by Pat Holt
Friday, March 2, 2001
BORDERS MAKES THE FC.COM RUMOR MILL
I have to interrupt my own LETTERS column by putting this cutie up front with a bit of an investigation underneath. Thanks to reader Schneider for giving us all a chuckle - and a revealing one - on a Friday morning.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Holt responds: This truly is one of the most hilarious sites on the Web if you can stomach the adolescent language (it gets worse). The home page is a parody of Amazon.com with "Today's Featured F---s" outlining tabs for stories on "Outta Cash," "Lawsuits," "Layoffs," and so forth.
Inside, the site sells sweatshirts and other items in its own "FC Crap Store," and rumors about companies in various stages of ill health, from 3Com to Double-Click to Idealab, are rated by a point system ranging from Zero (healthy) to 100 (dead, dead, dead).
Thus the Severity of 10 for Borders in the letter above ain't too bad until you look at the message board, fetchingly called "Happy Fun Slander Corner." Among the growling-snapping-barking responses (such as "Books are shit anyway") comes this interesting note:
"Actually, Pud, you've got this one wrong. Not all of the CRCs [Community Relations Coordinators] were laid off. About 300 CRCs were laid off; the remaining CRCs will have different titles, and do more promotions at fewer stores. Borders will concentrate on having more national events (big-name authors), but concentrated at flagship stores.
"No middle managers are being laid off. Middle management in stores is being restructured, so some people who are currently "managers" will no longer be "managers" although they will still have supervisory responsibilities. Bottom line: some managers who are currently salaried will become hourly employees, but none are losing their jobs. "And whoever said Borders.com had been acquired by another site is wrong. Borders.com is still part of The Borders Group."
Gad, this would be fodder for the next Holt Uncensored except that FC.com readers are, in their way, far more eloquent:
"YOUR COMMENT SOUNDS LIKE A PRESS STATEMENT DIRECTLY from [Borders headquarters] in Ann Arbor, MI." writes one reader. "The bottom line is that Borders is in deep trouble! Very weak management at the top!"
Another says: "Who the fuck would stick around after being stripped of a 'manager' title - this is as good as firing someone! Moron!"
Here's one that sounds possibly instructive: "This is absolute CRAP! As the husband of a now former 'Community Relations Coordinator,' I have first-hand knowledge. What Borders did was downgrade their (now former) 'Managers' (salaried managers) to 'Lead Clerks' (unsalaried managers), and let go a bunch of (now unemployed) lead clerks. This, after they cut all regular employee hours by as much as 20 percent several weeks ago. And the 'Icing on the cake' is that the promotions which came out of this mess involved some of the worst, laziest, most incompetent scum on the planet... I guess the Peter Principle has a full-time home at Borders."
However you look at it, dropping a significant number of Community Relations Coordinators tells us a lot about Borders' direction. Whenever Borders finds itself appealing to Planning Commissions and City Councils, the company always trots out these CRC people who promise the world in terms of creating local community events, author signings, bigger and more elaborate sections of regional books, etc. Of course, promises have a way of falling by the wayside, but at least the CRCs were visible.
Now, as one FC.com reader notes, "75 CRCs for the whole country" can't be enough. "In-house programs like our successful poetry group (since 1996), storytelling, and local features may be no more, I am a citizen who volunteers to run the poetry locally, [but] our nearest CRC will be 200 miles away. Tuesday night the place was like a tomb. A lot of folks have been sent to 'register' and there was only one register open, with a line, of course.
"The interesting thing is, Barnes & Noble has recently upgraded local programs lately; guess they'll get the run-off now."
KOEN AFTER QUAKE: "BOOKS WERE FLOATING DOWN AISLES"
Bookstores in Seattle and environs may have survived Wednesday's earthquake, but the same can't be said for the Koen Book Distributors warehouse in Tukwila, Washington.
Tukwila is near the Seattle-Tacoma airport and closer to the quake's epicenter, so "we were hit pretty hard," says marketing director Jim Di Miero.
"The building partially collapsed because the foundation buckled, and a break in the water main created significant damage."
Books not only flew off the 9-foot-tall shelves, they were floating down the aisles as water gushed into the 20,000-square-foot warehouse, damaging or ruining tens of thousands of titles, Di Miero said.
With operations "close to a total loss," the warehouse has closed while engineers investigate. "If they say the structure is sound, we'll rebuild," Di Miero added. "If not, we'll find another location in the same area."
The quake could not have occurred at a worse time for Koen, which is based in Moorestown, New Jersey. Just this week Koen executives had flown to Tukwila to oversee merging operations and staff training at the warehouse, which had been operating as Koen Pacific and now was to become an official part of Koen Book Distributors.
"We want booksellers to know that Koen is committed to serving the Pacific Northwest without a break," Di Miero said.
To prove this, he added, "we will ship books free of charge via next-day delivery out of our Moorestown, New Jersey location to all of our Koen Tukwila customers."
Customers may call the following: sales phone number: 800-257-8481, FAX: 800-225-3840, EDI orders: 800-225-3844.
AMAZON.COM "IN DENIAL"
How amazing: The first big rumor to emerge from the Seattle earthquake was that Amazon.com plans to file for bankruptcy.
It was as if the Seattle-based Amazon had so literally been shaken to its foundation that it could no longer perpetrate the myth of virtual fiscal health.
True, the rumor that Amazon.com was going under started before the earthquake occurred when a brief story appeared early Wednesday on VWD, a German business news wire. This story said rumors about Amazon going bankrupt had been heard from the United States, possibly at a Wall Street conference on Amazon.com's health hosted by the New York Society of Security Analysts.
There the question of whether Amazon "can establish profitability on a sustainable basis before it runs out of cash," as banker Gary Lutin put it, caused a lot of wagging heads.
But once the earthquake was over and Amazon.com shares fell 13% and Bill Curry of Amazon insisted "We've got piles of moolah" (interesting use of slang to deflect the tough questions), the whole thing was over, right?
Wrong. On Thursday the online business press reacted as though Amazon had been at fault (excuse me) all along.
"Amazon Lives in Bankruptcy Denial," one headline (from audio channel ON24) declared.
You just have to laugh. In our therapized era, if you don't agree with what I think of you, you're "in denial."
It does mean the earthquake has kept a'shimmying and a'shaking in ways even Jeff Bezos can't turn into a hey-we're-stronger-than-ever spin. This morning analysts clamoring to say that Amazon will declare bankruptcy by the 4th quarter if it runs out of cash (duh).
And say: Isn't that Bertelsmann on the phone again?
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I see that Anna Deavere Smith's book ["Talk to Me," #219] validates your criticism of the New York Times and Washington Post [in #218]. I agree that the news media haven't a clue about what the news is any more. The press is obsessed with itself, at least in the United States. For proof one only has to see how foreign news is disappearing from our news coverage - unless of course the US declares a "limited" war or we're lucky enough to find an earthquake with really horrible shots of bodies in the rubble.
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