Biblica and STL UK: A Strange Way to Attract Investors? December 6, 2009Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: Authentic Media, Biblica, Creditors, Former SPCK Bookshops, IBS-STL, IBS-STL UK, Interim Manager, J Mark Brewer, Keith Danby, Paternoster Press, Peter Gotham, Philip W Brewer, St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, STL, STL Distribution, Wesley Owen
If you’ve been following my other blogs, UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog and SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info, then it won’t have escaped your notice that the Christian book trade here in the UK has been going through a wee bit of a crisis over the last couple of years.
On the former SPCK bookshops front, things seem to be approaching a sort of resolution as Peter Gotham, the Interim Manager appointed by the Charity Commission, has seized control of most of the shops (Durham being the most obvious exception) and is now advertising for the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust’s creditors — amongst others, the people whose goods Mssrs J Mark and Philip W Brewer failed to pay for — to submit their claims against the organisation. If that’s you, you need to pull your finger out because, as things stand, you only have until the close of business on 16 December 2009 to get your claims in.
By a bizarre coincidence of timing, that’s also about the time that we can expect to hear what’s likely to happen to the struggling IBS-STL UK empire — STL Distribution, the Wesley Owen bookshops and Authentic Media/Paternoster Press. According to Keith Danby’s latest trade update, the negotiations with Biblica’s “preferred bidders” are expected to “take us into the week commencing 14th December” and we can expect a further announcement “when the sale process comes to a conclusion”.
It’s a welcome update that has been largely hailed as good news: to quote the Church Mouse,
The vital part of that is that the offers are ‘covering all aspects of the business’. This is very encouraging. Book selling in the UK is a tough market for anyone, evidenced not just by STL’s experience, but also by Borders going into administration. Some had thought that Wesley Owen’s chances of redemption were low, but it seems there is hope.
A more disturbing note, however, is sounded by the following statement from Danby which appeared in Toby Cohen’s Religious Intelligence report, Financial disaster hits British media player, published last week, Thursday, 3rd December 2009:
We are not being forced to make this decision by any bank. We came to the decision after struggling on for 12/13 months that now was the time to give the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership to do what was best for the continuity of the ministry and all of the stakeholders.
To me there seems to be more than a whiff of something peculiar here. Even looking at this in the best possible light, pulling the plug on your UK operations and telling not only your staff but also your business and ministry partners that if buyers are not found within a few weeks then the entire enterprise will go into administration seems a rather strange way to attract new investors.
Introducing this level of uncertainty into people’s lives and livelihoods during the most critical time of year for businesses — and what is often one of the most stressful times of year for families — is hardly the way to help to ensure continuity of ministry, let alone to offer reassurance to “the stakeholders”.
If providing “the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership” to take things forward was the primary concern, then surely the way to proceed would have been to seek to sell IBS-STL UK as a going concern, not as a business that was for sale or bust?
If there was no pressure from the charity’s bankers, then why was it deemed appropriate to subject either the staff or the rest of the UK Christian book trade to the trauma that they and we have gone through since November 16th?
I do not for one moment dispute the immense effort that has been put into finding a buyer or buyers, or into securing the futures of as many of STL UK’s 490 employees as possible; but I do not believe that Biblica’s decision to pull out of its UK operations was made with the best interests of the UK Christian book trade — or even its own UK division — in mind. No doubt new investment, new thinking and new leadership will emerge: but for that we will owe no debt of gratitude to Biblica, only rather to those who have shown the courage and entrepreneurial spirit to pick up the pieces afterwards.