More Changes afoot at STL/Wesley Owen

Last month we noted STL UK’s forthcoming name change to ‘Biblica’, mentioned in the small print on the Wesley Owen volunteer leaflet, Wesley Owen Want You – and a New Name for STL UK? There’s still been no official announcement about that that I’m aware of, via the STL Blog or elsewhere.

Now, courtesy of Christian Retailing USA, report dated April 2nd 2009 and spotted by the eagle-eyed Chris Land of Redruth Christian Book Centre, we learn more of what’s afoot for us here in the UK:

Keith Danby, the global CEO of IBS-STL, has announced a series of leadership changes for the international publishing and distribution group’s U.K. operations…

Detailing the changes in a letter to industry leaders, Danby said the economic challenges that had hit IBS-STL UK and other organizations had been compounded by difficulties with a new computer system, whose installation in October “did not go as smoothly as we would have liked and, indeed, caused problems for our suppliers and customers.” …

Under the new management structure, David Young will serve as general manager and director of human resources, coordinating day-to-day operations in the U.K. as Danby continues to travel in his ongoing role with IBS-STL Global.

As part of the changes Malcolm Stockdale is stepping down as managing director of ISB-STL UK’s Wesley Owen stores to head up a new IBS-STL UK joint venture with a Christian Web company to serve churches and parachurch organizations.

Hello Keith :: friendly wave :: big smile — I know lots of people think the USA is the Centre of the Universe these days, but this is the UK division you’re rearranging: it would be good if you could keep your UK partners in the loop too, please.

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling more than a tad … how shall we say this politely? … irritated … by the continuing chaos that has disrupted the UK’s Christian book trade since the less than smooth implementation of that “new computer system”. Finding out about these plans like this feels rather like rubbing salt in the wounds…

David, Malcolm: I take this opportunity to wish both of you well in your new roles.

Malcolm: would love it if you’d be kind enough to tell us more about this “joint venture with a Christian Web company to serve churches and parachurch organizations” and what this might imply for STL’s relationship with us, your existing Christian retail partners, please.

Thank you.

26 thoughts on “More Changes afoot at STL/Wesley Owen

  1. There must have been some error – I know that some retailers, publishers and the press got a release on this last wee. It seems to have not got everywhere though.

  2. Phil, Causabon,
    I certainly didn’t get anything from them and I thought I was a retailer last I looked!
    Phil have you asked Clem if he did??
    I have checked with some people I know in publishing and bookshops, and yep none of them have been contacted directly and informed of any of this either.
    Ok now this is pure rumour and third hand info so might well be wrong (Phil feel free to delete if you consider it innappropriate and my apologies if so!)but then what else do we have to go on??!
    One of the peeps I talked to did tell me that they had a very real concern over the new move and initiative that Malcolm is moving onto. lets say the inference was that independent Christian Bookshops should be concerned – especially (their words)given STL’s track record of setting up in competition by going direct to churches and groups looks likely to escalate!

    Perhaps one of the retailers that was contacted could let us know what was said? or one of the publishers? or Casaubon – perhaps you could let us know as obviously you have seen it and been involved?

    I know I am concerned – the sheer lack of contact and communication on these issues and the almost behind the scenes furtiveness of it all says a lot to me, and none of it that good.

  3. I’m hazarding a guess that our unidentified “Christian Web company” is none other than… and if so, wondering whether there are grounds for taking the deal to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission? An STL/Eden megacorp would almost certainly wipe a few of us off the map, and Keith Danby doesn’t seem too perturbed by that prospect:

    I do not want to be guilty of making pronouncements concerning the UK trade but I do believe what we are experiencing in economic terms is very serious and deeper than many of us have experienced in our life time. I think it will be sometime before we climb out of it, if it ever returns to what we would consider to be the norm. Consequentially it may result in some Christian retail stores closing.

    From: Keith Danby takes control at IBS-STL UK (Christian Marketplace, News, Feb 2009)

    Anyone worried about what this latest development/partnership implies for the rest of us would do well to take a long, hard look at that article, methinks…

    • Phil,

      Given that Eden got a rather large sum from the Welsh Development agency, should this be as you hazard then they (WDA) would also almost certainly be interested. These types of Grants usually come with a number of attachments and I wonder if something like this would be considered Kosher as it were. To be honest though I think this is probably something Eden themselves might need to be concerned about.

      Because personally though, I am thinking ENDIS UK, ( as it fits with the phrase ‘churches and parachurch organisations’, and when I was at SPCK as Online manager they approached us on this and that was one of the phrases often used – since then they have taken on much more high profile organisations such as GOD TV etc and would be a much stronger one for STL I expect.
      I know after SPCK said no they initially started approach discussions with STL and for me they make much more sense as the one – though of course there are others out there.

      If it is Endis, and I think this is very possible as a candidate!, then we should all be very concerned! and if it should be so then I think IBS-STL should be very ashamed especially as they cannot deny the impact they know this would have on the independents and other Christian Bookshops and organisations out there, and more so in light of their claim to be 100% Charity!
      but then lets not get me back onto the real meaning of Charity or lack thereof.

      • Lord have mercy and save us from the likes of GOD TV. It’s bad enough already with all the ‘Health & Wealth’ prosperity gospel stuff constantly appearing on the cover of Christian Marketplace. Sorry Clem, if you’re reading, but if I didn’t get CM through the post, recent covers would not inspire me to pick it up!!

        If this is Christianity, I’m outtahere!

  4. STL and shame probably rarely get placed in a sentence together unless it is others speaking of what they may be best to feel. Yet another example of looking out for number one with no concern or tangible expression of sympathy or good will toward those who will duly be affected. Sad to say, there is no shock just great frustration!

  5. I only know that some of the press saw it because I was sat with a staff memebr from one of the Christian mag companies yesterday and they mentioned it.

  6. Hi Phil,
    I understand from twitter that some people in the christian retail business got an email from IBS-STL today?
    Well some of us didn’t, oversight again I suppose – though possibly their systems just can’t manage to email all their retail customers at once and it might come tomorrow! I shall look forward to recieving my own email from the esteemed in time, but given where Christian Retailers seem to rate in the scheme of things I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath whilst I wait?
    Still at least the systems might improve eventually now we have new peeps moving in etc.
    I do have some thoughts on the letter, but they are somewhat cynical – so will refrain from posting them as they may not be anything is that interested in hearing or discussing – very depressing really.

    However at least there is something up on the STL Blog – just goes to show your wonderful blog works well and does a good job for the trade – Thanks.

  7. Just to confirm – the “Message from Keith Danby” on the STL blog is indeed the same as the email we received yesterday.

    Kudos to Chris Land for spotting this a week ago! 🙂

    It’s a shame I won’t be able to make the BACBG AGM to ask Steve Mitchell about the internet developments – I’ll have to leave that to you Phil! 🙂

    • Regret I won’t be at the AGM either: have already sent my apologies, so someone else will need to ask a few searching questions on behalf of the rest of us.

      You could always leave a comment on Steve’s own blog or follow him on twitter: @SCRMitchell.

      Shout out to Steve: Congratulations on the new role!

  8. We received the ’email’ from Keith Danby on Wednesday as well, so it looks like it took STL 6 days to get the notification about major changes in their UK operations across the Atlantic to the UK Bookshops. I’m going to resist making the obvious ‘dig’ that Ingrams can supply books to us quicker than that…….

    It’s obviously helpful & appreciated to hear of the internal changes at our major supplier. However, like many others, I would be seriously concerned by the implications of ‘building new types of relationships with churches and para-church organisations, so (Malcolm Stockdale) is heading up a new joint venture project in which IBS-STL UK will partner with a Christian web company to bring these opportunities together.’ Oh great. Another Christian website to further fragment the market. Unless- of course- I wonder if they are looking for a new IT project for the consultants who made such a triumphant success of installling SAP?!

    More seriously, we have to acept that direct selling to churches etc has gone on for many years, and publishers are as guilty as STL of doing this. So the attempt to go further down this line can’t be entirely unexpected. Two major issues concern me-

    1. Why is there a need to develop a new ‘partnership’? Wesley Owen already have a ‘Bulk Purchases’ option on their website- so why go to the trouble/expense of re-inventing that particualar wheel? It does seem a bit odd.

    2. So I have to wonder if the desire to create a ‘new’ partnership is to allow IBS-STL to use their buying power to ‘undercut’ everyone else prices- even their own Wesley Owen name. One has to presume that there are a myriad of publishers agreements that STL have to stick to as the ‘major supplier’- and as the suppliers of the independents. And in fairness to STL, they have always matched our prices to WO to enable us to compete on a level playing field. However, if they then partner with someone else, ‘they’ can then presumably opt out of those agreements and do whatever their buying power allows them to do to knock independents (and everyone else…) out of the church market.

    There is no point in deceiving ourselves- if STL-SuperWebsite targets churches & para-church organisations directly via their links with CRE etc, then ‘we’ independents are in significant trouble. And so, surely, would some of the smaller/ less profitable Wesley Owens.

    At GLO we are in the happy position of being 5% up on sales for the first quarter of the year. All of this has been driven because we have been blessed with a series of local church orders. So I know the importance & significance of our local church partnerships. But neither do I deceive myself that ‘my’ treasurers would not happily go where the price is cheapest, especially if those offers start landing on their doormat (electronic or otherwise) with the pricing & promotion power of STL-SuperWebsite shouting in their faces.

    STL need to give an assurance they will not use their dominant market position to significantly undercut other sectors of the trade. It’s not all about profit & market share- it is also about a Christian presence on the High Streets of our towns, a Christian witness, a place for people to engage with faith issues in an increasingly secularist society. The main Christian trade supplier should not be in the business of deliberately speeding up a retreat from the very place where we are badly needed.

    It would be a real concern if Malcolm’s ‘energy and creativity’ were to be channelled (albeit inadvertently) to speed the continuing decline in local Christian Bookshops- independent or otherwise.

  9. I also want to say thanks to Andrew for putting it so clearly and concisely.

    On point no.2 that Andrew raises:
    ‘2. So I have to wonder if the desire to create a ‘new’ partnership is to allow IBS-STL to use their buying power to ‘undercut’ everyone else prices- even their own Wesley Owen name. One has to presume that there are a myriad of publishers agreements that STL have to stick to as the ‘major supplier’- and as the suppliers of the independents. And in fairness to STL, they have always matched our prices to WO to enable us to compete on a level playing field. However, if they then partner with someone else, ‘they’ can then presumably opt out of those agreements and do whatever their buying power allows them to do to knock independents (and everyone else…) out of the church market.’

    I twittered about this the other week when I found this interesting anomaly on Amazon:
    If you follow the link you will find both Wesley Owen and Eden advertising a book they both sell on their own websites – but on their own websites it is at a much greater price!!

    Oh by the way – it’s not the only book on there where they are doing it either, check out some other christian media too.

    Oh and don’t forget to check out ebay too – Don’t get me wrong – I think selling on ebay was a cool and strategic move, St Andrews and others do it too and that’s fine, Selling on Amazon also fine as when I ran SPCKonline we did that too and very early on in the game though the books were always the same price in both places! Heck we all do it now don’t we??

    But if you use it to undercut yourself and then potentially be able to claim it’s not really you as such because your official stores and website are the same or similiar price and so therefore you are still playing fair with others – well to me that’s not exactly honest, christian or charitable – but then I guess that’s a matter of interpretation perhaps? 100% Charity anyone?

    So I guess Andrew you have it totally nailed on partnering with other sites allowing them to undercut even themselves, let alone the rest of us.

    Another quote from Andrew:
    ‘STL need to give an assurance they will not use their dominant market position to significantly undercut other sectors of the trade.’
    I would like to expand that to read IBS-STL please because…
    Oh and hey did anyone notice the line of IBS bibles that were exclusive to Wesley Owen stores the other month??
    This was kindly pointed out to me by a customer who wanted me to order some for them – but alas I could not -well not and make any money or through official trade sources!!
    They were very nice, some quite cheap large print and leather types.
    I note today though when I went to the link
    ( )
    I had for it they have now taken these down, actaully you can still find them if you want to try as the isbn’s for them don’t show up on the STL website only on WO!
    Perhaps someone else noticed and raised concerns??

    Kudos to IBS-STL/Wo etc on their commercial business mentality and game plan – however can we keep in mind the words, and their real meanings, such as Christian, Charity and a few others please, or else be honest and just say you are actaully going secular on a grand scale and intend to do everything you can to undermine other Christian businesses and organisations, whilst at the same time trying to take their money under the guide of service (I wonder how much market research that provides at no cost??) and get better discounts from publishers based on that service.

    Honesty and transparency I could live with better, after all I live with Waterstones, WHSmiths and others already.

  10. Ok guys n gals,

    I am sort of glad to know that I was indeed spot on and it is indeed Endis/Church Insight that STL through Malcolm Stockdale are teaming up with.
    At least it means I am still able to read the signs right and know my business well still! here from my favourite business social media network tool LinkedIn is the final proof –

    I think this is deeply worrying not just for shop bound independents & smaller chains, but for the internet shops such as Eden as well.
    Indeed this is monopoly type business concern level to my thinking.
    God TV is an Endis website as are many more major players and an awful lot of churches use the Church Insight Websites of which the Commercial selling element is already deeply tied in. They service US based as well as UK churches and major christian organisations.

    Add this in with the new edition of Christian Marketplace and the talk of franchises in churches (though not looking to put one where there is a christian bookshop it was still quite clear they will go ahead and do it anyway is how I read it, but please feel free to contact me and put my mind at ease anyone from STL!) and the rest and this is, as far as I am concerned very worrying stuff really.
    Certainly it’s how I feel having invested all my own personal savings & my future livelihood in my truly independent venture – yes I live with internet contenders and other local competition, but this is bigger than that and considering the power behind it, yes I am deeply concerned.

    That lets work together feeling – hmm not feeling the vibe so well at the minute, actaully rather feeling like a David next to a Goliath – praying the Lord is with the small person here, or better yet is with both and that what feels like the invading army will see the light and become as one without the need to take over completely!

  11. Hopefully this won’t happen as otherwise we will end up with yet another field of retail expertise which dies out in the face of the Internet. Being cold about it that would be fine but then people realise what they are missing in not having a local shop to talk to and then they try to go back there. Only to find it closed.

  12. Pingback: STL UK: Rumours and Counter-Rumours « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  13. I do not personally think that has the finances to purchase STL out right. One would be looking in the region of £10m, plus you are going to need further £3m to inject into the business.

    How would Ednen short the Wesley Owen branches out?

    Whatever happends to STL, they are going to have to keep on subsidising the retail arm of their business until it begins to show some positive growth.

    According to Companies House, Wesly Owen maade sales of £86,080.00 and made a profit of £65.00 last year. Something is wrong with these accounts seeing that they donated over £100k bibles to charity last year.

    I’m affraid the God has, taken the Kingdom out of the hands of STL and has been given into the hands of someone more worthier to run the business.

    Category review needs to be taken of every item the branches sell and dead stock has to be removed from the shelves and products brought in that are going to bring in the revenues.

  14. I assume that Koorang has taken the eight most profitable stores along with the website?

    Does anyone know which of the 26 stores that are left, their location and size?

    I have written a rescue plans for the banches, but like everyone else I need the financies to implement it.

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