De-risk happy

<p><a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/62068-sales-up-profit-flat-at-watersto... top brass might be uncomfortable with the use of the word &quot;delay&quot; in our story about their decision to &quot;de-risk&quot; for a little bit longer the book chain's move to a new supply hub. </a>The word implies that there is something unexpected about the decision, something they should have foreseen but didn't.<br />
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Certainly Gerry Johnson was careful when he spoke to <i>The Bookseller</i> this morning: &quot;We are running a little bit behind than expected. It's entirely down to a desire to test it to destruction. We are aware of the importance of getting it right and not taking any risks with it.&quot;<br />
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<a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/40718-waterstones-eyes-firm-sale.html"... there has been a gradual creep back in the launch date since the distribution centre was announced a year ago, with supply to stores then expected to begin rolling out in the first quarter of 2008.</a></p>
<p>And the immediate response (online) from former Bertrams chief Julian Rivers is that there has been a hiccup. &quot;Having been involved in a major [relocation] project in the past the smart move is not to publish a tight specific timetable for everyone to see you miss . Waterstones will be on the back foot from now on.&quot;<br />
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I wonder if this is fair? In a sense Waterstone's is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. Publishers need to have a clear sense from the bookseller when the move is likely to happen: they need to plan for it, and they need to prepare themselves for the inevitable teething issues.<br />
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It has been apparent for some time that a September switch-over may not have been the best option: not only is it right in the middle of the key academic bookselling calendar, but if problems occur there is little time to sort them before Christmas arrives.<br />
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So Johnson's decision should be applauded: he is taking a careful approach to something that absolutely needs it. The consequences for commercial publishers of their largest route to the consumer going all Terminal Five in the months before Christmas are not worth thinking about. It is no surprise then that publishers are already telling us that they welcome the news (even if was delivered via HMV's financial statement, and <i>The Bookseller</i>, rather than direct).<br />
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Consideration should also be given to HMV's role, and perhaps Johnson's position on the main board of the group. In a time when HMV c.e.o. Simon Fox is attempting to squeeze every margin he can out of a business some in the City view with skepticism, the decision to delay the move will inevitably impact on the bottom line. The board could have taken a short term view and pushed it through with the hope of minimising and writing-off any problems: but crucially they didn't.<br />
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Of course, it would be daft to pretend that the benefits of the decision are all one-sided. Waterstone's might endure a bit of ribbing from publishers: but it now has a further six months to impress on them the advantages of centralised supply and the savings they might be able to share with the retailer going forward.</p>