Ever since Dennis Abboud bought Levy Home Entertainment in October 2011 and became its CEO, he has worked to make the company the dominant distributor of books to major nonbookstore retailers. As the fifth anniversary of his takeover of LHE (now known as Readerlink Distribution Services) approaches, he has achieved that goal. Levy was already a significant player in the book distribution business prior to being purchased by Abboud, but the acquisitions of large and small competitors makes Readerlink the unchallenged leader in selling books to such important customers as Target, Toys R Us, Walmart, warehouse clubs, drugstores, and food stores.
After Readerlink’s purchase of ANconnect in April, some publishers expressed mild concern about the company’s clout in the nontraditional market and wondered if the acquisition might result in lower sales due to the consolidation. Sasha Quinton, v-p of marketing for Readerlink, said any concerns are unfounded, noting that while gross sales could fall slightly, net sales will rise. She said, for example, that from July 2015 to July 2016, gross sales of mass market paperbacks declined slightly from the comparable period in the prior year, but net sales were up 6%. Quinton also said that many of Readerlink’s retailers were happy about its purchase of ANconnect, pointing to the strength of Readerlink’s systems.
Since his purchase of LHE five years ago, Abboud has invested heavily in upgrading Readerlink’s various back-office systems, and the focus this year is on further integration of its acquisition. Readerlink, Quinton said, is in the process of creating one warehouse system, one operating platform, and one data system. The integration project is complicated. The acquisition of ANconnect included its facility in Walmart’s hometown of Bentonville, Ark., and its purchase of Baker & Taylor’s publishing division added a large facility in San Diego, Calif. Readerlink already had its corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., and an office in Minneapolis. The company now has 1,300 employees, six distribution centers, and reaches 66,000 outlets owned by 628 retailers.
Including Readerlink’s acquisitions, Quinton said, sales through August are up “tremendously,” adding that on an apples-to-apples basis, revenue is up in the mid-single digits. Sales are only down in the young adult category, but they are up for hardcover, children’s, and trade paperback, the last of which includes adult coloring books. Quinton said adult coloring books have been a particular boon to Readerlink, since “they are a great impulse buy and are e-book-proof.” Sales of adult coloring books peaked at Mother’s Day, and though sales have slipped since, Quinton believes they will continue to sell well for at least the remainder of the year. “I think they have become a category and are not just a phenomenon,” she added.
The slowing of e-book sales and the stabilization of print have also contributed to improve business for Readerlink. In the booming early years of e-books, many large chains began cutting back space devoted to print books, as sales slowed and retailers believed print sales were on a downward spiral. That trend has been reversed, at least slightly. “We haven’t seen the contraction we saw in past years,” Quinton said. “In fact, two of our biggest retailers said they will be adding space.” In addition to the stabilization of print sales, Quinton said, Readerlink, along with its publishers, has done a good job promoting the importance of books to stores, arguing that books are a profitable category and that they make stores relevant as places where customers can pick up hot titles.
The revival of print has been especially important to Readerlink since the major general chains have not embraced the sale of e-books. Readerlink has experimented with different e-book platforms but has seen little interest from its retailers. If retailers express interest in e-books or print-on-demand services, Readerlink is ready, Quinton said: it has a deal with the On Demand company for its Espresso Book Machine.
Readerlink’s online fulfillment business is doing much better than its e-book efforts. Quinton said the company is fulfilling orders for many of its clients, and the business has been posting double-digit year-over-year growth. “We are a full-service provider, and we are always looking at the needs of our clients,” Quinton said.