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One of the two private-equity firms negotiating to buy the bankrupt Borders Group reportedly hopes to save more than half of the remaining stores by taking a page from Steve Jobs’ playbook.
In a profile of rival moguls Jahm Najafi and Alec Gores, The Wall Street Journal contends a plan by the Los Angeles-based Gores Group would save about 250 of the 416 Borders outlets — most of them superstores — by transforming them into “more appealing destinations” similar to the Apple Store chain.
According to the newspaper, the 58-year-old Gores is in talks with more than a dozen companies, including Hewlett-Packard, to showcase their products in the revamped Borders stores. In exchange, Borders would offer discounts to customers downloading books from Hewlett-Packard’s e-readers in the stores. Gores, who would pay somewhere around $250 million for the bookseller’s outlets and other assets, including the website and customer list, would also “emphasize developing a more robust online business for Borders.”
Borders, the second-largest book chain in the United States, is expected to announce a bidder by July 1.
Retailing | Bankrupt bookseller Borders Group said in court papers filed Friday that it will name a stalking-horse bidder by July 1, with an eye toward completing the sale of all of its assets by the end of July. The Detroit News spotlights the two private-equity firms that have placed bids to buy at least a majority of the book chain’s 416 remaining stores: Phoenix-based Najafi Cos., which owns the Book of the Month Club, Columbia House and BMG; and Los Angeles-based Gores Group — the likely stalking-horse bidder — whose investments include Alliance Entertainment and Westwood One. [Reuters, The Detroit News]
Legal | Peanutweeter, a blog that combined frames from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips with real, out-of-context tweets, has been taken down by Tumblr as the result of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint from Iconix Brand Group, which acquired a majority stake in the Peanuts assets last year. One blogger, however, argues the blog should be considered fair use. [RIPeanutweeter, Boing Boing]
Broadway | As of last night’s preview performance, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is officially “frozen,” meaning there will be no more script rewrites, new lyrics or altered choreography before the $70-million musical opens on Tuesday. In fact, the producers are confident enough to invite critics to attend previews over the next three nights, with their reviews to be published after the opening. “The show, in my opinion, is bulletproof at this point,” Reeve Carney, who stars as Peter Parker, told The New York Times. “I mean, as bulletproof as anything can be. And we want to do right by the people who stood by us, to help this show be seen for what it is.”
However, it’s not all good news for opening night. The New York Post reports that producers hoped the Empire State Building would be lit in red and blue on Tuesday, but the landmark’s owners would do it only if a change were made to the show: specifically, that the climactic battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin be moved from the Chrysler Building to … the Empire State Building. [The New York Times]
Retailing | Najafi Cos., a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, is reportedly interested in buying at least half of the 405 bookstores operated by the bankrupt Borders Group. [Bloomberg]
Crime | Josue Rivera, the comic artist known as Justiniano, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of possessing more than 100 photographs and videos containing child pornography. Rivera was arrested in Connecticut on May 10 following a July incident in which police say he mistakenly gave a funeral home director a thumb drive containing 33 files classified as child pornography instead of the one containing photos of a deceased relative. Police later seized Rivera’s computer and found 153 files of suspected child pornography. On Tuesday, the 38-year-old artist pleaded not guilty to first-degree possession of child pornography, and requested a jury trial. [Connecticut Post]
Retailing | Days after it was announced that media conglomerate Liberty Media offered $1 billion to buy Barnes & Noble, supermarket magnate Ron Burkle has revealed he bought another 603,000 shares at $18.49 a share, raising his stake in the bookseller to 19.74 percent. The Wall Street Journal suggests that Burkle, already the book chain’s largest shareholder, may be “playing a potentially dangerous game of chicken to force a takeover price for Barnes & Noble even higher.” [Deal Journal]
Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest book chain in the United States, reported a loss of $132.3 million in April, its second full month in bankruptcy. That figure follows on the $52.6 million loss reported in February and March as the bookseller sought Chapter 11 protection and began liquidating 226 locations. [Detroit Free Press]
Publishing | Ira Rubenstein, executive vice president of Marvel’s Global Digital Media Group, has left the company to become executive vice president of digital marketing for 20th Century Fox. He begins the new job in Los Angeles on Monday. Rubenstein joined Marvel in 2008 after 12 years at Sony, and oversaw the launch of the publisher’s digital subscription service. His departure comes less than two weeks after news surfaced that Ron Perazza is resigning as DC Entertainment’s vice president of online. [Variety]
Publishing | Ada Price surveys the graphic novel exhibitors at this year’s BookExpo America, which opens today in New York City. [Publishers Weekly]
Publishing | As the fallout mounts from the revelation that former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child more than a decade ago with a member of his household staff, plans to revive the Terminator star’s acting career have been put on hold — a move that now extends to The Governator, the comics and animation project co-developed by Stan Lee. “In light of recent events,” representatives announced last night, “A Squared Entertainment, POW, Stan Lee Comics, and Archie Comics, have chosen to not go forward with The Governator project.” However, Entertainment Weekly notes the statement was revised two hours later, putting the project “on hold.”
Unveiled in late March, on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, no less, The Governator features a semi-fictional Schwarzenegger who, after leaving the governor’s office, decides to become a superhero — complete with a secret Arnold Cave under his Brentwood home that not even his family knows about. “We’re using all the personal elements of Arnold’s life,” Lee said at the time of the announcement. “We’re using his wife [Maria Shriver]. We’re using his kids. We’re using the fact that he used to be governor.” But even before the couple’s separation became public, producers had backed off depicting Shriver and their children. [TMZ, Entertainment Weekly]
Publishing | The drop in year-over-year sales in the direct market slowed in April, with periodicals slipping 1.75 percent and graphic novels just .84 percent. Overall sales were down 1.46 percent for April and 6.5 percent for the first four months of the year. Marvel topped Diamond’s comics chart with Fear Itself #1, while DC led the graphic novel category with the 15th volume of Fables. [ICv2.com]
Crime | Police evacuated the bus terminal in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, Friday afternoon after a suspicious package was discovered across the street. The Michigan State Police bomb squad was called in, and it was determined the mysterious package was merely a briefcase-shaped media kit promoting Acura’s involvement with Marvel’s Thor. A writer for Automobile, whose offices are next to the terminal, had discarded the “S.H.I.E.L.D. Assessment Test” kit in the recycling bin, but it wasn’t picked up — apparently because it isn’t recyclable. [WXYZ, Jalopnik]
Retailing | DC Comics has advised retailers to immediately unplug the $150 Green Lantern Animated Light Up Display after one of the signs caused a small electrical fire Saturday at Rick’s Comic City in Nashville. Other retailers have reported the smell of burning plastic coming from the displays. The publisher will notify stores in the next few days how it will rectify the problem.[ICv2.com]
Retailing | Borders Group lost more than $50 million in February and March as it sought bankruptcy protection and began liquidating 226 stores, a new court filing shows. [The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly]
Publishing | Mike Searle, former editor of Wizard Entertainment’s defunct InQuest Gamer magazine, reportedly will replace Mike Cotton at Wizard World Digital. Cotton, who had been co-chief pop culture editor, left the company on Friday. [Bleeding Cool]
Conventions | Forces of Geek rounds up news from last weekend’s Boston Comic Con. [Forces of Geek]
Retailing | Borders Group says it’s determined that fewer than 150 customer names and emails were “obtained” by outsiders when a website published a searchable database of information associated with the retailer’s Borders Rewards loyalty program. The site, apparently set up by the marketing firm that helped the bookseller design and implement the program, was shut down over the weekend after Borders learned of its existence. A spokeswoman said the company is continuing its investigation. Borders Rewards has more than 41 million members. [AnnArbor.com]
Retailing | Amazon’s first-quarter profits tumbled 33 percent, even as revenue rose 38 percent, due largely to the costs of expanding its warehouse and data centers. [The New York Times]
Conventions | For the first time, organizers of the American Library Association’s Annual Conference & Exhibition will make space available for an artists alley — for free. This year’s conference, which will draw about 19,000 librarians, is held June 23-28 in New Orleans. [American Library Association, via The Beat]
Passings | Writer, editor and historian Bill Blackbeard, widely credited with saving the American comic strip from the ash heap of history, passed away on March 10 at a nursing home in Watsonville, Calif. He was 84. A lifelong collector of comic strips, Blackbeard founded the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art in 1968, filling the garage and basement with thousands of bound volumes of old newspapers let go by libraries when they converted their archives to microfilm. His collection grew by the 1990s to 350,000 Sunday strips and 2.5 million dailies, which eventually made their way to Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Blackbeard wrote, edited or contributed to more than 200 books on cartoons and comic strips, including The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, 100 Years of Comic Strips and Fantagraphics’ Krazy & Ignatz series.
Numerous obituaries and reminisces have appeared since yesterday, most notably from R.C. Harvey, Tom Spurgeon, Jeet Heer, Dylan Williams, ICv2.com, and Dan Nadel, who collected a handful of tributes. [The Comics Journal]
Broadway | Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris, producers of the troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, talk candidly about the $70-million musical — or “$65 plus plus,” as Cohl says — as it shuts down for more than three weeks for a sweeping overhaul. Will the production, plagued by delays, technical mishaps, injuries and negative reviews, hurt their reputation? “It might,” Cohl concedes. “It’s a matter of the respect of those whose opinions I care about. Most will recognize that Jere and I stepped in dog poo and are trying to clean it up and pull off a miracle. We might not.”
In related news, Christopher Tierney, the actor who was seriously injured on Dec. 20 after plummeting 30 feet during a performance, will rejoin rehearsals on Monday. [Bloomberg, The Hollywood Reporter]
Retailing | The struggling Borders Group, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 16, has reversed its January decision to close the distribution center in LaVergne, Tenn. The bookseller will instead shut down its warehouse in Carlisle, Penn., leaving the facility in Tennessee and another in California. [Nashville Business Journal, via ICv2.com]
Legal | A handful of publishers address what effect Tokyo’s revised ordinance further restricting the sale of sexually explicit manga to minors might have on the industry. “This ordinance could attack the creativity of genuine authors, not just attacking perverted comics,” says Pascal Lafine of Tonkam, a French publisher of manga. [The Mainichi Daily News]
Publishing | David Itzkoff profiles Marvel, tracing the company’s route from mid-1990s bankruptcy to its current place at the top of a struggling industry. [The New York Times]
Borders Group, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 16, plans to close another 75 stores — that’s in addition to the 200 locations announced last month.
The Detroit Free Press reports the retail chain will use the closings as leverage in negotiations on lease terms for its 633 stores. Landlords have until Wednesday to indicate whether they’ll accept rent concessions. The closings, which could end up closer to 20 to 25 depending on the outcome of negotiations, will only affect superstores, not Borders Express or airport locations, which Borders Group President Mike Edwards said are performing well.
Meanwhile, the newspaper also reports, the retailer is expected back in federal bankruptcy court today to request more time to decide what to do with those leases. The extension is opposed by a number of Borders landlords.
Borders, the second-largest book chain in the United States, hopes to present a formal business plan to publishers and other creditors in April with an eye toward exiting bankruptcy in August or September.
When it emerges from Chapter 11, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based bookseller is expected to be much leaner, even beyond the significant decrease in the number of locations (anywhere between 358 and 413). Edwards indicated to The Wall Street Journal that the 25,000-square-foot superstores will be reconfigured, with about 15,000 square feet reserved for books. The remaining space will be dedicated to a cafe, children’s books and educational toys, and consumer electronics. The chain may also add used books.
Comics | A near-mint copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, the 1962 comic featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, was purchased in a private sale on Monday for $1.1 million — short of the record $1.5 million paid in March 2010 for Action Comics #1. “The fact that a 1962 comic has sold for $1.1 million is a bit of a record-shattering event,” says Stephen Fishler, chief executive of ComicConnect.com. “That something that recent can sell for that much and be that valuable is awe-inspiring.” [The Associated Press]
Comic-Con | Hotel reservations for Comic-Con International open this morning at 9 PT. A preliminary list of hotels included in the Comic-Con block is available on the convention website. [Comic-Con International]
Comic-Con | ICv2 has announced it will host the its Comics, Media and Digital Conference on July 20, in conjunction with Comic-Con International. [ICv2]
Publishing | Kodansha Ltd., Japan’s largest publisher, will close its 48-year-old Kodansha International subsidiary by the end of April. The division is a separate company from the New York-based Kodansha USA, which Kodansha Ltd. established in 2008. Kodansha International specialized in English-language translations of Japanese books and original English-language books on Japanese topics, and published the occasional few manga-related title. At the February press conference at which incoming Kodansha Ltd. President Yoshinobu Noma announced the publisher’s 46.7 percent stake in Vertical Inc., he revealed the company would increase its focus on digital publishing and overseas markets. [The Japan Times, Anime News Network]
Publishing | Video game developer Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind World of Warcraft and Starcraft, is rumored to be ending its licensing agreements with troubled U.S. manga publisher Tokyopop. Although the report comes on the heels of Tokyopop’s latest round of layoffs — Troy Lewter edited many of the current Blizzard titles — the two events are apparently unrelated. [Lore Hound, via Joystiq]