Major Distributor Raises Concerns Over Borders

By Neal Comment

borders-logo-small.jpgGalleyCat has received a copy of a “special alert” sent from a major book distributor specializing in independent publishers to its clients, warning them that Borders, whose financial difficulties are widely recognized, “now tell us that they will not be paying us for two months due to anticipated excessive returns,” a situation the company views with understandable concern. This distributor “typically carries receivables of approximately two million dollars with Borders,” the memo continues. “A default of that amount would by no means put [us] out of business, but it would be painful, weaken the short-term health of the company, and would mean we would have to defer some of our plans for future growth.”

Therefore, the distributor is telling its clients they need to make a decision this weekend: “Publishers must either instruct [us] not to ship their titles to Borders [or] accept the provision that [we], for Borders business only, will guarantee payment only for the publishers’ historical printing cost of books that are not paid for, rather than for the whole amount of any unpaid invoices.” (As the memo explains, the printing cost of a $14.95 paperback is roughly $1.50, compared to the $7.48 the distributor bills Borders.) The new policy is contrasted to what the company says other distributors do, asserting that some of its competitors are refusing to take any credit risk at all on inventory sent to the struggling chain.

The memo emphasizes, however, that this distributor does not actually recommend that any of its clients start denying Borders their titles:

“Borders has been paying [us], they are reported to have cash on hand and access to credit in the future, and the last thing anyone wants is to have only one giant chain in the retail book market. Borders may prosper, and even in the worst case, given [our] uniquely flexible policy, the value of your inventory would be preserved.”

Additionally, “this policy will stay in affect only while there are serious concerns about Borders viability.” Of course, given that Borders announced a new inventory display strategy earlier this year that would require cutting the stock at a typical outlet by as much as 10 percent, the overall impact of this development on small publishers may be difficult to fully ascertain at first.