Archive for October, 2011

Book Trade – Reflections on the UK specialist wholesaling model

October 29, 2011 8 comments

TMD’s announcement this week of its imminent withdrawal from wholesaling for UK publishers came as no surprise. The surprise to me is that it’s been able to carry on as long as it has.

Even at the height of STL Distribution’s involvement with wholesaling, it was incredibly cash, stock and shelf-space intensive. The breakthrough for STL in those early days came when it moved into trade distribution (starting with Kingsway) and began to develop its own extensive retail infrastructure. Without those two elements, in my view STL may not have survived beyond the 1990’s.

In the late 19980’s, STL tried to emulate the likes of Gardners and Hammicks. Now the competition is even fiercer with Amazon taking on a quasi-wholesale supply role within the book trade. It seems crazy that it makes sense for shops to buy from Amazon and receive better terms than from publishers!

The retail sector has to take its own share of responsibility for the difficulties experienced by suppliers in recent years. Too often shops use their distributors as bankers – by not sticking to agreed payment terms and by often paying late. This has had a rolling, detrimental and destabilising effect across the whole trade putting a lot of pressure on companies’ cash flow.

For TMD to concentrate on its American lists makes a lot of financial sense. These are usually high margin transactions, with stock often placed on consignment and a much healthier impact on cash management.  USA Publishers can afford to throw greater margin and to slightly increase their already high print runs for sale to the UK market. One negative effect may be to further accentuate the already disproportionate USA / UK title balance on display within UK bookshops. 

The ‘Elephant in the Room’ behind the TMD decision is the hugely shrinking pool of retail outlets for suppliers to sell into. The UK market has lost a very large number of shops in a relatively short period of time. There is simply much less shelf space to go around. There is just not as much business to be had. Everyone involved is ‘competing’ for less space on shelves and seemingly for fewer customers. TMD do not own their own outlets as STL did and so the vertical integration model does not work for them.

I’ve said elsewhere that I wish CLC Wholesale well. However, I remain unconvinced that they can pick up the slack due to two reasons; (1) their remuneration policy which mitigates against being able to attract enough competent and professional staff (no slight whatsoever intended to existing CLC’ers, all of whom do an amazing job in often difficult circumstances) and (2) the need to significantly widen their stock holding policy at the wholesale warehouse level. If these points are courageously and urgently addressed, then the chance still exists for CLC to fill the current vacuum and grow their own market share considerably.

This is now such a seriously changed landscape; one in which specialist Christian trade wholesaling may possibly have had its day.  Like so often in life, we’ve gone full circle from a viable wholesale model – brilliantly pioneered for this market by the likes of Raymond Stanbury, Daan van Belzen and Keith Danby– to again buying direct from Publishers with all of the built-in inefficiencies and additional costs.  C’est la vie!


Opinion – India’s population clock clicks inexorably towards 1.3bn

October 27, 2011 2 comments

I’m just back from a wonderful second visit to India – with its immense financial contradictions and severe social challenges; none more so than its population numbers. Estimates indicate that over 3,000 babies are born in India every hour!

On the teeming sub-continent, India’s already massive population continues to grow. It’s at 1.22 billion people and steadily rising. A Government initiative is designed to cap families at two children per family under the slogan ‘Small family = Happy family’, despite recent Roman Catholic opposition in states like Kerala countering with their own slogan of ‘Large family = Happy family’.

In July 2011, the BBC reported;

The good news is that India’s birth rate has dropped by more than half in 35 years – from 5.7 children per woman in the mid-1960s to 2.7 in 2010. Nearly a third of India’s people have lowered their fertility to replacement levels. The bad news is that India is still set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030’.

This week, the UN Population Fund announced that the world population is about to reach seven billion. Incredible; I remember when I got married (in the late 1970’s) that it then numbered just over 4 billion!

According to a BBC web-based calculator, when I was born in the 1950’s, I was the 2,876,874,081 person alive on Earth and the 76,381,725,732 person to have lived since history began! Not sure quite how these figures are arrived at, but all good fun anyway!

Photography – England’s 26C Indian Summer (in October!)

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

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