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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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36 comments

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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10 comments

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…

I’d say Christianity sucks, but it’s worse than that… July 8, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity.
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14 comments

Much worse: now you can chew it and spit it out when you’ve sucked all the flavour out of it. What was that Jesus said about salt that’s lost its flavour? Maybe this bit of sad supposedly ‘Christian’ crap which arrived in my work inbox today courtesy of STL USA (or Biblica, whatever name they’re trading under these days) is what he had in mind.

Is this really what Christianity has degenerated into? Lord have mercy, but I am ashamed of the Gospel when this is what we’ve done to it. What next: print Bible verses on your toilet paper and claim there’s no need to wash your hands afterwards?

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