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]
Retailing | Borders Group began liquidation sales over the weekend at 200 stores, discounting items 20 percent to 40 percent. As Publishers Weekly and Blogcritics chart the 40-year rise and fall of the retailer, PW’s Jim Milliot looks at the effects the bookseller’s bankruptcy will have on the publishing industry: “The trickle-down impact will affect everyone from manufacturers to agents. Borders accounted for about 8% of overall industry sales, a higher percentage in some categories. A downsized Borders means publishers are likely to receive smaller orders and in turn place smaller first printings, resulting in less business for printers. The likelihood of lower print sales, one publisher said, means that books acquired one or two years ago when Borders was much bigger will have a more difficult time earning the advance back and that less shelf space could mean lower advances.” [Publishers Weekly]
Retailing | Tracey Taylor has details of retailer Jack Rems’ plans to resurrect Berkeley, Calif., institution Comic Relief as a new store called The Escapist — a nod to the Michael Chabon character — possibly at the same location. [Berkeleyside]
Retailing | The financially troubled Borders Group reportedly could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as soon as today or Tuesday, setting the stage to close about 200 of its 674 Borders and Waldenbooks stores and eliminate thousands of jobs. [The Wall Street Journal]
Retailing | Diamond Comic Distributors revealed that 98 percent of the more than 500 direct market stores visited by secret shoppers during the first month of day-early delivery were found to be in compliance with the program’s street-date requirements. According to Diamond, of the 10 stores discovered to be in violation of the agreement, one was reported by another retailer while the others were discovered by secret shoppers. [ICv2.com]
Borders Group announced on Thursday it has secured $550 million in refinancing from G.E. Capital, so long as the struggling bookseller meets certain requirements — including convincing major publishers and distributors to convert late payments into $125 million in loans.
That’s a major obstacle, as publishers already seemed poised to reject the proposal, which followed an announcement in late December that the retailer would delay payments to some publishers and distributors. The news led some, such as Diamond Book Distributors, to stop shipping to Borders, the second-largest book chain in the United States.
The company had pushed for an answer on its offer by today, when January checks are supposed to go out to publishers. But according to Publishers Weekly, publishers turned down Borders’ request for another meeting earlier this week, which would suggest that acceptance is unlikely.
Borders, however, isn’t limiting its options: For the first time in public, the bookseller raised the possibility of bankruptcy.
“We view the refinancing route as the most practical, efficient and beneficial to all parties, and we are working with our vendors in this regard,” President Mike Edwards said in a statement. “At the same time, given the current environment surrounding Borders, and in order to assure that the company can pursue its efforts to position itself to properly implement its business plan, it is prudent as well for Borders to explore alternative avenues, including the possibility of an in-court restructuring.”
Following in the wake of the Borders Group’s worsening financial problems comes news this week that Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the United States, has laid off much of its buying staff.
Although the company wouldn’t confirm the number, Publishers Weekly reports that about 45 to 50 jobs were eliminated. Among those fired were Robert Wietrak, vice president of merchandising, and Marcella Smith, director of small press and vendor relations. According to The New York Times, buyers responsible for cookbooks, reference books and mysteries were among those let go.
“We made a small number of organizational changes this week that are designed to better align our resources with our business,” a spokeswoman said. “Barnes & Noble is a growing company with both our revenues and new hires growing faster than they have in years.”
PW reports that publishers were shaken by news of the firings, “with the larger publishers wondering who would oversee merchandising, while smaller presses questioned who would be looking out for their interests.”
MobyLives offers commentary: “What possessed B&N to not only fire such important employees, but to do it in such a cynical (or is it desperate) bad-publicity-be-damned style?”
The struggling Borders Group on Monday laid off 40 employees from its headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., and an additional five from distribution centers, The Detroit News reports.
Just last week, 310 employees were told they’d lose their jobs with the closing in mid-July of the bookseller’s distribution center in LaVergne, Tenn., near Nashville. In addition, the company eliminated 15 regional management positions.
The cuts come as Borders negotiates for a $500 million credit line from GE Capital to buoy the retailer for six to 12 months while it restructures its business. The company announced on Dec. 30 that it would delay payments to some publishers and distributors, leading some — such as Diamond Book Distributors — to stop shipping to the bookstore chain, the second-largest in the United States. Those publishers have until Feb. 1 to accept or reject a proposal that would convert delayed payments into loans, which would see them take up to one-third of Borders’ reorganized debt.
The bookseller also will close nearly 200 Waldenbooks and Borders Express locations, and 17 Borders superstores, by the end of the month, moves announced before this current crunch.
Jaclyn Trop of The Detroit News has a solid look at the rise and decline of Borders that cites a lack of strong leadership and a slowness in adapting to the Internet as major reasons for the chain’s struggles.
Word is rocketing around the blogosphere that Diamond Book Distributors has suspended shipments to Borders stores because the book chain suspended payments to its suppliers earlier this week. Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter got hold of an internal e-mail from Diamond Vice President of Purchasing Bill Schanes to several executives that says
This email is to confirm reports in the news that Borders is suspending payments to its suppliers, including Diamond. As a result, we have made the difficult decision to stop shipping them and put their account on hold, as of last week, until such time as they are able to resume payment.
Borders has been failing for a while (here’s a great account of what went wrong with Borders at The Atlantic’s blogs), and the chain confirmed on December 30 that it was delaying payments to vendors while it works on restructuring its debt. The next day, Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly reported that one of the “big six” New York publishing houses had stopped shipping boos to Borders, and he added
Borders carries about $450 million in trade payables on its balance sheet and many publishers are anxiously waiting to see which houses will be paid and which will not be.
The Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim dominated graphic novel sales in bookstores in December, claiming nine of the Top 10 spots on the Nielsen BookScan chart.
Buoyed by the record-setting first season of the AMC television adaptation, zombie comic landed the top spot with The Walking Dead: Compendium One, the $60, 1,088-page collection of the first 48 issues of the Robert Kirkman-Tony Moore-Charlie Adlard series. Three volumes of The Walking Dead, including new editions of the first two collections, appeared in the Top 10, and five in the Top 15.
All six volumes of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim made the Top 10, which could be attributed to the November release of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World on DVD and Blu-ray — or a sign that the series is on its way to becoming a perennial bestseller.
Meanwhile, Superman: Earth One, the hardcover graphic novel whose blockbuster sales led J. Michael Straczynski to abandon the Superman and Wonder Woman monthly series so DC Comics could fast-track a sequel, plummeted from No. 1 on the chart to No. 15. The retail news and analysis site ICv2.com suggests the book may be a victim of availability — there may not be enough additional copies to replenish what’s been sold — rather than a decrease in interest. Indeed, Superman: Earth One is No. 5 after nine weeks on The New York Times hardcover graphic books list.
Retailing | As the financially troubled Borders Group met Tuesday with publishers in hopes of converting delayed payments into interest-bearing debt, the bookseller’s larger rival Barnes & Noble expressed concerns that could complicate negotiations. “We think the playing field should be even,” B&N spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said in a statement. “We expect publishers to offer same terms to all other booksellers, including Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers. We fully expect publisher’s will require Borders to pay their bills on the same basis upon which all other booksellers pay theirs. Any changes in publishers terms should be made available to all.” Meanwhile, Reuters considers what the closing of Borders’ 600 stores would mean to the book industry. [The New York Times, Publishers Weekly]