The fate of France's 52 Chapitre bookshops is to be sealed sooner than planned, with the deadline for submitting takeover offers brought forward to 2nd December.
The idea had originally been to close down outlets that had not sold by summer 2014. However publishers are now refusing to supply the stores with books, and on average, the stores’ stocks are between 25% and 33% short of where they should be, Michel Rességuier, president of the Chapitre chain, said.
“When I took over last May, deliveries had already slowed down, but I hoped they would pick up again once I had presented a business plan for each outlet and a financial plan for the group,“ he said.
During meetings in October, Gallimard-Flammarion, Media Participations and other publishers had promised to increase supplies in the run-up to Christmas, but they have not followed through now that Hachette Livre has refused to deliver for fear of not being paid, Reguèssier said.
“Publishers are all traumatised by the losses they incurred when Virgin went bankrupt earlier this year, but their logic is Darwinian—survival of the fittest,” he told The Bookseller. “The lack of supplies means the shops will have to turn customers away and risk being less attractive to potential buyers.”
Ressèguier claimed the company has set up a system to ensure publishers would be paid for all the books the stores sell. The other copies would be returned as usual. Both Najafi Companies, which owns Chapitre’s parent company Actissia, and the French authorities have provided solid payment guarantees, he said, but declined to give any details. Actissia also owns France Loisirs and chapitre.com.
A disappointed Ressèguier added that: “Publishers back independent booksellers, but not the efforts to help ours become independent.”
In a statement prepared for the media, Hachette Livre said that: “The Virgin experience, which led to a considerable loss for French publishers, shows that to increase outstandings just before Christmas without credible guarantees is a solution that would inevitably fail. If such guarantees had been offered, Hachette Livre would have examined them closely, as no doubt would other suppliers.”
Najafi Companies, which owns Chapitre’s parent company Actissia, “has not played its role as shareholder. It is not for suppliers to act as a substitute. (…) Most publishers and distributors present at the meeting at the finance ministry (in October) were unanimous in adopting this position,” the statement added.
Some publishers, including Gallimard, small investors and a number of managers, have expressed an Interest in taking over 51 of the 52 Chapitre stores, Reguèssier said. Four others of the 57-outlet chain have been sold and a fifth deal should be finalised next week.