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Biblica and STL UK: A Strange Way to Attract Investors? December 6, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Watching and Waiting.
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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.

From Dream to Nightmare to – where do we go from here? November 19, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in News.
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It seems only a short while ago that I posted about daring to dream. But sometimes dreams turn to nightmares and the whole world comes crashing in.

It’s not my dream I’m talking about this time: it’s the hopes and dreams of my friends and colleagues in the Christian book trade, particularly those working for STL, Wesley Owen and Authentic Media. Because everything fell apart around their ears this week as their parent company, Biblica, decided to pull the plug on their UK operations.

The announcement was made on Monday and you can read it in full over on the UKCBD blog as well as a whole host of other places including Christian Marketplace, the Church Times blog and STL’s own blog. It’s a sad story of incompetence in high places as some buffoons — they called them “IT consultants” — took STL UK on a one-way journey into a new software system called SAP back in October last year. Unfortunately it didn’t work and everything went pear-shaped in the warehouses, shops weren’t being supplied with goods, customers walked away and cash flow trickled down to … well, not quite zilch, but to the point where they couldn’t pay their suppliers so their suppliers stopped supplying which meant more bookshops weren’t being supplied … and I think you can see where this is going. Very, very sad: add a downturn in the economy and crunch, down comes the entire edifice.

The plan  is to find a buyer “within the next few weeks”, otherwise things start closing down. Unpleasant for all concerned, to put it mildly.

I’m spearheading a blog campaign to stage a trade/community buyout which has generated a certain amount of interest, but whether or not the level of interest will be sufficient remains to be seen. At the moment I’m waiting for the latest accounts and financial reports from the company, which I requested on Tuesday. No response yet from either Biblica or Baker Tilly, the company contracted to handle negotiations.

So time will tell. We watch and wait. Please pray, please take a look at the discussions so far, throw in your own ideas, pray some more, think about whether or not you’d like to become part of a buyers’ consortium — let me know as soon as possible if so, please — then pray some more.

Some interesting ideas over at Clayboy’s place: head across and throw in your own thoughts there too, please; and watch this space…

Burning Boxes in the Twittersphere October 20, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Theological Reflection.
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Boxes! Boxes, boxes, boxes — but at last we’ve unpacked them all and Sue & I are getting settled in our new home. Sue was officially licensed to her new post as Priest-in-Charge of Henlow & Langford last week, first Sunday services now over & done and I’ve survived the endless round of, “… and this is Phil, our new priest’s husband.” All in all, it’s been great to be welcomed by such a lovely bunch of friendly people.

Back to the boxes, however: you’ll be pleased to know we haven’t burnt them — most are going back to the removals company whilst the odd few that aren’t fit for reuse are going for recycling (Bedfordshire is very hot on recycling).

But I decided to celebrate yesterday by flattening a virtual box in the twittersphere, and posted:

Philgreen_normalnotbovvered Thinking outside the box isn’t good enough. You need to step outside the box and flatten it. Permanently.19/10/2009 from Twitterrific

which led to some interesting conversations…

Twitter_profile_normalsupersimbo @notbovvered burn the mutha!!19/10/2009 from web

A_logo_normalauthenticmedia @notbovvered There’s a box?19/10/2009 from SeesmicPaul-ball004-small_normalKercal @notbovvered Sadly I stepped out of one box, into another box and am watching the latter being flattened with me still in it.19/10/2009 from web

~~~waves of empathy for Kercal, everybody!~~~

Since authenticmedia seemed a tad bemused, I identified the box for them, but they either didn’t get it or didn’t want to:

Philgreen_normalnotbovvered @authenticmedia Yeah. It’s called Evangelicalism – and you guys are in it!! <crooked grin>19/10/2009 from Twitterrific

A_logo_normalauthenticmedia @notbovvered Question still stands…there’s a box?19/10/2009 from Seesmic

Philgreen_normalnotbovvered @authenticmedia just because you can see the sky doesn’t mean you’re not in the box…19/10/2009 from Twitterrific

supersimbo was more willing to engage:

Twitter_profile_normalsupersimbo @notbovvered now that i see what you were meaning, is it possible to define “evangelicalism” as a box? It means so many dif things now….19/10/2009 from webPhilgreen_normalnotbovvered @supersimbo Too late, mate: you’ve done gone and burnt the mutha! Nuthin but smoke & ash now…
19/10/2009 from Twitterrific

Twitter_profile_normalsupersimbo @notbovvered yea but i burnt the box we have put it in, not the actual thing “evangelicalism” or whatever it is………..19/10/2009 from web

Philgreen_normalnotbovvered @supersimbo Sounds kinda like setting fire to a fart to me… (oops, naughty word: slapped wristie!!)19/10/2009 from Twitterrific

Twitter_profile_normalsupersimbo @notbovvered phil is not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!19/10/2009 from web

Quite right, supersimbo, I am but a mischief maker 😉 — but let the conversation go on. Not sure how Keira Knightly got involved, but she did. If you understand, please enlighten me: there could even be a free book in it for you…

Green_5413_aidan_normaldavidmkeen @notbovvered now you have to guzzle a bottle of wine and throw Keira Knightly in the air19/10/2009 from TweetDeck

Green_5413_aidan_normaldavidmkeen @notbovvered so the box is full of free books then?19/10/2009 from TweetDeck

Utb_gen_normalunicorntreebks @notbovvered box thing – is it ok then if I store what was in the box on the bookshelves for all to see the diversity and range??19/10/2009 from web

Philgreen_normalnotbovvered @unicorntreebks I’d suggest putting it out for sale rather than storage (and I suspect there’s more than evangelicalism in your boxes!!)19/10/2009 from Twitterrific

Dscf0889e_normalcornerstonebks @notbovvered @unicorntreebks @supersimbo @authenticmedia I am not convinced by boundary-less existence outside boxes. It is a myth!19/10/2009 from web

Twitter_profile_normalsupersimbo @Cornerstonebks that may have been my point about burning a box with stuff in it but the actual thing we thought we burnt is still there 🙂19/10/2009 from webTwitter_profile_normalsupersimbo @Cornerstonebks ie: effects of evangelicalism, methods, failures etc are in the box but the actual thing is too big to be contained in a box19/10/2009 from web

… which kinda brings us to the end of the conversation, with thanks to everyone who joined in and apologies to anyone whose tweets I’ve missed. Had I known it was going to spark such a stimulating dialogue, I’d’ve come up with a hashtag like #evangelicalbox — so if you, gentle reader, choose to take up the challenge of my final question, perhaps you’d care to use it?

Philgreen_normalnotbovvered What do posh chocolate and evangelicalism have in common? Both come in a box with lots of varieties and… [complete within 140 characters]19/10/2009 from Twitterrific

The 140 character limit only applies if you’re twittering: comments left here can be as long as you like, I guess. My own answer is “… and a ‘best before’ date that’s  long since passed for evangelicalism.” If you think otherwise, feel free to tell us why…

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