* Does not expect a quick recovery in consumer confidence
* Strong pipeline of new releases to boost trade later in yr
* Says major work on stabilising finances has been done
By Mark Potter
BARCELONA, May 8 (Reuters) - U.S. bookseller Borders BGP.N is not expecting a quick recovery in consumer confidence, but believes a strong pipeline of new releases will help business later this year, its chief executive told Reuters on Friday.
Ron Marshall also said the major work on stabilising the group’s financial position had been done, and it was now focused on re-engaging with readers, mainly by exiting unrelated and shrinking markets like music and building an “editorial voice” to help shoppers choose books.
“The real dramatic things, the big press releases, I think that’s past us now,” he said in an interview at the World Retail Congress.
Marshall has cut jobs, costs, inventories and unveiled plans to close most of Borders’ Waldenbooks stores since he was brought in earlier this year to tackle a business struggling with sliding sales, online competition and a consumer downturn. [nN01468449] [nN05520442]
The worst of that downturn was now probably over, but there was also unlikely to be a swift recovery, he said.
“The American consumer has taken a real beating over the last six months ... Some of the fundamental core beliefs people had about their financial security have been shaken,” he said.
However, he was optimistic the book industry would benefit later in the year from a string of new releases from authors like Dan Brown and Michael Crichton, and an autobiography by Ted Kennedy.
“I actually do think this is going to be a good autumn and holiday season for the book business, just because there are so many great books coming to press right now.”
Marshall also said Borders’ problems were due more to mistakes than an inexorable decline in the face of competition from discounters and online rivals like Amazon.com (AMZN.O).
“We lost sight of what we were about,” he said, explaining that customers became confused as the group expanded into categories like games, puzzles and toys.
“What people want from us is to be a really, really good bookstore,” he said.
That meant helping readers to choose among the tens of thousands of new books published every year.
“The key to bookselling is not a mathematical relationship that says if you like this book, people who bought this book also liked that one.
“The real heart is having a romance buyer making an intuitive leap and saying this character is so much like that character that you’re really going to love this book,” he said, adding that staff were being encouraged via initiatives like “make books” to help consumers choose a good read.
Marshall was also relaxed about digital competition from electronic readers like Amazon’s Kindle.
“Books are different from music” which has been revolutionised by digital downloading, he said. “There is a tactile element that isn’t easily replaceable.”
“Will e-books penetrate 5, 10, 15, 20 percent (of the market). Yes, I mean no one knows what the number is, but it’s something like that
“The physical book is going to be the predominant medium — if you like, delivery device, for our lifetime and beyond,” he said, noting the strongest sections of the books market were children and young adults.
(Editing by Sarah Morris and Simon Jessop)
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