Books without Borders

“The retailer is liquidating its 399 remaining outlets and letting go nearly 11,000 employees,” Rich Lowry writes. “Gone will be the era when no shopping-mall parking lot in America seemed complete without an adjoining Borders, offering up its capacious aisles to browse for books you had no idea you needed:”

The story of Borders has been repeated again and again by all the countless American companies that have risen to prominence only to disappear. It started with an inspired innovation only to be overtaken by subsequent innovations. It had an advantage that, in new conditions, became a liability. It lost its footing on the free market’s ceaseless wheel of change.

Read about Borders circa 1995 and it is lauded as “a chain that seems as attuned to the new world of technology as the refined old world of literary society.” It had a state-of-the-art inventory system. It stocked its enormous stores with tens of thousands of titles. Borders thrived by providing choice and convenience, two of the pillars of the consumer economy.

Then it didn’t recognize quickly enough the new ways of delivering them. It had to rely on Amazon to sell its books online, a boost to the online retailer that would do so much to make the Borders model obsolete. It branched out into sales of CDs and DVDs, an initially profitable move that backfired when the music industry went digital. It missed out on e-books. Locked into leases at uneconomical locations, its voluminous real estate began to weigh it down.

Barnes & Noble, in contrast, developed a website to sell its books online itself and marketed its own e-book reader, the Nook. It secured a prized partnership with Starbucks for the coffee at its cafés. It lost $59 million last quarter, but it’s still standing.

In the late 1990s, the romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail was built around the heartlessness of a mega-bookstore moving into a New York neighborhood and killing off a small family bookshop. Now, it’s the turn of the mega-bookstores to be eaten, with delivery of a $9.99 e-book just a few clicks away. In a free economy, the top dog always has to run scared.

Does anyone fear Microsoft anymore, the behemoth that government spent so much time and energy trying to cut down to size in the late 1990s? The same thing, eventually, will befall Google and, yes, even Facebook.

Meanwhile, with many Apple iPad competitors seeming like Kindle readers that can also do a few other things with increasing degrees of kludgie-ness, Amazon is going into the Tablet market themselves:

While the shuttle program appears to be history, it looks like Amazon tablets are in our future. Once Amazon confirms some of the details for us, we’ll be posting our exclusive on the news. But until then, here’s what we know:Our independent sources say Amazon’s new tablet, due in October, is a direct shot at the iPad and a huge improvement over any of the me-too tablets that have tried but failed to gain any traction against Apple this year.

The new tablet, sources say, will be a 9-incher that, like Amazon’s Kindle, will include contract-free 3G connectivity and synchronization capabilities. The tablet will serve as the broad-scale distribution endpoint for downloading and sync of videos, music, photos and books from Amazon’s Cloud Drive. It’s a direct hit to the iPad and, in particular, to Apple’s iCloud, sources say.

Look for our breaking coverage of Amazon’s new tablet – and how it relies on Amazon’s Whispersync synching service and free Whispernet 3G-based network — later today in a story by BYTE’s Eric Mack.

In the meantime, any thoughts on how the Amazon Super Kindle will play out?