In the wake of Bookpeople's Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing on August 22, most of the 40 publishers that it distributes through its Words Distributing division have decided to stay. Only two houses asked to be released from their contracts early. Sentient Publications in Boulder, Colo., is switching to National Book Network effective September 15, while Moon Mountain Publishing in North Kingston, R.I., is going with NBN effective October 1. World Wisdom Publishing in Bloomington, Ind., announced that it will delay publication of its five fall releases until February and be represented to the trade by NBN starting January 1.

"We felt it was like having a lame duck distributor," said Connie Shaw, founder and publisher of two-year-old Sentient. "At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, sales were good. We saw slower sales and increased returns before they filed." Four-year-old children's book publisher Moon Mountain observed a similar tapering-off of sales. "We've been disappointed in sales since the beginning of the year," said v-p of marketing and sales Bob Holtzman. "With the Chapter 11 filing, we were dismayed by the prospects of sales for the second half of the year."

Despite the defections, Judy Wheeler, director of sales and marketing for Bookpeople and Words Distributing Company, is optimistic. "The fulfillment and distribution divisions are both exceeding expectations for the year both in profit and in dollars. We're actually in the process of signing up a new publishing client and possibly two more," she told PW. "We really are planning to regroup and emerge from bankruptcy. We're still here. We'll be at all five trade shows. We're taking a positive route here. If we build it, they will come." Ironically, it is Bookpeople's core business, wholesale, that continues to be problematic. "No one is really doing well in wholesale now," said Wheeler. "A lot of the major publishers want to ship themselves."

By January, Wheeler anticipates, it will be clear whether or not Bookpeople can emerge from bankruptcy. Even those who are leaving are hoping for the best. "I wish them well," said Barry McDonald, managing director of World Wisdom. "We have a lot of respect for them."