Germany’s Troubled Weltbild: Diversification and Restructuring

In News by Porter Anderson

The insolvency administrator handling the restructuring of Weltbild’s bookselling outlets has pointed to diversification as a key to the retailer’s woes.

A Weltbild bookselling location in Lower Saxony’s Leer, an April 2018 shot. Image: Donald Trung, CC 4.0

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Germany’s Weltbild once operated a large cohort of bookstores, prior to its 2014 bankruptcy. Now going through an effort at restructuring to save something of its German-market bookselling presence, Weltbild is perceived by some as being a victim of heavy diversification, which has caused the books division to lose a clear profile in the eyes of consumers.

Like multiple reporters at various news media, Dieter Sürig reports today at Süddeutsche Zeitung (June 19) on the comments of a provisional insolvency administrator, Christian Plail, who is emphasizing the need for a fast restructuring for the company, one based on a more coherent, focused presentation to customers.

Weltbild “has developed into a broadly diversified online retailer,” Sürig writes, taking on troubled niche suppliers including “garden supplies company Pötschke, health retailer Orbisana, jewelery retailer Paul Valentine, and Westfalia with a range for DIY enthusiasts.”

The publishing-specialist news medium Börsenblatt today predicts “tough cuts” to staffing, which by some accounts stands at some 330 full-time positions. A staff article appears to quote Plail, the insolvency administrator, saying, “For Weltbild, it is about nothing less than clarifying the question: ‘What is our market justification?’ And for this to happen, a very significant change must take place.”

The Börsenblatt article does see optimism in Plail’s comments that indicate wages and salaries can be paid on time during the transitional period. And other brands of the WB D2C Group, based in Augsburg, are seen not to be imperiled in the restructuring, including divisions or subsidiaries in Austria and Switzerland; the online book retailing platform; and many of the non-book-related ventures in the portfolio.

At the Augsburger Allgemeine, Michael Kerler quotes Plail stressing that parties involved in the business of the remainder of Weltbild’s bookselling business in Germany must “pull together: “shareholders, employees, management, works council, union, and business partners. It [the proposed restructuring] won’t work without concessions from all sides.”

And Kerler adds that Augsburger Allgemeine’s editorial team understands that “the print catalog and the branches could be on the list of things to be examined.”

All accounts indicate that regular business can continue for the Weltbild bookselling components of the larger company during the current restructuring process, so that customers should experience no changes in service.

And while the travails of Weltbild aren’t new to Germany’s industry, Richard Connor at DW reported five days ago, on June 14, that the Germany economy is seeing company bankruptcies “soar,” under pressure both from “a tough financial climate” and the impact of international events including the Russian assault on Ukraine.

“Germany’s Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on Friday [June 14),” Connor writes, “said 5,209 companies filed for bankruptcy in Germany in the first three months of 2024—with the trend expected to continue. Experts think the number of corporate insolvencies in Germany will increase to about 20,000 cases this year as part of a longer-term pattern.”

Sectors involved are primarily in transport and warehousing, construction, economic services, and some manufacturing.

Still, “Exports from Germany last appeared to accelerate in figures released on Friday,” Connor noted, “boosting hopes that Europe’s largest economy has emerged from a downturn.”

Weltbild at its group level beyond the books components has a presence in six countries, and reports that it has some 60 stationary locations operating in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The Droege Group investment firm is based in Düsseldorf.

More from Publishing Perspectives on bookselling is here, more on the German book and publishing market is here, and more on Europe and its markets is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.