Goodbye to Borders, hello to Kobo

So Borders, the bookstore chain, is finally giving up the fight and will almost certainly be closing its remaining stores, according to the Wall Street Journal.

As a book lover I feel like I should be really upset about this, but in truth I can't even remember the last time I set foot inside a brick and mortar book store. At the same time it was nice to know Borders was there, just in case I had some kind of book emergency. And of course knowing that the 11,000 Borders employees will lose their jobs is nothing but bad news.

In the battle of book-selling giants (Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders), Borders always came in third, at least here in New England where B&N seemed to have a larger presence. As readers have started to shift to digital media, Borders fell behind even further. Barnes & Noble's Nook seems to be giving Amazon's Kindle a run for its money, but the Borders/Kobo ecosystem has remained something of a niche here in the States. (Last month Digitimes reported that 37% of the e-readers shipping to vendors were Nooks, compared to 16% for the Kindle. Now that's shipments to the vendors, not sell-through, so it doesn't necessarily reflect sales to customers.)

If you're one of the people who decided to go with Borders for your ebook library, you might be concerned about what the future holds for you. According to a post at TechCrunch, you have nothing to worry about. Kobo contacted TC with this quote:

“As one of the early investors in Kobo, Borders has a minority stake in our company and serves as part of our distribution in the U.S. along with Walmart, Best Buy, Sears and other retailers. As a member of the broader book publishing and retailing community, we are watching Borders’ story with interest and send our best wishes to all the people of Borders. In June Kobo and Borders began transitioning Borders’ customers’ eBook accounts to Kobo to provide direct access to the most up to date eReading functionality, apps, and devices. Kobo owners will continue to use their eReader devices as usual and browse and shop for new titles in the Kobo Store with no interruption in service. Kobo continues to grow in the U.S. and around the world and we’re very pleased with progress of the launch of the new Kobo eReader Touch Edition and European office with Kobo Germany.”

I'm wondering if I should see this as a wake-up call for myself. Is it time to strip the DRM from my Kindle ebooks and archive them? It's hard to imagine Amazon disappearing, but there was a time when it would've been hard to imagine Borders disappearing, too. Yet here we are. I have a half-formed touchy-feely analogy in my head that positions Borders as an old growth hardwood forest. Once those trees are gone, will there be room for new growth? Will we see a resurgence in independent book stores to fill the gap left by Borders? Or are we all just happy getting our dead tree volumes from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, until we finally transition completely to ebooks? I'm old enough to remember when we book lovers hated B&N and Borders for putting all the smaller bookstores out of business, but just as the fall of Blockbuster hasn't resulted in the resurgence of mom & pop video stores, I'm not sure the fall of Borders will result in a new crop of intimate indie bookstores with individual personalities. But a guy can dream, can't he? I'm not sure what I'd buy from that kind of a store — I'm pretty committed to ebooks at this point — but I'd find some way to support them. Any thoughts on the fall of Borders? Please share in the comments.

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