With the news that Borders plans to liquidate and close all of its stores--including former mall staple Waldenbooks--another brick-and-mortar bookseller went dark today. Borders has made many stumbles, and surely its numerous missteps in the digital era will be the subject of many a case study in business schools. The customers who bought Borders e-books via Kobo Books look set, but a bigger question remains as to how the loss of Borders will impact Kobo.
Before the launch of the Kobo eReader Touch Edition, Todd Humphrey, executive vice president of Kobo's business development, told me he felt confident that Borders would survive, but if the company were to go away entirely, certainly that would have some impact but we'd deal with it as it came up. The time is here to deal with it, clearly; and although Kobo has been expanding its distribution through Best Buy, Sears, Walmart and other retailers, and the company did little today to explain what, if any, impact would be felt by Borders' demise.
Kobo did make a point of saying that Kobo e-reader owners will be able to use their devices as usual and continue to shop the Kobo Store with no interruption in service.
Borders was an early investor and minority stakeholder in Kobo, and Borders used Kobo Books to power its eBook accounts. A Kobo spokesperson said today that in June, Kobo and Borders began to transition Borders' customers' accounts to Kobo proper; this move provided direct account access for those customers. And the spokesperson emphasized that Kobo continues its growth in the U.S. and Europe (with no mention that said growth might be affected by the Borders closure).
Separately, the news of Borders' demise saddens, and not just because of the loss of jobs. I, for one, used to take pleasure in getting lost in the stacks of books. It was all about exploration, doing the browse and flip preview that's nowhere near the same in the digital universe. Before plunking down my bucks, I could compare which travel guide was best for my upcoming trip to offbeat location X, or randomly discover new book or international periodical I couldn't find elsewhere. And I could do so while sipping frothy hot chocolate or downing an iced tea in the cafe. Those were, as they say, the days.