Last month PT surveyed the bulging book-bags of client distribution players in the US, and a report to be released this month from the British Publishers Association indicates that a bundle of business from across the pond may well be coming their way. The US Book Market: A Survey and Route Map for UK Publishers, commissioned by PA International Director Ian Taylor with the support of Trade Partners UK, declares distribution the best route to the American market in light of a number of challenges facing US-bound British publishers. Dual English language rights, for example, have become ever trickier to enforce in what the UK considers its “home” markets of Europe and Asia, as the global supply chain leaks US editions into those formerly “exclusive” territories. Meanwhile, co-edition sales quantities are hurting from just-in-time inventory practices, cutting the numbers UK publishers can sell to the US. The upshot? “As a result, many UK publishers are shifting their attention from rights and co-edition sales to distribution, either with US publishers or dedicated distributors,” the report finds. “The distribution option, properly managed, offers UK publishers a solid platform for sustained market development and growth.”
That would seem to be good news for growing companies such as Trafalgar Square, the US distributor for about 45 British publishers including Random House UK and new client BBC Books. According to Managing Director Paul Feldstein, sales were up 6.5% in 2002, with sales for the first six months of this year up an even stronger 14%, aided by the company’s first million-dollar month in January (Feldstein was unavailable to comment for last month’s distribution article). Unlike many distributors, Trafalgar Square buys all titles on a nonreturnable basis, replenishing them via weekly air-freight shipments from Heathrow. Tellingly, perhaps, Trafalgar has long distributed for the UK divisions of what are now global conglomerates, such as Random, HarperCollins, and Time Warner. So much for synergy, eh? “Trying to distribute through their sister companies is much more difficult than anyone would think,” Feldstein says. “There’s no one on this side of the Atlantic at the sister company who’s driving the business for the UK company. No one backs that portion of the list. Whereas for us, it rises right to the top.”
Indeed, penetrating the American market can be a surprisingly rocky road for even the largest of UK publishers. A distribution-based strategy in the US “represents a long term commitment and investment,” the PA’s report cautions, noting that database-driven buying models and the highly agglomerated marketplace can be deadly for publishers who think they can just ship titles over and forget about them. Attention must be lavished on meeting the exacting standards of chain booksellers, of course, and UK publishers should have extra cash on hand for marketing and publicity. “Scale talks in the US,” the report adds. “Any publisher looking to enter the market needs to align themselves with a partner who has sufficient size to offer leverage in the trade.”
Scale, needless to say, is the prime attraction of the US market. Five times the population means five times the sales, right? If only, sigh distributors. Expectations of the US market can be vastly overblown, spurring catastrophic returns if stock levels are not keenly managed. In addition, the “route map” counsels, an array of distribution options are available for specific markets, such as Baker & Taylor’s academic specialty unit Yankee Book Peddler, which purchases books through its UK subsidiary Lindsay & Howes. “You have to be flexible,” Feldstein points out. “There are some books where a rights sale will make more sense, and there are some books where a distribution arrangement will make more sense. Hopefully your distributor would be helpful and honest in that regard.” (The PA report is available to UK publishers only. For more information, email Mandy Knight at [email protected].)
• On a related distribution note: To clarify a point in last month’s article, Holtzbrinck’s distributed clients are served by dedicated national account managers, not a separate field sales force. Holtzbrinck’s two national field sales forces sell all of its publishers, including distribution lines, to independent bookstores, regional chains, and other accounts.