While publisher Roger Jänecke of Visible Ink says that the “first thing is sales and the second thing is sales” when considering distributors, it’s clear from speaking with him and other independent presses that the connection between a publisher and its distributor isn’t just a business transaction: it’s also a personal relationship. Communication and compatibility are as essential as sales.
Some publishers go through multiple distributors before finding the right match. Visible Ink, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, was sold initially by commission reps before transitioning “briefly” to Perseus, which, at the time, was in the process of acquiring PGW. Feeling that it wasn’t gaining a foothold with its “distracted” distributor, Visible signed on with IPG in 2007. It returned to Perseus in January as one of the first 20 clients to sign on with Legato, its new boutique distributor headed by Mark Suchomel, who left IPG in March 2013. (Suchomel will leave Legato when it is officially acquired by Ingram). It was a “very difficult decision,” Jänecke says about the most recent switch. But, he points out, Legato serves his needs as a publisher of 10 annual titles that tap into the zeitgeist. Jäneckes likes to work with a distributor who is available to advise on everything from book covers to marketing strategies, even acquisitions.
Wisdom Publications has also had multiple distributors. “We’re always seeking better performance, improved sales, and higher visibility,” publisher Tim McNeill says of the Buddhist press, which left PGW in January to be distributed by Simon & Schuster. Wisdom had been distributed by NBN for 10 years before moving to PGW. Recalling that he signed on with PGW because it had a stable of clients with lists that compared to Wisdom’s and was sold by reps knowledgeable about such books, he called it a “better fit” than NBN. After PGW was acquired by Perseus, Wisdom became a small part of a much larger group, which McNeill says led to his decision to switch to S&S, which has only 32 clients. While McNeill reports that U.S. sales have been flat thus far in 2014, he regards that as positive, considering all the issues surrounding the transition—including the education of a new sales force.
Other publishers have stayed with the same distributor through thick and thin. Grove/Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin signed on with PGW more than 20 years ago because it “was the perfect fit” for the press. While the two companies have had some difficulties, such as PGW’s 2007 bankruptcy, Entrekin declares that they’ve “grown together” over the years. “They know our authors and our backlist well; it’s been a great partnership,” Entrekin notes, expressing confidence that PGW’s next chapter, under Ingram’s ownership, will work out well.
Ray Bard has partnered with NBN for the past 25 years, beginning when he was a book packager and continuing through the launch of Bard Press with its first release in 1996, Nuts, which has sold 500,000+ copies. Bard insists that NBN has been instrumental in getting 17 of the 19 business titles Bard has done to date onto national bestseller lists. “From Jed [Lyons, NBN president] on down through the sales guys,” Bard notes, “I know everybody. There’s a lot of trust and openness there.”
Chronicle Books has been with Hachette Book Group since 2008 and, like Bard, intends to stay put. “There’s value added,” CFO Tom Fernald says. “They’re leveraging their distribution over a huge number of transactions. It’s more than we could do on our own.” As with other publishers, it wasn’t just the money that brought the two together. “We became comfortable that they understood the unique nature of our business,” Fernald says.