Daniel Raff, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Lecture title:

What Became of Borders


Daniel Raff, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Speaker(s) Web Pages:

Semester: Fall 2015

Date: Friday, September 25, 2015

Time: 1:30 - 3:00 PM

Venue: Room R1240, Ross School of Business

Additional Notes:

Introduction by Gareth Keeves, Strategy


Borders was a US national, and later, for a time, international, chain of bookstores. It eventually became, again for a time, a large-scale vendor of recorded music as well. It was founded in 1971, became a chain in 1984, and was in the Fortune 500 by the late 1990s. Its 2011 bankruptcy was front-page news in the US and in the overseas geographies in which it had operated. The company had at its heart an early expert system for merchandising and inventory control and stands as a sort of poster child for the application of information technology to retailing, a large and economically important sector of industrial economies and a generally understudied one. The talk is drawn from a book project. The project as at present focused on a particular firm, industry, and sector but is in a larger sense about how firms live, grow, and die. Its emerging text is written from an evolutionary economics perspective but is hardly a tract. The firm in tight focus will probably be familiar to anyone who visited the states in the 90s or the first decade of this century, never mind to Ann Arborites; and its fate may seem to members of a community that mainly buys its books from Amazon now and mainly gets its music from Apple to have been inevitable. I will argue that that isn’t the case and that there is a good deal to be learned—for those who have some interest in this type of business but also for those who do empirical research on organizations, strategy, and related subjects—from studying the firm’s and industry’s dynamics more historically.

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