After a multiyear hiatus, Random House created a client services division in 2003 and returned to distribution with the signing of its first new client, Steerforth Press in Hanover, N.H., in 2004. Since then Penguin Random House Publisher Services has grown to 36 clients, and close to 200 decision makers from those houses attend PRH’s annual two-day Client Summit, which it began in 2010.

Client summits “serve the function BEA used to,” says Steerforth publisher Chip Fleischer, “to get everyone together.” Beyond fostering networking among clients, they are also designed to provide background information on everything from working with QVC to understanding the e-book landscape.

Because of the summits’ popularity, three years ago PRH launched Ideas Exchange, minisummits that were initially held monthly, in person or online. This year there will be more than 20 Ideas Exchanges, each featuring workshops and collaborative discussions. Sarah Hanson, associate publisher of Sasquatch Books in Seattle, is especially excited about one that will be held on the West Coast. The Seattle Ideas Exchange on the Road will include a panel with four Amazon editors titled “What the Amazon Team Is Hungry for Next,” as well as a presentation by Costco book buyer Pennie Clark Ianniciello, and a conversation with librarians from the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System.

“We send staff to attend in person twice a year,” Hanson says. “And at least a couple of us attend every WebEx seminar that PRHPS offers.” Like Fleischer, she values the networking. She also identifies the educational sessions on industry trends, best practices, and big picture thinking and the opportunity to step back from the daily grind as important aspects of the exchanges. Random House reps and executives regularly participate, along with booksellers.

Tom Hallock, associate publisher of Beacon Press in Boston, which hosted a regional Ideas Exchange program last fall, is also enthusiastic and calls them “an invaluable part of the client relationship. They give us a larger view of industry trends than we can glean from our own data. Hearing from outside speakers and PRH staff also gives us insights into specific marketplaces, such as library, international, special sales, and indies.”

The idea of bringing clients together and offering educational opportunities is an appealing one for other distributors. Last year Independent Publishers Group tested its first Publishers Summit and has already begun to expand on it. This year IPG invited speakers from the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Book Industry Study Group, along with exhibitors with relevant services such as NetGally, to speak with clients.