Monday, October 13, 2008

Borders hit by Icelandic banking crisis

As print on demand company Lulu make 24 people redundant at the UK site, due to the credit crunch, Amazon seem (unfortunately) to be going from strength to strength with their profits going up with each successive quarter. This has by all accounts, been a highly successful year for them - with the acquisition of social networking site Shelfari, and the launch in the United States, of the Kindle e-reading device. I see now that they have now been awarded a US patent for "creating an incentive to author useful item reviews."

The patent describes a method of "rewarding the authors of reviews found to be useful by their readers, such as by prominently displaying their names and ranks as authors of useful reviews prominently on the web merchant's web site." In practise this means giving customers badges for writing product reviews based on whether or not others found their submission useful. This is I suppose, Amazon's way of saying thank you (pity they didn't think to thank all us authors for writing the books that they sell at such ridiculous discounts and screwing us out of the opportunity to sell them at cheaper than they do - see the Booksurge contract in yesterday's post).

The funny thing is that back in 2000, Jeff Bezos called for "fewer patents, of higher average quality." Exactly what his definition of average is, is obviously different to the rest of us ... Why anyone is surprised by this backtrack is beyond me, for like politicians, it is all he seems to do. He stated not that long ago that Amazon had no plans to implement their POD "service" in the UK, but we all took that with a pinch of salt, and quite rightly so, given my two posts of yesterday. Some time ago, in an interview with the New York Times, he declared that books were like horses, as both were perfect things that were difficult to improve upon. It seems to me that he spends most of his time talking out of that same thing that horses s*** through.

Things may be good for Amazon, but they are far from good for troubled book chain, Borders, which has found itself emboiled in the Icelandic banking crisis. The retailer - which secured a £23 million asset-based loan from Landsbanki Island earlier this year, also has an overdraft facility with the bank, which has been taken over by Iceland's Financial Services Authority. Its links with Landsbanki could have long term implications for Borders UK's access to working capital, although the impact is as yet unclear.

The chain could find their working capital severely restricted during the most critical trading period of the year, while the Icelandic Government decides what to do with the banks international operations. Speculation is rife, with one suggesiton that Borders may be asked to pay back some of the £23 million loan. The problem is that this is secured by the stock that is held in both the company's stores, and its distribution centre (recently closed) in Truro.

At the time that this loan was announced, in February, Mark Raban, who was Borders' Finance Director, said: "Landsbanki were able to offer flexibility and complete the deal quickly. We are confident the deal puts us on a strong footing for future success." I bet he is eating those words now.

While I would hate to see the demise of the chain, and the resultant loss of jobs, it would in many ways be not unexpected. Borders seem to have lost something in recent years - they used to be a good company to deal with and to shop with, but the stores now seem tatty and out of date, with the shelves stocked full of books that no one wants to buy. Whether the closure of the Truro centre will make a difference is difficult to tell, in theory it should, for the smaller presses and self publishers at least, since the staff will no longer be able to fob you off by stating that they only buy stock centrally through Head Office. Some titles no doubt are, but they will no longer be able to use this as an excuse to get rid of the savvy self publishers like me, who will challenge them on this, by pointing out that this is not the case, the stock can and is, also obtained from wholesalers, with deliveries direct to stores.

It is once again a case of wait and see. I hope that they can manage to dig their way out, but I fear that this time, their number may be up, leaving just two major book chains in the UK - WH Smiths and Waterstones.

No comments: