TWO ANNOUNCEMENTS in rapid succession from TMD this week have highlighted two of the constant challenges faced by Christian booksellers and retailers: stock availability and range.
In the first announcement, issued on Tuesday 25th October, TMD stated that their range of UK publishers would be “reduced significantly” following a review of their current supplier base. That review is now underway with conversations between TMD and suppliers that one, who did not wish to be named, described as “what appeared to be an ultimatum to improve terms or sever our relationship”.
Although TMD’s initial announcement specified that no significant changes would be made “until the New Year”, it nonetheless raised the inevitable spectre of previous disruptions to the supply chain in the run up to Christmas, and a second announcement reiterating that “Christmas supply will remain largely unaffected” was issued on Wednesday, a point that Pete Barnsley, TMD’s Supply Chain & Marketing Team Leader, was keen to emphasise in a conversation with him later that day: retailers can remain confident that it’s business as usual at TMD.
I asked Pete what the reduction in range implied for STL/TMD’s one-time ambition to be the “One Stop Shop” for Christian retailers and he acknowledged that those days were over, admitting that in some cases it makes more sense for retailers to go direct to publishers for better terms and availability.
Given that the publishers listed in the initial announcement fall largely into the evangelical/pop/USA categories, I also asked what the range reduction implied for the more academic, catholic, liberal and mainstream UK Christian publishers: is this a theological narrowing of the range or a focus on the “big guys”? Pete wouldn’t be drawn on who might be in or out until the review is complete but emphasised that TMD’s aim is to serve the entire Christian marketplace across denominational boundaries, and that publishers with a single line were as likely to be included in the new mix as those with hundreds of lines.
The situation, Pete explained, is a case of facing up to reality: better to focus on what TMD can do in terms of publishers whose product availability they can be confident of rather than raise unrealistic expectations amongst retailers and end up letting both them and, ultimately, their customers down.
Retailers whom I contacted were broadly empathetic: the “One Stop Shop” was a fantasy and few, if any, have been wholly reliant upon STL/TMD, sourcing elsewhere as necessary despite the inconvenience of the extra admin involved in dealing with smaller orders and extra invoices.
The question remaining is whether other distributors or wholesalers can step up to the mark? No one was available to comment from Norwich Books & Music, but Phil Burnham, CLC’s UK Director, advised that CLC Wholesale would be willing to assist where appropriate:
CLC Wholesale would be very happy to hear from booksellers if there are items in keeping with our Statement of Faith that they would regularly source from us if we carried them. I’ll pass on any related comments to my wholesale colleagues for their consideration.