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Yesterday’s Goliath, Today’s David

25 June 2011

There was a time, not long ago, when smart money said Amazon couldn’t compete against Barnes & Noble and Borders selling books.

Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal:

[Shortly after Amazon launched in July 1995] Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, enjoyed playfully tweaking both B&N and Borders. In 1996, he said that he understood—but did not share—the two retailing giants’ initial disinclination to make a commitment to selling books online. “I think it’s rational for those guys at this point,” he said. “They’re big enough to break into the market after it’s been validated.”

At that time, Leonard Riggio, B&N’s chairman and chief executive officer, told Mr. Bezos he was interested in buying part or all of Amazon.com, according to Tom Alberg, an early Amazon investor and a member of its board of directors. Mr. Riggio and his brother Stephen, then B&N’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, “started calling Jeff,” recalled Mr. Alberg. “They said they wanted to do something. They didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do. They said, ‘You’re doing a fantastic job, but, of course, we’re going to kill you when we launch.'”

In the late fall of 1996, the Riggio brothers journeyed to Seattle, where they had dinner with Messrs. Bezos and Alberg. Mr. Alberg recalled that the Riggios were very complimentary about what Mr. Bezos had accomplished, but they also reiterated the claim, “We’re going to kill you,” when they launch their own website. The Riggio brothers expressed interest in putting together a joint venture. One suggestion was a website—separate and apart from the Amazon.com site—that would use the Amazon.com system and would carry both the Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com brands. Nothing ever came of the B&N approach.

. . . .

Today, B&N, which is the target of a takeover bid by Liberty Media Corp., has a market cap of about $1.2 billion, compared to $84 billion for Amazon.com.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (link may expire after a few days)

Bookstores, Disruptive Innovation

4 Comments to “Yesterday’s Goliath, Today’s David”

  1. this reminds me of the Dread Pirate Roberts: “I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

    • Susan – The Barnes & Noble attitude in the 90’s reflects the common error of believing money will always trump brains.

    • @Susan – You win so many things in my drizzly Sunday morning.

      I think the Big Winners in this industry (any industry really) are those that create their own space. No Miner 49’er ever got rich panning where all the other idiots were, no matter how much gold was there. The true barons of it all were the ones that walked further upstream, or even completely over the hill, to pan somewhere new.

      • Judd – Good mining metaphors. Something about rainy days and Sundays brings out the poet.

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