Jennifer O’Dell is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall and Denise Brunsdon is a social media writer and researcher.
Borders will not be the last book chain to close its doors because of insufficient revenue in an e-reader world. But while there is symbolism and nostalgia in the loss, there are also curious digital and intellectual property gains to be made.
The most obvious non-mortar asset under scrutiny is the contract with Kobo. A formalized relationship, Borders sold exclusively Kobo e-readers in exchange for shares in Kobo, non-transferable shares. The question remains, who will own the Borders shares if Borders liquidates to the point of non-existence? Borders has retained IP firm Steambank to handle that question. In the meantime, though Borders has stopped selling and stocking Kobos, it continues to funnel customer requests toward Kobo.
The next most obvious non-mortar asset up for grabs is the website. A recent revamp has left the site with a worthwhile hub of book reviews, features and guest bloggers. In theory, this site managed properly could be the centrepiece of the remaining Borders company, though it would undeniably need to link any books mentioned to a former competitor’s sales site.
The least obvious assets still on the table – especially if the website is shut down or de-Borderized – are the company’s incredibly well-populated Twitter handle and Facebook page. Borders’ main Facebook page has over 895,000 likes and its Twitter handle over 236,000 followers. Though it might be difficult to put a dollar value on these influential and powerful assets, there could be a argument to do so. That said, the fine print of Facebook and Twitter contracts may also have a role to play before passwords and logins can be exchanged.
Finally, Borders likely kept a membership list. Personal information would have been collected en masse. It would be interesting to see what the small print of the membership contract said: can these lists be sold as property? How much is personal information worth? These questions have a much broader context than the names and telephone numbers collected by this now defunk bookstore. If Facebook were to ever collapse, would the personal information stored online ever be up for grabs? This is a huge concern for companies who store information cross-borders (no pun intended), where different laws will apply in to the different countries involved. Cross-border concerns, however, won’t affect Borders. The US chain was, in fact, blocked from ever coming to Canada in a rather typical display of mid-90s protectionism.
Governments used to be one of the few entities that collected personal information; history has been witness to how this information has been gathered, abused and shared (or not shared). As we move further and further into an age where companies collect more personal information than ever before, how that information is used after the demise of a corporation should become more standardized and regulated.