2011 Mid-February Blues
2011 Mid-February Blues 16 February 2011 – news today that the American book store chain Borders has filed for bankruptcy – reports say that they could not compete with internet discount book buying from other sources – and I am sure that, already floundering, they also looked to the future and the e-book onslaught and gave up.
They “owe tens of millions of dollars to various publishers, including $41 million to Penguin Putnam, $37 million to Hachette Book Group, and $34 million to Simon & Schuster” according to one report. I do business with all of these publishers on a daily basis, and I wonder what effect this loss will have on their future.
Last week we met with our accountant – not a particularly upbeat meeting but not too bad either – with caution and a history of survival so far, we left feeling fairly optimistic – another year done and into the next one.
At 3 pm that same afternoon H.B. Fenn, our country’s largest, Canadian-owned book distributor, established by Harold Fenn in 1977, initiated bankruptcy proceedings.
My accountant is also their accountant – he must have known but at 10 am could not say a word to me. Part of the problem for H.B. Fenn – and this is happening to most Canadian distributors – is that they lost much of their business to a large US based distribution company, Hachette Book Group, who ships directly into Canada, without using a distributor with a warehouse in Canada. Sounds like this should make things more efficient, and perhaps it does, in some ways, for booksellers and consumers – but – this US based distributor who has the rights to sell a great many books published in the United Kingdom doesn’t keep them in stock as the former Canadian distributor did – so when I tell you some titles published in Great Britain might take 6-12 weeks to come from the UK that is why. Lousy customer service for all concerned in my opinion.
The end of H.B. Fenn is also the end for Key Porter Books, a Canadian publishing house established by Anna Porter in 1979, and sold to H.B. Fenn in 2004 – now gone.
So, what does this mean for all of us. It is something we might like to think about – or not. As we all become more used to shopping on the internet – often at a discount – we are not supporting the physical stores we once frequented. Those stores still have the same costs – rent, staff and so on; they still have to put stock on the shelves and they are still there to serve their customers – so far. But, as customers are sometimes scarce – and some come in only to do research before going home and buying on the internet – some of these stores are finding it more and more difficult to continue. Business owners have all of the same personal financial needs as you do - and if they can no longer meet those needs from their self-employed income then they eventually have no choice but to close the doors.
When that happens we will no longer have the choice about where we will shop.
I don’t know about you but I like shopping in a store where I know I am supporting a person – a family – and not some huge multi-national company.
In some ways the demise of large chain booksellers may not be such a bad thing for those independent bookshops that survive these challenging times. We will certainly be unique – and people who want actual books bought from an actual bookseller might like to shop in our stores. Some people like to talk to knowledgeable booksellers – ask us for recommendations and trust us to help them choose the very best books for their children and grandchildren – it is what I’ve been doing for most of my life. Like most booksellers I am not in a position to close the doors and retire – I need to continue working. This is what I do best, and love doing - I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say the same.
So – this is already far too long! Enjoy your day – things could be a lot worse! I am very fortunate - I can still take a holiday every once in a while, I have a loving marriage – great kids and a wonderful grandchild – and a job I love doing each and every day – and great customers! It is all about perspective.