Baker & Taylor’s recent decision to divest two business lines was driven by a desire to focus its financial and human resources on its core areas. David Cully, executive v-p of publishers and retail at B&T, emphasized this in an interview last week, following the sale of its publishing and warehouse groups to Reader-link and the sale of YBP, its academic library business, to EBSCO. B&T bought the two businesses at different points over the last 16 years, acquiring the publishing/warehouse unit in 2007 from AMS (after that company filed for bankruptcy) and YBP in 1999. Cully said both divisions had grown nicely since being acquired by B&T and that the decision to sell was not “a performance-related issue,” but rather stemmed from the belief B&T could do better if it focused its resources.
Two places where B&T will invest are the public library market, its traditional area of strength, and the K–12 classroom library segment, Cully said. In both areas B&T will be looking to bolster its digital offerings. Axis 360, B&T’s digital media circulation platform for libraries, now has about one million e-book titles with all of the major publishers participating and Cully observed that publishers seemed to have put fears about lending e-books behind them. The K–12 library market, which has been much slower to adopt e-books and other digital options than public libraries have, is showing signs of change. “There is a tremendous amount of interest in investing in new models” by school districts, Cully said, although he acknowledged it will take time for the market to develop. “We’re willing to be patient,” he said.
B&T is coming off two solid years in 2014 and 2013, in which the company had good performances in revenue and the bottom line, Cully said. Last year’s results were helped by a strong holiday season at B&T’s retail accounts in which sales exceeded expectations despite no blockbuster titles. Holiday sales to independent bookstores were “very nice” and sales to the sector rose by high single digits in the full year, Cully said. Business with the book chains was also solid. In general, Cully said, B&T was happy to see the overall print market stabilize in 2014.
In addition to using the proceeds from the divestitures to invest in existing operations, B&T will pay down some debt. The transactions, Cully said, “put us on a different financial footing.” Asked about complaints from some smaller presses over slow payments from the company, Cully said B&T tries to look into each issue on a case-by-case basis and is willing to engage with publishers to go over any problems. He reiterated that the divestitures will allow B&T to improve its financial picture in a way “that will be good for everybody.”
Readerlink’s purchase of what had been the Baker & Taylor Publishing Group gives the wholesaler a publishing business that has a backlist of about 500 titles, released through the Silver Dolphin, Thunder Bay Press, Canterbury Classics, and Portable Press imprints. Readerlink handles book distribution to almost all of the country’s major mass merchandisers and has been looking for ways to keep those accounts interested in selling books. By having its own publishing unit, which will soon be renamed Printers Row Publishing Group, Readerlink plans to offer titles “to our retailers for consideration where they offer value and help drive sales,” a spokesperson said.
The acquisition of Baker & Taylor Marketing Services Group, to be rebranded Readerlink Marketing Services, adds to Readerlink’s core distribution business. The purchase includes B&T’s 504,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in Indianapolis.