While I was taking a self-imposed hiatus, the Glasgow-based music retailer Fopp did, in the end, go bankrupt after a couple of weeks of cash-only sales and rampant rumors that the company, in its 25th anniversary of existence, had overextended its reach. The Bookseller first reported the news on Friday morning, adding that employees had told the BBC that staff were informed by e-mail on Thursday afternoon about the closure of stores. Later on Friday, they reported that Tom Burton and Colin Dempster from Ernst & Young were appointed joint receivers of Fopp and joint administrators to Music Zone 2007. “The stores have been closed by management yesterday and shop staff sent home,” Burton said in a statement. “We are currently assessing the financial position of the companies; once this has been completed we will have a better idea of the future of the businesses.”
Could Fopp have been saved from bankruptcy? The answer, according to the London Times, was yes, and the would-be-savior in question was Virgin Megastores. Had Sir Richard Branson‘s company attempted to merge with Fopp, it would have injected a big rescue loan and taken a 10 per cent stake in a new entity while keeping the Fopp brand. “In the end the numbers just didn’t add up and suppliers to Fopp would not support it,” a source close to the proceedings told the Times. And the BBC reported yesterday that Fopp workers are waiting to hear about their future sometime today, although some employees are already starting to look around for work.
Reaction to Fopp’s bankruptcy has ranged from out-and-out disappointment to cynicism. Macmillan CEO Richard Charkin, commenting on the Fopp news as well as Waterstone’s continuing woes, said: “Add these two stories to the continuing drip drip of independent bookshop closures and the picture for book retailing in the UK does not look pretty. It’s a little too easy to blame the lack of retail price maintenance, or competition from supermarkets and the Internet, or the existence of a returns system. It is also simply too easy for bookshops to demand ever higher discounts (or marketing bungs) from publishers. A vibrant high street book trade is vital culturally as well as economically. We must fix it – and fast.”
To which Michael Cader rebutted: “It’s also a little to easy — but still relevant and overlooked by many of our UK friends — to blame pricing and discount practices by UK publishers for hollowing out the core market and driving market share to the supermarkets and other non-traditional retailers. But we keep doing it. A “fix” will require the active participation of publishers.”