Follett Corp.’s acquisition of Baker & Taylor marks the end of B&T’s 188-year run as a standalone company. Although B&T had its faults—it was regularly dogged by complaints from small presses about slow pay—its purchase by Follett is seen by some publishers as the elimination of yet another distribution and wholesaler option. Coming on the heels of the closing of Partners Book Distributing and Ingram’s purchase of the Perseus Books Group distribution division, independent publishers in particular have expressed some concerns about how they will be able to get their titles into stores and libraries.
Perhaps with those concerns in mind, when the deal was announced last Monday, Follett said there are no plans to integrate B&T, which will remain based in Charlotte, N.C., and will continue to operate as before. George Coe, B&T CEO and president, will continue to head the company, reporting to Ray Griffith, president and CEO of Follett.
A definite positive aspect of the deal is that Follett can support B&T with financial resources. Coe addressed that topic in a prepared statement: “With Follett’s commitment to education and strong financial ability to invest in Baker & Taylor, we expect to build on our long-term vision for content distribution and expand the flow of innovative products, programs, and services for all of our customers worldwide.”
Follett, with revenue of $2.6 billion, was more than twice the size of B&T (Follett said the combined Follett/B&T will have revenue of $3.6 billion) and is the country’s largest operator of college stores, with more than 1,200 outlets (Barnes & Noble Education operates about 750 college stores). In the pre-k market, Follett distributes new and used books, reference materials, digital resources, e-books, and audiovisual materials. It also provides integrated educational technology that helps its customers manage physical and digital assets.
The company has been on a bit of an acquisition spree. Earlier this year it bought e-commerce service and software developer Woody’s Books, whose assets include BookVolume, an online sourcing and buying tool for booksellers aimed at the higher education campus market. Last June, in a much more significant deal, it added more than 200 college stores with its purchase of Nebraska Book Company’s retail division. Follett has not been without its own issues, however, most notably laying off 570 people in its college stores in 2013, in what it said was a response to business trends.
While Follett has been acquiring companies, B&T, which had been owned by the private equity firm Castle Harlan since 2006, had been selling. In February 2015 it sold its publishing and warehouse groups to Readerlink and its academic library business, YBP, to EBSCO. At the time of the divestiture, David Cully, president of retail and executive v-p of merchandising at B&T, said the sale would allow B&T to focus its financial and human resources on its core areas in the library market.
The Follett purchase also includes Bookmasters, the Ashland, Ohio, company that specializes in distributing and printing for independent publishers and authors. Castle Harlan bought Bookmasters in 2013 and the company formed a “strategic partnership” with B&T.