Thursday, December 04, 2008

Black Wednesday for the book world

As the future of wholesaler Bertrams as part of EUK, the wholesaler arm of Woolworths hangs in the balance, the book world is holding its breath to see what happens. The most likely contenders are Lingenbrink, Libri and Koch or Neff - all of them German - or Dutch based Centraal Boekhuis. The strong Euro may make the company look attractive, but Germany in particular and the rest of Europe are like Britain, on the brink of recession, and European banks are tighter on lending than their UK counterparts.

Across the Atlantic and encouraged by the strengthening dollar, Ingram may also be a contender - they already have a presence in the UK via Lightning Source, but the recession in the US is if anything worse than here.

Negotiations also continue for a buyer for the troubled chain of Woolworths stores.

Yesterday I read of the redundancy of Telegraph Literary Editor Sam Leith after ten years service. I wish him well in his future career. Yesterday was not a good day for publishing all round Stateside, being tagged as "black Wednesday", following the news of 35 redundancies from Simon and Schuster and that Thomas Nelson are to shed 10 percent of their staff, effective on Friday. This comes on top of planned re-structuring at Random House. I see as well that the Penguin Group have frozen all 2009 pay rises for staff who earn more than $50,000 (£30,000) a year.

Total sales for America's three largest chains fell 6.3 percent for the quarter ended November 1st, with revenue falling to $1.93 billion. All three have blamed the decline in customer footfall, with sales particularly slow in September and October, traditionally the time for new releases in non-fiction. The book sellers are not alone, with other retailers also feeling the pinch. Both footfall and conversion at the store that I work in have tumbled in recent months. reporting Last Wednesday, the Commerce Department in the US reported that consumer spending fell by 1 percent in October, the steepest decline since 911.

Borders saw the highest drop of all the chains, at 9.4 percent. It also suffered the largest decline in like for like conversion on a branch by branch basis. CEO George Jones said the steeper decline at Borders was due to the company’s aggressive inventory reduction program. He stated that Borders are “fine tuning” their inventory program and have a team in place going from store by store to restore any titles that may have mistakenly been removed.

It is timely that BBC2's Money Programme is set to explore the state of the publishing industry in the New Year. The programme will include interviews with Larry Finlay of Transworld, Patrick Janson-Smith of HarperCollins, agent Carole Blake, author Catherine O'Flynn, Luke Brown of Tindal Street, Neill Denny of the Bookseller, and Nicholas Clee of BookBrunch. It will also feature Amanda Ross of Cactus TV, the makers of the Richard and Judy show. I look forward to watching it in due course and seeing what conclusions are reached.

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