By its most elemental definition, “distribution” means “to move,” so perhaps it’s no surprise that this arm of the book publishing business is doing laps that even the Queen Mary 2 can’t keep up with. It seems everyone is re-evaluating the most efficient ways to get their books to market. Constant attention to new competition, paired with always-evolving technologies, creates a high-stakes environment in which distributors are expected to move even faster.
Even distribution mammoth PGW is jostling for a competitive advantage. Coming on the heels of its PG Worldwide announcement last fall, PGW is launching PG Kids, a sales and marketing division that will support “the needs of independent children’s book publishers,” says President Rich Freese. Having grown by 15 new publishers — some with children’s titles — in the past 12 months, the company “thought [it] had met a critical mass in this area and we wanted to continue to leverage the quality of publishing we had, so we thought it was important to have a group focused on just that part of the market,” Freese explains. PG Kids is headed by longtime children’s veteran Patricia Kelly. Overall, PGW is expecting 7% sales growth for fiscal 2004, Freese says.
Though many full-service distributors offer sales reps with specialties in the gift or gourmet markets, honing in on the children’s sector is a new strategy. Formed in 2002, when Germany’s Coppenrath Verlag was looking for a US distributor for its beloved Felix the Bunny series, Parklane Publishing touts itself as the only children’s-only distributor. “Nobody that I know out there just distributes children’s books,” says Tammy Johnston, who does just about everything for the burgeoning company (no official titles, according to company policy). It’s now ready to pound the pavement for new clients at this year’s BEA, with success stories like its Rip Squeak titles — now at all the major booksellers and being tested at Wal-mart and Toys ‘R’ Us. (Although it’s a subsidiary of Book Club of America, Parklane does not deal with remainders.)
Banta’s Dave Schanke, market segment VP, general publishing, said more and more publishers are re-evaluating having their own distribution facilities, and many are deciding that the costs outweigh the benefits. “With larger retailers becoming very dominant … you have to have the systems and relationships established with them. It’s becoming a much more capital-intensive business, as retailers’ requirements for shipping become more rigorous,” he says. Still, he said he thought few publishers knew about all of their options for fulfillment and distribution. Primarily known as a printer, Banta is looking to increase its distribution clients.
A flurry of activity is brightening SCB’s 15th anniversary year and Lance Tilford’s (formerly of PGW) first with the company. The Gardena, Calif.-based distributor announced 13 new publishers signing on, bringing its total client count to about 90. Among the new clients are Vox Pop, Dunhill Publishing, the UK’s FAB Press, and a number of Canadian houses. This growth spurt will result in a 200-title fall catalog, compared to 120 in the spring.
Some in the industry, such as Eric Kampmann, President of Midpoint Trade Books and himself a veteran of the industry’s rough waters, see distribution “in a period of remarkable stability” since the early 1990s, when “the democratization of the trade universe made it possible for somebody to really compete with Simon & Schuster.” A major ownership shift in January (the book division split from the distribution center, Midpoint National) has freed the company for some major changes in the near future. The company anticipates $12 million gross sales in 2004, a 20 percent increase over last year. In recent weeks, Midpoint executives met to discuss how they can “open our doors to independent booksellers … Many of them carry our books, but don’t know who Midpoint is,” Kampmann says, adding that this is at the top of their agenda at BEA.
Furthering the trend of U.K. publishers seeking to enter the U.S. market via sales rather than licensing, Octopus Publishing Group’s VP and managing director Neil Levin said it will offer 32 titles (including four of its imprints) in its fall catalog. “Business is growing dramatically across all accounts,” he touts, adding that as a natural part of this growth, the company will be transitioning from Weatherhill to CDS for all shipping and fulfillment, effective July 1.
Many smaller companies are focusing on distribution into niche markets on behalf of large and small publishers. One such, BookWorld (working in Christian, New Age, and Spanish markets), recently gained eight clients from the now dissolved Words Distributing, following parent company Bookpeople’s bankruptcy.