No change before Christmas as TMD prepares for “significant” reduction in range of suppliers

Update, October 29, 2011: Eddie Olliffe reflects on the viability of specialist Christian wholesaling: Book Trade – Reflections on the UK specialist wholesaling model
TMD: Trust Media Distribution - The new name for STL Distribution

TMD: Trust Media Distribution

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.

12 thoughts on “No change before Christmas as TMD prepares for “significant” reduction in range of suppliers

  1. Well done for making contact with them on this Phil. It seems a little bizarre that they would choose October to make big announcements (given previous experience!), but then I guess it would have been less reassuring for retailers if the information had been leaked another way. I know many retailers are still boycotting TMD and that their stock levels aren’t what they were, but when I left ACT they were still one of the best for being able to check stock levels, ease of ordering (through both synergi and online) and 24-hour turn around. At the time only Integrity (now Joining the Dots!!) were in any way competitive in these regards. CLC are an excellent source of stock, just always wanted them to have the website / ordering service to go with it! But I admit things may have changed!!

    • If there’s a ‘well done’ here it goes to Pete Barnsley, who made a point of sending me their press release and inviting me to fire away with any questions: Pete, I salute you.

  2. It’s been a long time since I sourced any ‘academic, catholic, liberal and mainstream UK Christian publishers’ from TMD. I rarely even bother to check stock. I think this announcement, as I read it, is acknowledging a situation that largely already exists, rather than anything particularly revolutionary. My concerns would be more around publishers such as Christian Focus, who have a hefty carriage charge for smaller orders and where both TMD and CLC have had very patchy stockholding.

  3. I have to admit that I’m wth Joy on CLC needing a trade website/ordering service that gives stock holding details – for me this is an essential requirement these days, even if it’s not a direct website but through something like pubeasy then that’s fine, in fact more than fine with me.

    I love CLC but I admit to rarely using them for this reason, the minute that gets sorted I’l be a regular user for sure.

    I have to admit that I’m waiting with interest to see who we lose and keep, and I’m very very interested in what happens to the partnership in these circumstances.

  4. I agree. The world has changed and wholesalers need to catch up. Publishers need to decide who is going to service their stock and then ensure that whoever it is has a good range of it. We need consistency of stock levels and the knowledge that if a supplier says they have a publisher then keep it in stock. I seem to spend my day doing the rounds of IVP, Kingsway, Norwich, TMD, JTD, Marston, Ingrams, Amazon, CLC getting more and more desperate as various ones come up with no stock.

    I think TMD are brave to make the change and no longer try to be everything to everyone. I would rather that they stocked less publishers with decent stock levels which is what they seem to be trying to do. As someone else said – they still do an amazing 4pm deadline for next day.

  5. Largely, I agree with everything that’s been said.

    The “one stop shop” thing was always a pipe dream even at its height, as any IBS-STL Wesley Owen-ers will tell you… when we had no choice but to use STL-D, customers lost out.

    I think TMD do need to refocus on doing few things better, rather than everything badly. It seems more an acknowledgement of something that we have all known for a while, rather than anything particularly new or different for them.

    My concern, like John and others, is that I still send TMD orders 3 or 4 days a week, same for Marston and normally at least one for Kingsway and JTD. Others like Norwich and IVP have no carriage anyway, so no worries.

    But many small publishers have such high minimum orders values or high carriage charges that even on out-of-stock books at TMD it’s going to be quicker, and more cost effective to backorder them at TMD for my customers, than attempt to get them directly. Hopefully smaller companies which TMD drop will step up, and move into places like Marston or CLC, or seriously reduce their carriage requirements.

    Also, CLC, please get a website, or (even better) get on pubeasy. Online ordering is an absolute must, and until you sort it out, I’ll never be able to use you regularly.

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