Booksellers and former competitors alike are developing plans on how to deal with the news that Baker & Taylor will be closing down its retail wholesale business over the next several months.
The departure of B&T from the retail side leaves Ingram as the lone national wholesaler, a situation that worries many independent bookstores. “I believe removing that competition in the retail wholesale market is a huge detriment to the independent bookselling industry,” said Larry Law, executive director of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. Michael Tucker, owner of Books Inc., which has 10 stores in California, noted that “B&T was doing a very good job servicing us, we had better discounts than from Ingram, and they always had an indies reserve. That said, Books Inc. has always had a good relationship with Ingram, and we hope they will prove to be a good partner.” Tucker also pointed to one of the reasons B&T got out of the retail business: the move to more direct ordering by stores. “In recent years, we have seen a shift in the way we order books,” Tucker said. “We went from 60% distributor/40% publisher to a flip of 60% publisher/40% distributor.”
Bill Reilly, co-owner of the River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, N.Y., and NAIBA board president, also said his store has made more direct purchases with publishers in recent years to improve profitability. Still, Reilly had done business with both Ingram and B&T in “the hopes that they would both survive.” Reilly noted that even though he has increased his direct business, he does depend on wholesalers to fill orders from a not-small part of his customer base who want a book immediately. “Having one less option to go to in order to fill those needs is not good,” he said. “It’s just not good for the industry.”
The lack of direct ordering is a big problem for many of the stores that are members of Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association. “A lot of the stores I represent in this region are exclusive to B&T or heavily reliant on them,” said MPIBA executive director Heather Duncan. “Lots of rural stores in particular often don’t have accounts with publishers. A lot of stores felt that B&T was a better fit and more accommodating to smaller stores. It has to do with minimums and lots of things that help with small stores.” Duncan said she is hoping that the publishing industry and other wholesalers will help to ensure that books get into stores located in smaller communities.
While a few booksellers contacted by PW were concerned about whether Ingram and regional wholesalers could accommodate B&T’s business, Shawn Morin, CEO of Ingram, said the company “is well-prepared to take on whatever business comes our way.” He said Ingram has plenty of capacity to add more stores, adding that he is well aware that stores that haven’t done business with the company may need some help setting up accounts. Morin said he understands change is hard, adding that Ingram is prepared to help stores with the transition away from B&T “any way we can.”
Some booksellers also said they hoped that the demise of B&T retail business would bring about the return of regional wholesalers. The company most often mentioned by booksellers for filling some of the B&T void was Bayonne, N.J.–based Bookazine. Rich Kallman, Bookazine COO, said he and his brother “are overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from both the publishing and bookselling communities.” Though he didn’t commit to a major initiative, he said Bookazine “will make every effort to step in and fill the void this leaves in the wholesale segment while continuing to provide the same high level of service we do today.”
Out west, Christopher Robbins—owner of American West Books, a regional wholesaler located in the central California city of Sanger—said he is exploring ways AWB can help both retailers and publishers given the upcoming closing of B&T’s Reno warehouse. “From the wholesale business, to retailers, to third-party logistic services for publishers, we think providing an independent solution may be a welcome alternative throughout the West,” Robbins said.