News that McNally-Robinson Booksellers, Canada’s biggest independent book retailer, filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of December rattled nerves in the Canadian market, but early post-holiday season reports from other independents indicate that their sales are generally holding up, even under some of the pressures cited as factors in McNally Robinson’s troubles.
Susan Dayus, executive director of the Canadian Booksellers Association, said the organization is still analyzing responses to its annual holiday sales survey, but it appears that the majority of the independent booksellers who responded said their “sales improved somewhat” over the same period--October, November and December--in 2008. She estimated the average was an increase of 2% to 5%.
The CBA also asked booksellers if their customers were asking for e-books, but the numbers were so far very small. “That doesn’t mean that in the next six months that isn’t going to change, or by next Christmas,” she said. “But to me, it shows that people who were coming into the stores were looking for the service that they’ve come to know and expect of independents, the people who know the books and can help them find it and have a good stock of books that they are looking for, whether it is regional or hot seller.”
Her impressions were echoed by Robert Wiersema, a bookseller at Bolen Books in Victoria, B.C. and president of the B.C. Booksellers Association, who said Christmas sales were good in the Bolen shop and that he hadn’t heard reports of other booksellers in the province having a bad season yet either. E-books, he said, are not a significant factor in sales yet. “I am aware that people are buying Kindles and e-readers. It’s something that is happening,” he said, but the effects are not measurable in sales yet.
Steve Budnarchuk, co-owner of Audreys Books in Edmonton, said some old-fashioned cold weather spells that kept shoppers in malls and away from his storefront shop in December had the most noticeable effect on sales, but aside from that, Christmas sales were “fine.” However, deep discounts by online retailers have been an ongoing challenge in recent years, he said. “Amazon continues to grow, and Indigo continues to struggle to keep up with it, and between the two of them and their online discounting, that has a serious impact on sales,” he said, voicing his concern that the prevalence of such discounts affect what consumers think a book is worth.
When announcing that McNally Robinson was entering bankruptcy protection with the expectation to restructure as a smaller company with two large format stores instead of four, co-owner Paul McNally had described a perfect storm of economic recession, deep discounting from online retailers and the emergence of e-books, but the other element of the mini-chain’s troubles was its addition of two new large format stores in Winnipeg and Toronto, which “proved substantially unprofitable.,” he said. Closing those two stores should allow the restructured company to survive and rebuild.
“We’re navigating the murky waters of bankruptcy protection and we hope to emerge into sunlight and clear waters in a couple or three weeks,” if the court approves the restructuring plan, he said. In the meanwhile, the McNally family has been heartened by warm wishes from publishers and from support from loyal customers in their surviving Winnipeg and Saskatoon, Sask., stores. “We get hugs,” McNally said.