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The weakest link

The music and video industry is in tatters after the collapse of Woolworths, EUK, Fopp and Windsong, and in recent years MVC and Music Zone, leaving only one major specialist high street retailer and no wholesalers: this is a strong forewarning of what may happen to the book trade.

Maybe it is not unrealistic to see Waterstone's being the only surviving specialist chain by 2010. Indeed, many of the surviving larger booksellers only continue to trade due to the patronage of their book-loving owners. Wholesalers and distributors working on knife-edge margins continually watching cash are hardly safe either. You really have to reflect on the Competition Commission's decision on the mergers of EUK, THE and Bertrams, and even the Waterstone's and Ottakars merger. It is clear that these decisions lacked foresight and were not in the interest of customers, the trade or the wider economy.

Will the book industry follow the other entertainment sectors with one clearly dominant high street specialist retailer like HMV or Game? Perhaps not as fast, but it has been a strange old 12 months, so nothing would surprise me.

We have learnt in the last few weeks that big ticket retailers are seeing a 20% reduction in sales. As the recession deepens surely this will knock into smaller ticket items: could your business survive a 20% drop in sales? I warrant even successful businesses couldn't survive such for very long. Redundancies may be the way forward for some, but for a retailer reducing rent, stock and debt isn't so easy.

The knock-on effect of retailers going into administration could be catastrophic to publishers and distributors which is why they are rightly cautious over supply. How­ever, disruption to supply chain is equally painful. This can be seen with pro-forma supply from Bertrams. Waterstones.com, which primarily uses Bertrams, shows only 30 out of 50 bestselling titles with 24-hour availability (at time of writing in mid-January).

If Britain's largest bookseller can't get hold of stock surely this means a proportion of independents are struggling to get stock too. It's a Catch-22: supply and you're damned, don't supply and you're damned! Which is why the PA-brokered deal for Bertrams was so important to keep the wheels oiled.

Publishers should now be re-evaluating their distribution models. It seems strange that some distributors and publishers are unable to supply books next day to the trade and that handfuls prefer not to supply independents, only supplying larger retailers and wholesalers. Surely this needs to change if we are to have a resilient supply chain that is efficiently supplying all sales channels.

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Interesting and well written, and pretty close to the temperature out there. As a small publisher who also runs an equally small film production company we can operate without any wholesalers ( although stock is still held by Gardners / Bertrams ) and perhaps more importantly without any retailers ( although we have a fair amount of stuff in outlets in the UK / US and elsewhere ). We had a 4 hour meeting with an online specialist here in Colchester yesterday and between us ( bearing in mind I am considered mentally unstable ) we have come up with something that might work. This book thing really does interest me and I thank those who take the time to read my opinions...and I send much peace to all of you out there...especially the guys who got in touch personally from the US of A!

A publisher that does not use any wholesalers (except Bertrams and Gardners!), and does not use any retailers (except presumably when they order books through the aforementioned wholesalers). It is truly a genius idea Ray!

Hey Jo, where you goin' with that gun in your hand? Perhaps I didn't explain things too clearly...although stock is out there in the wholesale / retail sector we are looking to do 100% of the business without going through either...we are already doing 90% direct to consumer. We ( there are only 3 including me ) will not be offering any form of discount in the future. Viewing a landscape ( one that exists only in my minds eye ) without any wholesale / retail options gets you focused on something far more powerful. Peace. x ( China is the ticket ).

Andrew - Good Article.

Is it possible Waterstones.com is supplied via the infamous Hub. If so perhaps this is why they are showing limited limited availability for some top 50 titles. Can anyone from Waterstone's confirm this?

It certainly seems to keep you busy.

Jeezh so much misinformation and false assumptions. In case anyone is not aware, fulfilment of Waterstone.com is done by Bertrams - there has been no official announcement for when the W "hub" will take on such operations. There are no shortages of distributors in this country : however, there are a grave shortage of retail outlets - especially on-line - who are prepared to stockhold, on their own premises, more than one copy of most titles.

Give me a week in Brentford and I'll do what needs doing. Won't issue any press releases and I don't want any fees or bonuses. The higher the position the easier the job. Check out the Dow Jones tonight on a monumental day in American history to see where we are all headed. x

dear bookseller - please get an interview with ray on his predictions for the next 12 months - we can then review in 12 months time and either ignore future posts or make him editor dependin gon hit rate

This is just a guess, nothing else...( assuming there were get out clauses re. leases etc....) Waterstone's needs to close 45 stores in 18 months to stand still. PS. Any news on Bertrams?

It's a financial issue these days. I'm grateful to any wholesaler or retailer that ever stocked the titles...however we agreed a 65% discount into the wholesalers with the last 2 titles. Dirty Blonde at the Cash Machine cost

I am more than amused by your comment about not needing to use either Gardners or Bertrams. Might I remind you that having your books in both these wholesalers catalogues, gives you access to over 4000 UK and international booksellers, Waterstones, Borders, Blackwells, Play.com, WH Smith....the list goes on. I would be intrigued to see how your team of 3 go about speaking to all these retailers if both Gardners and Bertrams decide to stop stocking your titles..............

Billions wiped off the value of Barclays Bank in the last 20 minutes...this is the world we are living in now...and it will affect us all.

Having just returned from the MIDEM music trade fair in Cannes I was bemused to read that there are no wholesalers left in the music and video industry. My firm, Lasgo Chrysalis, has just had a successful MIDEM, in which we did brisk business in a challenging environment. We are one of the largest music, film and book wholesalers in the country and have just had a record Christmas.

Interesting and well written, and pretty close to the temperature out there. As a small publisher who also runs an equally small film production company we can operate without any wholesalers ( although stock is still held by Gardners / Bertrams ) and perhaps more importantly without any retailers ( although we have a fair amount of stuff in outlets in the UK / US and elsewhere ). We had a 4 hour meeting with an online specialist here in Colchester yesterday and between us ( bearing in mind I am considered mentally unstable ) we have come up with something that might work. This book thing really does interest me and I thank those who take the time to read my opinions...and I send much peace to all of you out there...especially the guys who got in touch personally from the US of A!

A publisher that does not use any wholesalers (except Bertrams and Gardners!), and does not use any retailers (except presumably when they order books through the aforementioned wholesalers). It is truly a genius idea Ray!

Hey Jo, where you goin' with that gun in your hand? Perhaps I didn't explain things too clearly...although stock is out there in the wholesale / retail sector we are looking to do 100% of the business without going through either...we are already doing 90% direct to consumer. We ( there are only 3 including me ) will not be offering any form of discount in the future. Viewing a landscape ( one that exists only in my minds eye ) without any wholesale / retail options gets you focused on something far more powerful. Peace. x ( China is the ticket ).

Andrew - Good Article.

Is it possible Waterstones.com is supplied via the infamous Hub. If so perhaps this is why they are showing limited limited availability for some top 50 titles. Can anyone from Waterstone's confirm this?

It certainly seems to keep you busy.

Jeezh so much misinformation and false assumptions. In case anyone is not aware, fulfilment of Waterstone.com is done by Bertrams - there has been no official announcement for when the W "hub" will take on such operations. There are no shortages of distributors in this country : however, there are a grave shortage of retail outlets - especially on-line - who are prepared to stockhold, on their own premises, more than one copy of most titles.

Billions wiped off the value of Barclays Bank in the last 20 minutes...this is the world we are living in now...and it will affect us all.

I am more than amused by your comment about not needing to use either Gardners or Bertrams. Might I remind you that having your books in both these wholesalers catalogues, gives you access to over 4000 UK and international booksellers, Waterstones, Borders, Blackwells, Play.com, WH Smith....the list goes on. I would be intrigued to see how your team of 3 go about speaking to all these retailers if both Gardners and Bertrams decide to stop stocking your titles..............

It's a financial issue these days. I'm grateful to any wholesaler or retailer that ever stocked the titles...however we agreed a 65% discount into the wholesalers with the last 2 titles. Dirty Blonde at the Cash Machine cost

This is just a guess, nothing else...( assuming there were get out clauses re. leases etc....) Waterstone's needs to close 45 stores in 18 months to stand still. PS. Any news on Bertrams?

dear bookseller - please get an interview with ray on his predictions for the next 12 months - we can then review in 12 months time and either ignore future posts or make him editor dependin gon hit rate

Give me a week in Brentford and I'll do what needs doing. Won't issue any press releases and I don't want any fees or bonuses. The higher the position the easier the job. Check out the Dow Jones tonight on a monumental day in American history to see where we are all headed. x

Having just returned from the MIDEM music trade fair in Cannes I was bemused to read that there are no wholesalers left in the music and video industry. My firm, Lasgo Chrysalis, has just had a successful MIDEM, in which we did brisk business in a challenging environment. We are one of the largest music, film and book wholesalers in the country and have just had a record Christmas.