently reported that “over 23% of all the goods and services made since 1 AD were produced from 2001 to 2010.”) When he was boy, few homes had telephones, most Americans lived in rural areas, and anti-miscegenation and Jim Crow laws were in force nearly everywhere. By the end of his life nearly everyone carried a mobile phone (in his 80s he taught himself how to Skype and email), four out of five Americans were urbanized, and same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

Changes at the Margin (and at the Borders)

But from a day-to-day or even year-to-year perspective, these changes, dramatic as they are, happen incrementally. “Gales of destruction” better describes the sudden upheavals wrought by the political power of the State: the hundreds of billions spent on stimulus and bailouts, trillions on “quantitative easing,” and the millions of lives snuffed out in government-conducted wars and cultural revolutions. Whatever creative merit the State might possess (personally I think it adds up to not much at all), princes, parliaments, and presidents have been, and I fear will continue to be, the unmatched causes of widespread social destruction.

Because of such incalculable costs, attempts to radically change the social landscape or to conquer new worlds are the dreams of insulated politicos, not market entrepreneurs. Yes, the market can be heartless and feckless, but, without the aid of government intervention, never so deadly as the state.

Of course, especially for those who spent their capital, their working lives, or hard-won leisure hours in a business such as Borders, market forces may indeed seem destructive and even cruel. For some the change will be truly devastating, although most will find other, perhaps better alternatives. And developers do raze buildings and sometimes whole blocks (although at that scale crony capitalists tend to rely on political connections to push the cost onto others). But in a free market they do so in the expectation that, from the consumers’ point of view, what they build will have greater value than what they tear down.

In the case of that Borders space, though, I’m pretty sure there won’t be much physical disruption. Given the location, before long some new business or other use will just quietly move in. That’s the way change typically happens on the market, even in this revolutionary age – incrementally, not cataclysmically, and hardly noticed. In the market, changes and the adjustments to them, unless viewed over the lifetime of someone like my father-in-law, take place pretty slowly when all is said and done. More like a gentle breeze than a gale.

***

As I crossed back over to Trinity Church I couldn’t help but notice that Broadway and Trinity Place was awhirl with people, tourists mostly, on their way to the New York Stock Exchange, or the Federal Building a block away, or to Ground Zero, a block the other direction — some of these people, like me, disappointed perhaps at the prospect, at least for the time being, of having to walk a little farther for their book and cup of coffee. Others won’t notice that this giant chain is even gone, or know it was ever there.



RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - mv - 07-26-2011

Have you ever bought anything in Borders?

I cannot recall the last time I did...maybe never. I may buy online, or in a second-hand bookstore... I went to Borders a few times to look at new books, and if there was something I wanted, it was the choice of nearby B&N (20% off or better) or wait for Amazon a few days for a better price.

Nice stores those were, but not the right approach to running a business.


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - John L - 07-26-2011

(07-26-2011, 02:43 PM)mv Wrote: Have you ever bought anything in Borders?

I cannot recall the last time I did...maybe never. I may buy online, or in a second-hand bookstore... I went to Borders a few times to look at new books, and if there was something I wanted, it was the choice of nearby B&N (20% off or better) or wait for Amazon a few days for a better price.

Nice stores those were, but not the right approach to running a business.

Yes, I used to go there just to enjoy the atmosphere, get a drink, and sit and read from the books. I remember purchasing one or two books, but not many. I almost always went to the used book stores, or Amazon in particular. Order at home and they arrive at the front door. S5

By 1998 Amazon was big enough to offer a lot from them. That was the real turning point in purchasing retail, because UPS could do all the work for me. And it's going to be the future of retail IMO. And I can get almost anything else through Amazon too.


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - Aurora Moon - 07-26-2011

I always buy tons of books from borders almost every month. sometimes in two months. S1

the border bookstores here hasn't ever gone of business far as I know.


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - mv - 07-26-2011

(07-26-2011, 03:34 PM)John L Wrote: And it's going to be the future of retail IMO. And I can get almost anything else through Amazon too.

I think B&N remains profitable and Nook even overtook Kindle for the last month... Borders proved to be incapable to think of profits and AM's valiant efforts were not enough.

this blog kinds of echoes my feelings... I'd have preferred them to stay and compete, but they just could not...



RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - ag - 07-26-2011

Bookstores and libraries in their present form will go the way 1-st class mail is going. Give them 10-15 years.


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - mv - 07-26-2011

Libraries possibly, bookstores I doubt...remember that books are also a form of decoration/furniture and ebooks do not address this part of the market well. S6


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - Armadillo - 07-26-2011

I enjoy book stores. Browsing through Amazon dosnt give a tactile experience like a store can.
After the economy crashes no one will be able to afford internet access anyway.
Stores will be back, if they can survive the looting.



RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - John L - 07-26-2011

(07-26-2011, 07:44 PM)Armadillo Wrote: I enjoy book stores. Browsing through Amazon dosnt give a tactile experience like a store can.
After the economy crashes no one will be able to afford internet access anyway.
Stores will be back, if they can survive the looting.

Really? I would think the crashing economy would make internet access even more attractive.




RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - Armadillo - 07-26-2011

Attractive yes. Affordable no, after hyper-inflation kicks in.
If it's inflated to $100 a month... for dial-up, might see a rebound in newspapers, stores, and land-line phones.
Back-to-basics.



RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - John L - 07-26-2011

(07-26-2011, 09:11 PM)Armadillo Wrote: Attractive yes. Affordable no, after hyper-inflation kicks in.
If it's inflated to $100 a month... for dial-up, might see a rebound in newspapers, stores, and land-line phones.
Back-to-basics.

Well, we'll see who is correct in the long run.




RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - Palladin - 07-26-2011

I always buy from Amazon. In fact, more than just books.


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - Gunnen4u - 07-26-2011

I prefer to shop local first then hit the web. Usually works great.


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - John L - 07-26-2011

(07-26-2011, 09:22 PM)Palladin Wrote: I always buy from Amazon. In fact, more than just books.

I do too. I have the "one click" quick pay option. If it is offered at amazon I can just sign in and with one click, I've purchased the item. Most of the time I get free S/H and no sales taxes.

It's a great way to get what I want:books, computer software, computer parts, practically anything. Even garden seeds.




RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - Palladin - 07-26-2011

I just bought my wife some pearls ~ 1/2 price and they were perfect.


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - mv - 07-27-2011

Lots of satisfied Amazon customers here salivating...S3 Can you find something more exciting to talk about?

OK, me too S10

Amazon had far the best price on a pump for the new rivertank I hope to have running next week ... even with taxes (they now charge sales tax in NY, even for affiliates in other states S4 ). Nice flow, should bounce the fish against the tank walls pretty hard. S2


RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - John L - 07-27-2011

(07-27-2011, 01:55 AM)mv Wrote: Lots of satisfied Amazon customers here salivating...S3 Can you find something more exciting to talk about?

OK, me too S10

Amazon had far the best price on a pump for the new rivertank I hope to have running next week ... even with taxes (they now charge sales tax in NY, even for affiliates in other states S4 ). Nice flow, should bounce the fish against the tank walls pretty hard. S2

And don't forget all the books which will be on special, amongst all the outlet stores, now that Borders is liquidated. We have several nice outlet malls here, and always a store selling discount books. S1




RE: On the Passing of Borders Bookstores - veritas - 07-27-2011

Damn.
Wife likes to play fashion show a couple of times a year. Takes two hours trying things on then calls me to look at her choices. Two hours at Borders w/wifi & coffee makes the time pass fast. Now I'll have to go to Ruby Tuesday and drink gin.