Distributors Reshuffle the Deck – Signing Up Clients As Publishers Proliferate, Ingram Jumps In As Baker & Taylor Gets Out
Bowker reports that 2004 saw the birth of 11,000 new ISBNs in the US, bringing the grand total to a whopping 81,000 publishers. From the largest to the smallest, everyone’s looking to get to market, and (as always in the distribution biz) the only constant here is change.
As margins continue to shrink, distributors and publishers alike are looking to extract whatever they can wherever they can – witness the re-entry of publishers into distribution to fill capacity in their warehouses (and add to the bottom line). With the invariable push and pull of every loss creating a void that needs to be filled, distributors faced another year of musical chairs – The Perseus purchase of CDS earlier this spring shook things up; Random House charged back into the game with very generous terms, picking up clients right and left, and the see-saw dance between wholesaler giants Baker & Taylor and Ingram continued with Ingram’s re-entry as the new-and-improved Ingram Publisher Services following B&T’s hasty entrance and exit.
As distributors step in and out of the ring, and client-publishers shuffle and shuttle between, others are cobbling together unorthodox options – like veteran Neil Levin who is selling the UK Octopus Group in the US, with back office functions at CDS.
Publishers often retain a greater credibility with accounts, so distributors are meeting their competition by offering expanded services (e.g. international options, entrance into non-traditional markets). This bustling competition includes printers as well. Banta, who has been in the business forever, with Workman as their first client, is actively promoting back office services and hawking their systemic advantages, as president Dave Shanke put it, of getting the book to market faster and cheaper by streamlining procedures.
However, even with the rising competition between distributors, there remains a chasm between the traditional publisher/distributors who only represent a select number of larger publishers, and the growing number of distributors (both large and small) who have hundreds (and sometimes hundreds upon hundreds) of clients.
Notwithstanding today’s declining book industry stats, Ingram Publisher Services’ VP Phil Ollila said, “It’s a good time for distribution. I’m an optimist.”