Mackin Educational Resources has a lot to celebrate while it marks its 30th anniversary this fall as a distributor of books and educational materials for the school library market. The company, which was launched in 1983 out of the trunk of co-owners Kitty Heise and Randal Heise’s station wagon, netted $40 million in revenues in 2010, according to Twin Cities Business, and employs between 350 and 420 people (depending upon the season) in its 110,000-square-foot facility in the Minneapolis outer-ring suburb of Burnsville, Minn. More than 50% of U.S. school districts, the Heises say, buy their opening-day collections from Mackin. Company executives report that 3.5 million titles appropriate for the pre-K to 12th-grade market, including foreign-language titles, are available for distribution to its 35,000 customers from 18,000 vendors. In addition, the company has supplied, through the Department of Defense, all of the U.S. military bases abroad with educational materials for the past 12 years. The books that fill shelves and carts in the Burnsville facility have already been sold, and are undergoing the process of being catalogued and shipped to schools across the country.

“We are known for excellent book processing and cataloguing and an attention to detail,” Kitty explained, while touring the facility with PW. “Without a good cataloguing system in place, you can’t find the book.”

Everything to do with the stream of books that passes through the facility from vendor to customer is done manually, Kitty added, down to placing barcodes on books that are customized to the customer’s specifications. Last year, Mackin processed and shipped approximately 2,350,000 books and other educational materials in print formats.

But the company is more than a distributor: For years, Mackin has helped promote children’s authors and their books to the residents of Minnesota. The company co-sponsors, with the Children’s Literature Network, the annual Books for Breakfast in the Minneapolis area, during which as many as two dozen regional and national children’s book authors present their books before an audience of educators, librarians, and other children’s book enthusiasts. Mackin also co-sponsors the annual Celebration of Minnesota Children’s Authors and Illustrators at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minn., as well as the Reading Tree program that’s held before St. Paul Saints minor league baseball home games, when a player and a local author or illustrator read to children near first base. For the past two years, Mackin has provided for sale the books at Debra Frasier’s Alphabet Forest literary activity center at the Minnesota State Fair. In February, Mackin partnered with the Metropolitan Library Servie Agency to bring popular YA authors to the Twin Cities, calling the series of talks, “Teens Know Best.” And in October, Mackin co-sponsored with Minnesota Public Radio and Candlewick Press the book launch for Kate DiCamillo’s new middle-grade novel, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. The event, which took place at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, drew 700 parents and their children. Micawber’s, a local independent bookstore, sold 300 copies of Flora & Ulysses, as well as DiCamillo’s backlist titles, at the event.

Mackin publishes a biannual catalogue, Compendium, which features what company executives describe as the “nation’s best new PK-12” titles. “We want to help school librarians trust the books that they are putting on the shelves, so they can get back to educating the kids,” Kitty said.

Talking Technology

Two years ago, Mackin aggressively expanded into digital distribution to complement its distribution of print materials, with the launch of MackinVIA digital content management system. Even if schools purchase their e-books elsewhere, they can use MackinVIA to manage their digital resources free of charge, as long as they purchase their print books from Mackin.

“We cannot deny the digital world is here,” Randal said, adding that 10% of sales last year were of digital products. The company expects that sales of digital products will eventually equal those of print products. This past month, Mackin and Random House LLC announced that they were partnering to make Random House frontlist and backlist e-book releases available for school library lending, thus adding 36,000 titles released by Random House LLC and Random House Publisher Services to MackinVIA’s digital catalogue. And on Tuesday, November 12, Mackin announced that it will partner with Findaway World, an Ohio-based provider of audiobooks and videos, to provide access through MackinVIA to more than 31,000 digital downloadable audiobooks. Students and educators will be able to stream children’s and YA titles directly to a computer or a mobile device through the MackinVIA app. Thus, schools can purchase only those titles they want, without having to pay for annual subscriptions or being charged hosting fees.

“Unlike other systems, these audiobooks are accessible inside their free MackinVIA portal and won’t require other applications or logging out to enjoy,” Randal said in a statement. The Heises have just achieved their goal of making 200,000 e-books available for download on all devices to Mackin’s accounts by the end of this year; as of this month, the company reports, approximately 200,000 e-books and another 40,000–50,000 digital downloadable audiobooks are available through MackinVIA. “Our goal is to provide as much content through as many formats so schools can deliver content to their students,” Randal said. “Ease of access is key.”