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February 20, 2011 » 11:12 am

Borders and the New Age of Books

Borders declared bankruptcy this past week, and it’s closing a number of stores in the Bay Area. I was running errands yesterday and was near the San Mateo store, so I decided to drop by and prowl about for deals.

It was an absolute madhouse. Parking was just about impossible, and the purchasing line snaked around the entire store. It was nice in a way to see that so many people still valued books.

Which is a good thing, because even at 20-40 percent discounts throughout the store, I couldn’t find a single good deal. I found a bunch of books that I wanted to read, scanned their barcodes on my phone, and saw that Amazon.com was selling all of them for cheaper, even with the Borders discount.

Frankly, that’s old news. The real game changer is Amazon.com’s distribution model and the Kindle.

I love traditional books — the feel, the smell, the timelessness. I remember visiting the Lincoln Museum years ago and staring in wonderment at his Bible, the actual, physical book that he had lovingly thumbed through as a child. I have a huge collection of my own books, and the thought of getting rid of any of them pains me.

That said, my parents got me a Kindle for Christmas last year, and I am absolutely in love with it. As much as my sentiment lies with traditional books, the reality is that the Kindle has got me reading books again. The screen is a marvel, it’s lighter and more comfortable to read than most of my real books, and I can carry a whole slew of books on it. The companion case is worth the extra price for the built-in book light alone.

Here’s how dramatically Amazon.com has changed the book industry. While scanning for books on my phone, I could easily have purchased one immediately with one click and had it sent to my Kindle automatically. Much easier than waiting in that monstrous line, and much more portable.

If I had wanted to, I could even have read the book on my phone. This sounds painful to me, but I’ve heard from others that they often read books this way, and that — as with my experience with the Kindle — they’re reading more as a result.

Barnes and Nobles might be late to the game, but it’s adapted, and it has a chance. Borders is done. It has not proven an ability to adapt with the times.

The real question continues to be, what’s the future of the local, independent book store?

I don’t think the death knell is a sure thing. I viewed the Borders discounts with scorn, but the reality is, I often pay more for books at Green Apple Books, even though I know I can get them cheaper at Amazon.com. It may be irrational, but I’m not alone. I like going there, even if books are more expensive. The opportunity is for local bookstores to leverage what’s magical and important about them — namely, the customer experience — and adapt it to the times.

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