The Book People, the U.K. online discount bookseller, which also operates pop-up stores at schools and businesses, has gone into administration, a U.K. term roughly equivalent to filing for bankruptcy protection.
The accounting firm PwC was appointed as adminstrators on Tuesday and the company promises all Christmas orders will still be filled.
This is the second time this decade the business has collapsed, having previously been saved in a rescue deal by Endless in 2014. In 2017 it made sales of £72 million, with profits down to £1.1 million from £6.2 million a year before and a debt burden of £33 million.
Toby Underwood, restructuring partner for PwC, said, "The business continues to trade and at this point in time no redundancies are currently envisaged whilst we rapidly explore a sale of the business. The intention is to fulfil and deliver all customer orders received and accepted.
"Whilst the administrators have funding to meet the payroll for December, the longer-term prospects for the business, staff, customers and suppliers will clearly be dependent upon whether a sale can be secured."
Endless brought in Claire Bayliss (pictured) as CEO in April this year, and the company invested in a new logo, website, TV advertising and book buses during 2019.
Company was invisible
Interviewed by BookBrunch in September, Bayliss pointed to concerns about the The Book People's branding, offer and positioning
She said: "I’ve worked with Endless for seven years on various projects, and when they called me to talk about The Book People I realized they weren’t on my radar anymore. I still had genuine warmth for the brand from when my son bought his first book from them years ago. But I thought: where are they? From a personal viewpoint it had become invisible."
Bayliss, who was new to publishing but was a specialist in retail and digital marketing across a variety of industries including fashion and grocery, said: "It became clear we hadn’t invested in above the line advertising for a very long time. Furthermore, in terms of our digital marketing strategy, our paid search wasn’t working, so the general lack of public awareness had eroded over time."
Bayliss’s concerns were confirmed through focus groups. "I was only in the role for a couple of weeks when we instigated research groups in the north and south of the country. We spoke to schools, current customers, lapsed customers and people who should be our customers but were not. They felt we had become one-dimensional and known for cheap books. This was because our promotions were all about daily deals and get it now - it was all very chaotic! For example, we’d cram as much as possible on our online homepage while the catalogues were about how much product we could get into it. However, we’re a thriving book brand with a clear brand and purpose; we have a story to tell but we weren’t talking about it."
The business, which was founded by Ted Smart and Seni Glaister in 1988, employs 393 people, split between the Surrey headquarters and the warehouse operation in Bangor, which employs 229.
The collapse of the company has put several suppliers at risk. One company, Galley Beggar Press is owed £40,000 ($52,000) for 8,000 special hardcover editions of the of its Booker Prize-shorlisted novel Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann it produced for the company. Galley Beggar launched a GoFundMe site yesterday asking for money to cover the debt and had already raised more than £40,000 by Thursday afternoon in the U.K. The owners thanked their supporters, saying "we're [now] safe because of you."
The Book People pricing strategy has been criticized as unprofitable. For example, the company currently sells a package of all six Booker Prize-shortlisted novels in hardcover editions for just £35, or £6 each.
The original version of this first appeared in BookBrunch.