Blackwell Group halves losses within a year

Blackwell UK hopes to become profitable in two years, after nearly halving its operating losses to £5.6m.

The academic bookseller’s year-end results to 26th June 2010 show the company has narrowed its operating losses from £9.4m in 2009. It also increased its turnover in that time by 0.7%, from £74.2m to £74.8m.

Blackwell Group chairman Trevor Goul-Wheeker said the results were achieved by streamlining and decentralising the business, focusing on local ownership and frontline customer service.

The Blackwell Group as a whole, which includes its international library supply arm, saw a drop in turnover from £158.3m to £108m in the 12 months preceding June 2010, which Goul-Wheeker attributed to the sale of its Australian and North American library supply business to YBP Library Services in 2009. The group also reduced its operating losses from £10.4m to £5.7m.

Once the company is profitable, it plans to offer its employees a stake in the business through a partnership scheme, to incentivise them to help continue Blackwell’s success. Goul-Weeker said: “This was the wish of Toby Blackwell, who was chairman before me, but we cannot pass on shares to employees until the company is profitable. If employees have a stake in the business, they will make the decisions that are right for the customers and their business, and they will give excellent customer service.”

Goul-Wheeker also called for publishers and booksellers to find “creative and adventurous” ways of working together to ensure booksellers remain on the high street, adding Blackwell was already trialling a textbook loan system as an alternative way of increasing revenue. In particular, he asked for publishers to fund stockholding in Blackwell’s stores to help working capital flow.

“It is in publishers’ own interests to support stockholding, and make sure there is the best range of titles in our bookshops, because customers will come in, browse what they want, then buy it online,” he said. “There are many different ways publishers could support us to get their books on display in terms of working capital—funding consignment stock is just one of them.”

Goul-Wheeker added “aggressive” e-commerce discounting continued to undermine the viability of bookshops, and the uncertainty of what effect changes to higher education funding will have did not help the academic bookselling market library supply business.
However, the Blackwell’s chairman said despite e-books accounting for less than 1% of turnover to library supplies, the company was best-placed to liaise with universities to grow this side of the business over the next year.