Last week’s announcement that Seven Stories Press, one of Consortium Book Sales & Distribution’s largest and most important clients, had agreed to a long-term extension suggested that the worst of the transition issues involving the distributor’s integration into the Perseus Books Group—including the move of warehousing and some back-office operations to Jackson, Tenn.—are behind it. Seven Stories publisher Dan Simon said one reason he agreed to remain at Consortium was that he “feels very good about the way things have evolved.” So just how is Consortium performing? The answer to that depends on whom you ask.
Interviews with about a dozen Consortium clients found a remarkably divided group, with some agreeing with Simon that things have improved significantly over the past six months, others encouraged by what has happened so far but still with a few reservations, and still others deeply concerned about what has occurred and about what the future holds. Julie Schaper, president of Consortium, said she wasn’t surprised by the different reactions from publishers. “There certainly have been challenges in the transition. We all understand that,” said Schaper.
The most widespread issue mentioned by publishers was a decline in customer service, a function that, along with finance and some other back-office services, moved to Jackson early this year. Schaper said that if publishers use the Consortium customer service phone number they will go directly to a Consortium rep, but if a publisher uses another Perseus number they will land in a pool of reps.
One of the most disgruntled clients called shipping “terrible” since the Jackson move, with books going out late and to the wrong place. And another publisher who said shipping has improved said he builds an extra week into his schedule to take delays into account. “We have to create a little more of a buffer between ship date and author events,” said Coffee House head Allan Kornblum, who has been generally satisfied with the progress made to date. Gary Baddeley, head of the Disinformation Company, was more positive. “After some teething problems at the Perseus warehouse, they seem to have solved their problems,” he said.
Schaper said the Consortium staff in St. Paul is in the process of building relationships with Jackson as it moves from being a small company to being part of a large company. “The move from small to big is a dramatic transition,” Schaper said. “It is a complete change in the culture.”
It’s that culture change that seems to have many publishers unnerved. “Consortium used to be a magnificently run company,” one publisher said, noting that if someone brought up a problem with the warehouse, someone could walk down to investigate. Schaper conceded that kind of interaction is over. “The days we could micromanage are gone,” she said.
Schaper said it will take until early next year before Consortium clients can begin to fully benefit from the economies of scale and expanded services offered by Perseus. Among the new services that Perseus already offers or will offer to Consortium clients are international sales representation, more gift reps and other special sales reps, and discounts on buying paper and printing. And with the news last week that BookWorld has closed, Schaper noted that being part of a financially stable company provides Consortium clients with financial security.