September 1, 2011

Sins of the Fathers… or something

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jarek Steele @ 11:23 pm

I think I’m going to change my superpower on my staff pick page from “I’d be invisible” to “I’d be persuasive” because clearly there is a correlation between one’s favored superpower and one’s relationship with the world around him.  This is not an easy switch for me because I’m your typical socially anxious book nerd/web geek, and invisibility in that context is very comfy, like lying on my bed cross ways, daydreaming while my box fan cools my feet.

But change is in the air.  And it stinks.  Or maybe that’s my feet.

For the past few months vultures (and by vultures I of course mean the credit departments at the major publishing houses) have been circling lower and lower at ye olde bookstore, waiting I suppose, for us to look to the sky, utter our last words and emit a death rattle from our throats.  Or give them the $10 we owe them so we can get the latest young adult vampire/zombie dystopian romance novel and accompanying cardboard display.

Today, my personal favorite call was from a publisher that isn’t one of the “Big Nine” on our accounts payable list.  Their name starts with a T, but I won’t go further than that because I might come home to find a dead horse in my bed or something.  After they placed no less than four phone calls and left messages on every phone but mine, I called them back.  I mean I had nothing better to do.  After all it’s only the first of the month and the bestseller lists and payroll were due in addition to the budget for the next quarter.

Sure “Dave,” I can talk to you.  The conversation went a little something like this:

“Hi Dave, this is Jarek Steele calling from Left Bank Books in St. Louis.  I’d like to clear up our account so that we can get the books for the bulk order we placed with you.”

“You didn’t call me back or email me.  Don’t you ever return phone calls?”

“Yes, I do return phone calls, but email is much easier for me since my voicemail fills up sometimes twice a day.”

“I’ve been trying to reach you about your outstanding balance on your account with us.  You know, you really have to stay within your terms or we cannot ship to you.”

“Yes, I apologize for the delay.  It’s been a rough few months.  We have several hundred creditors and I’m responsible for paying them all.  I’ve missed a few things along the way.”

“According to our records you paid invoice 34954 for $39.95 and then paid invoice 45309 TWICE.  You weren’t supposed to do that.”

“So we’re on credit hold because I paid an invoice twice?”

“Yes, well no.  Not really because there was another open invoice.”

“So we paid an invoice twice and there was another open invoice?”


“But couldn’t you apply the payment to the open invoice?”

“Yes, but you still owe us $5.06 and I can’t release any orders until that is cleared up.  Your orders will not ship until you pay us.”

“Wait, you won’t ship any books because I paid the wrong invoice and I owe you $5.06?”



“Should I write you a check or put it on a credit card?”

“We take both methods of payment sir, it’s really up to you.”

“Which way will make you ship our books today?”

“Your check would have to clear the bank before we can ship to you, sir.  You’ll need to pay by credit card.”

So I paid $5.06 by credit card to “T”.  Yeah, I did it.  I didn’t argue.  I didn’t point out that “T” had paid Dave several times that amount chasing us down for payment because those days are long over.

In the post-Borders apocalypse, nothing is as it was.  Down is up.  Up is down.  And why?  Because these publishers got stiffed by a massive chain store and someone must pay!  Someone will be punished!  And it won’t, by god, be the chain store.

Here’s the breakdown of what Borders owed some of the publishers:

  • Penguin Putnam: $41.1 million
  • Hachette Book: $36.9 million
  • Simon & Schuster: $33.8 million
  • Random House: $33.5 million
  • Harper Collins: $25.8 million
  • Macmillan/MPS: $11.4 million
  • John Wiley and Sons: $11.2 million
  • Perseus Distribution: $7.8 million
  • Source Interlink: $6.9 million
  • Twentieth Century Fox: $6.4 million
  • Seattle’s Best Coffee: $5 million
  • F&W Media: $5 million
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: $4.4 million
  • Sony Music: $4.3 million
  • Workman Publishing: $4 million
  • Diamond Comic Distributors: $3.9 million
  • UMGD: $3.8 million
  • Warner Elektra Atlantic: $3.4 million
  • The McGraw-Hill Companies: $3 million
  • Sony Pictures: $2.9 million
  • Pearson Education: $2.9 million
  • Rosetta Stone: $2.2 million
  • National Book Network: $2 million
To put this in perspective, if you add up all of the 37 years my partner Kris has been at the store, Left Bank Books has not made as much money as Borders owed Penguin.  What does this mean?
It means that irresponsible gigantic corporations do gigantic damage, and that damage is passed down to small businesses by way of the creditors we share.  Get stiffed for several million dollars?  Browbeat the indie for the $340 that’s 60 days past due.
I’m not saying that indies shouldn’t be responsible for our bills.  I’m saying that we HAVE been responsible for our bills, and even if we pay late, we at least pay.  And we’re still here.  We’re still selling books.  We’re good at it, too.  Indies tend to live more within our means and we’re great at working with tight budgets.
I told my therapist (hard to believe venting via blog isn’t enough, right?) that waiting for the end to finally, FINALLY come for Borders is like clinging to a life preserver while the massive ship sinks.  The whirlpool threatens to suck us under and we keep furiously paddling away to stay out of the vortex.  Now if our vendors would quit beating us over the head with the oars, maybe we could climb aboard the life boats with them and figure out how to build a fleet of smaller, more seaworthy ships together.

1 Comment »

  1. The answer to almost all business difficulties is increased sales,…..so,… has the market share once owned by Border’s Books been divided up yet?

    And have Border’s customers begun to wander over to the nearest Barnes & Noble..? I found the macro-economic impact of the Border’s bankruptcy very interesting,…especially the credit angle described in your post,…it is a very complicated economy,..

    But, for book sellers, this is how it has always been, …and it will always be so!,….The answer to difficult business situations is to generate is sales, sales, sales….(& fix internal controls),….but teach your folks to sell, sell, sell….provide a rich, friendly, warm place of acceptance, where the guest feels wanted,…and you will sell, sell, sell…

    So,…what does one do to take advantage of the death of Borders? You could have a Border’s Wake promotion,….hand out coffin-style bookmarks and 10% discounts to all previous Borders customers,….host a welcome committee one night of the week welcoming “big-brother-book-buyers” who need to find a wholesome, independent alternative,….invent something that exploits the loss of Borders, ..yet emphasizes the unique warmth of a smaller, independent bookstore….gobble up as many of those “Borders folks”, as you can….now,….while the getting is good,….


    RJ O’Guillory
    Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

    p.s.- and, you could buy and sell my memoir,..Webster Groves,…..it should help your sales jump, especially once we get the movie deal signed!

    Comment by RJ OGuillory — October 2, 2011 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

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