Baker & Taylor will close down its retail wholesale business in order to better align itself with the education focus of parent company Follett Corp. The news comes five months after rumors circulated that the Ingram Content Group was considering making a bid for the business, the main focus of which is to supply books to physical retailers.
Pat Connolly, who took over as president and CEO of Follett about one year ago, said the decision was made to better enable B&T to work with Follett to develop programs that can make a big difference in the communities they serve. Connolly acknowledged that the decision to leave the retail wholesaling business was a difficult one, but said it is the right one to allow Follett to better link its school and school library (serviced by Follett) businesses with B&T’s efforts in the public library area. Since Follett’s purchase of B&T in 2016, B&T and Follett have run separately, Connolly said.
David Cully, president of B&T, said the move also reflects changes in the trade market where more publishers are selling directly to accounts, which lowers their dependence on wholesalers. Cully did not address the Ingram rumors directly, but said B&T “had explored lots of different options” and believes closing the retail business “is the most prudent option to take.” About 500 jobs will be cut in the process.
Cully said B&T will work with both publishers and booksellers in transitioning their business to other companies and said the company will not rush the process. “We don’t want to disrupt anyone’s business,” he said. “We want to give all our partners time to make their adjustments to their supply chain.”
Cully did not have a firm timetable for when B&T would exit the retail business, saying it was likely B&T would support that side of the business at least through the summer. He noted that B&T’s warehouses in Bridgewater, N.J., and Reno, Nev., will be closed no later than the end of the year.
The closing of the retail business will have no impact on Baker & Taylor Publisher Services, which is overseen by Mark Suchomel. (Chitra Bopardikar, who previously headed up B&T's international distribution business, left the company earlier this year, leaving Suchomel to oversee all of B&T's distribution business.) In fact, Cully said the traditional wholesale model of just filling orders is being replaced by distributors who can provide more services like sales and marketing to its publishing clients. Cully said B&T is “fully committed” to both its domestic and international distribution business. The company will continue to focus on signing medium and small publishers, Cully said, noting that one advantage it can offer publishers is its strong ties to the library market.
Connolly noted that while Follett will be closing two retail warehouses, it is opening four new facilities to support the growth of its book fair business. The expansion of its book fair operation is in keeping with Follett’s “foundational” principle to improve literacy and to create more demand for books, Cully said.
Another new initiative has been B&T Pop-Up Libraries, which give patrons online access to e-books from anywhere in their community, including locations like senior centers, hospitals, and city buses. Aman Kochar, B&T's executive v-p of public library sales and technology, said pop-up libraries are one way to “bring libraries to the people.”
When word of a possible Ingram acquisition of the B&T retail arm first surfaced, booksellers and publishers both expressed concern about being dependent on only one national wholesaler. Early bookseller reaction is in line with the comments they made previously.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher said Wednesday was "not a good day, calling B&T's decision "bad news for booksellers." He credited the "competitive wholesale environment" for playing a key role in the resurgence of indie bookstores over the past several years. With B&T gone, Teicher said, ABA intends to work as closely as we can with other industry partners to ensure that indie bookstores can continue to access inventory in as cost-effective and rapid a manner as possible to allow member stores to continue to serve their customers."
This story has been updated with further information.