Borders: All That’s Left is a Facebook Page

This popped up in Facebook this morning.

All that’s left of the chain is this soon to be inactive Facebook page. Maybe you’ve got a Borders Rewards card floating around your wallet. Fish it out, toss it.

There’s more than enough articles, opinions and more about the demise of this chain, the future of the printed word, the future of the digital word and more floating around the web. Nothing else really needs to be added.

But I would like to say this:

At one time, more than 16,000 people worked for this company. For many of them, it was their career. Their passion. It meant something. Thousands more counted the company as one of their key accounts and a significant piece of their business.

If you’re in a position of authority in a corporation and the future of your organization and it’s personnel weighs heavily on your mind: Good. People rely on you. Think hard when you make a decision. Don’t make the mistake that management at this company made. You’re not the smartest person in the room. By a longshot.  Sometimes it makes more sense to sell more of your stuff than it does to increase shareholder value.

I’m just saying…

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Wither Borders: The Elegy

Editors Note: This post was originally intended for Tuesday morning. However, as so often happens, other events bumped up against the best of intentions and I had a brief, unexpected meeting with mortality. Fortunately, mortality is on hold and I’ll be fine – so long as I stay out of the heat. Please enjoy this delayed post. Thank you,

In other circumstances, the final moments of an iconic retailer could seem shocking, surprising, unprecedented. Unfortunately none of that applies to the final moments of the Borders chain. Anyone who has paid attention to the publishing industry in the past few years could not have failed to see at least one headline announcing the contortions this chain went through to escape their fate. If you spend anytime at all at any of the numerous financial web sites like Motley Fool or The Street, they’ve been announcing Borders imminent demise for what seems like years.

What is both sad and reassuring about this latest chapter in the story of the birth of the digital age (to steal a phrase, thank you), is how human it is. Personally the thought that 10,000 people are about to lose their jobs, perhaps their careers, their homes and life savings is beyond tragic. I see red when I think about that. “Someone needs to pay for this mess up!” is my thought.

And of course, the people on the line at the bookstores, the people on the line in Ann Arbor: the buyers, merchandise managers, analysts and web developers will suffer. The CEO Mike Edwards will be fine. American industry is chock full of stories about failed CEO’s picking up the pieces and getting back into the swing of things in another company. And we all seem to accept that with a cynical shrug of the shoulders.

The story of Borders is familiar. But it’s not really the story of the dawning of a new era. It’s just another story of the end result of hubris.

There’s no need to rehash that here. The Borders saga is well documented all over the web. This is the story of how a small regional chain grew into an international chain. All of the opportunities missed. All of the attention spent on the stock price at the expense of the development of web. All of the money wasted on long term leases and huge, 35,000 square foot retail footprints. Could anyone have seen this coming? In hindsight, of course. But I remember walking into the Ann Arbor office at the dawn of the last decade and being thoroughly convinced that these folks were wrapped up tight and on their way to publishing nirvana.

If you really want to see how the people on the line feel, spend some time at the Live Journal employees site: I Work at Borders.

Hindsight is only useful if you can go back in time. You can’t. 

I saw an interesting message on Twitter yesterday. A book consultant was of the opinion that the final closing of the  stores, while sad for the remaining employees will make for a healthier marketplace. From the perspective of a magazine consultant, I see a lot of magazine publishers, a magazine wholesaler, several national distributors, and a lot of people about to get hurt by this. It’s called a ripple effect. My guess is it’s the same in the book industry. Can we replace these closed stores? No. More business for Amazon and Apple. Does anyone really believe a free or cheap e-reading nirvana is on the way? At the moment, Flipboard is free. For how long? Do you really believe that any of the other startups will remain free? Do you truly believe that any mildly interesting writer with a lot of time on his or her hands to self promote is on their way to a six figure income? Well, OK. I’d like to be convinced. So far, I’m not. But I’d like to be.

The only thing this may do for the magazine distribution industry is nudge it that much closer to finally coming to terms with the need for a new way to do business. What concerns me about that is the fact that the solution may be worse than the current illness. That’s because the people who will make those decisions will be the people who put us into this jackpot in the first place.

That’s how it goes.

There are people in the publishing industry who really do want to avoid the digital age. I am not one of them. But I am also not blinded by the coolness of  a Kindle nor dazzled by the iPad. They’re handy. They are cool and they are dazzling. But they’re gadgets. I like reading. I like the digital feel and I happen to agree with e-book consultant and proselytizer Mike Cane that the internet always wins. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

One last thought: There is a theory in vogue in this country that the government can not do anything right. That it fails at everything. That the people who lead it are useless. That private industry is superior.

Well…..For your consideration:

Borders – Blockbuster – Washington Mutual – Global Crossing – Enron  -The US Auto industry until recently (like after the government bailed two of the three actors out) – British Petroleum – the shrinking of Sears – the shrinking of Kmart – the current troubles of Wal-Mart – the current troubles of Barnes & Noble.

And in my industry alone:

Anderson News – Unimag – Select Magazines – and I will spare you the rest of our dirty underwear (You’ll thank me for this.)

Shall I go on?

People are flawed. They can be brilliant. Or muddle through. Or be fantastically incompetent. It doesn’t matter where they work. Let’s not be such ideologues. Let’s get to work, keep flying. And remember to have heart.

A Message from the Former Employees of Borders Store #195 in Mishawaka, IN

Let’s get a few things straight, here. This is not some rant against the digital future. Or print vs. ink. This is simply a reflection on what we lose when a place for people to congregate, engage in commerce, participate in society disappears. Especially when it didn’t have to.

I’ve been to the Mishawaka store. It was like a lot of Borders stores I visited over the years and I thought it was a nice place. But clearly, these employees felt some connection. You often see that in retail and I’ve experienced it. It’s quite a rush to think that what you do matters.  You can see these sorts of connections in offices and warehouses and building sites.

I’ve seen it in many of the magazine wholesalers I’ve worked with over the years. The drivers and employees on the shop floor and the managers really felt they were doing something worthwhile. For the employees of  Borders#195, that’s all gone now. Some of them will find new work. Some of that work will be in better places with even more camaraderie. Some won’t. That’s the way it goes.

If you are the boss in your operation, the CEO, Director, Senior VP, Manager, whatever, do yourself and the people who work for you a favor. Be responsible with the people who work for you. Treat them well. Be kind. Be considerate. Be fair. Practice polite manners. Be firm. Be honest. Don’t be greedy.  Be clear in what you ask for. Reward success. Be honest. Treat failure as an opportunity to learn. Teach. Punish the bullies and let them know they are not welcome. If you loose money, cut your salary first.

Because, when it’s all over, and in every business cycle, it always comes to an end, you won’t get this from your former employee: