Yes, Random House is still aggressive and aggressively seeking new clients. And, yes, this year continued the increased competition that has come to define the distribution biz. Yet, open warring and panic has died down, making 2005 a steady and (gasp) successful year for many. With the exception of pro-growth Ingram, Consortium and RH, many distributors are choosing not to expand and in some cases even decrease their client lists – focusing instead on sniffing out non-traditional markets and increasing marketing & sales support.
Norton‘s Dosier Hammond emphasized that focused, measured growth is key, or distributors risk “diffusing” themselves. NBN sister co, Biblio took this mantra to heart and majorly downsized – to 550 clients from last year’s 850 – in order to pay more focused attention to their remaining clients. “We really take our consulting role with clients seriously,” NBN’s Marianne Bohr said. “From cover treatment, to editorial direction…we offer them as much or as little as they need.”
In the vein of more focused selling, many distributors have been paying acute attention to their non-traditional channels. At the recent BISG Making Information Pay Conference, Mark Suchomel repeatedly emphasized IPG’s commitment to expanded coverage and availability. “We judge reps on the number of accounts they sell to, rather than the number of units they sell,” he said.
IPM’s Jane Graf emphasized that the right market for their client’s books is no longer just bookstores. “Especially with smaller presses with specialty books, more and more sales are going other places,” she said. IPM distributes Sheldon Press, publisher of Coping with Gout. “We sell 4,000 copies a year,” Graf said. “It’s just a tiny little $12.95 paperback, but it’s gotten into pharmacies and other places that have a big turnover. A year ago the demand wasn’t there, but now it is.” Increased interest in non-traditional markets is coming from both sides – reps and retailers. “There’s really been a shift in the way that sales reps are thinking about retail outlets,” she said.
Jim Fallone of Andrews McMeel talked about their “channel managers” pushing to get their books into as many smaller channels as they can, and Abrams also had big successes in non-traditional markets this year. In an innovative move, Norton recently consolidated a portion of their sales force with Workman – they now share 2 reps in the southeast for blanket coverage.
According to Julie Schaper, Consortium is in the process of adding a gift sales force – with a gift catalog in the works as well. The gift/non-traditional market has been growing steadily, Schaper said – at Consortium it just needed more of a focus. “Certainly we find that the gift reps are already paying off,” she said. “Moribund accounts are coming back to us, and last month we added 60 new accounts.”
Diamond started Diamond Select Gift, a new division focusing on the gift market and have hired 144 commission reps to service the channel, according to Kuo-Yu Liang.
Rich Freese says, “[PGW has] invested in multi-channel sales capacity – special and international markets.” Although he acknowledged that distribution has continued to become increasingly competitive as publishers bulk up their distribution services, he said that when the market is soft, it’s actually a better time for distributors, because client-publishers have time to examine their costs in depth. But client-publishers and publisher-distributors aren’t slowing down. HarperCollins, for instance, lured Tokypop away from CDS by offering them a publishing partnership.
For publishers, the outsource/insource decision is bound to come up according to Banta‘s Dave Schanke. Since the answer is so complex Banta, together with the University of Wisconsin, developed a financial (“totally objective”) model this year to determine which option is more cost-effective. Schanke says that one of the greatest benefits is that the model enables a “conversation” between publisher and distributor about what the key issues and costs are within their program. “There’s a lot of complexity right now as publishers sell products across multiple channels,” Schanke said. “Our business is helping them deal with that complexity.”
Eric Kampmann at Midpoint Trade had a different angle – a free book that Midpoint is now offering to all of their clients (both current and incoming) – The Midpoint Handbook: 7 Keys to Publishing Success. The 124 pp. book will be given to independent publishers “of all stripes” both through Midpoint and at BEA according to Kampmann, before being released as a trade book (albeit under a different title, with a few add-ons) later this year or next. “There are tons of books about publishing, but most come from a non-sales background,” Kampmann said. “Here we show that it is interrelated and progressive…Are you an author or a publisher? Many of our clients aren’t sure, and this will help them make the decision.”