With Baker & Taylor’s withdrawal from the retail wholesaling business largely completed, independent booksellers, wholesalers, and publishers have been developing new plans to ensure that stores receive quick replenishment of titles and uninterrupted wholesaling services in the upcoming fall and holiday seasons.
The nation’s two biggest remaining trade wholesalers, Ingram and Bookazine, have been busy since B&T announced in early May that it was pulling out of the retail market. “We did not have the typical slow May and June,” said Shawn Everson, chief commercial officer for Ingram. Noting that Ingram already had relationships with most independent booksellers, Everson said that the company has signed up about 900 new accounts since the B&T announcement, including a large number of smaller stores as well as a good amount of comics stores.
Bookazine chief operating officer Richard Kallman said that the New Jersey–based wholesaler has signed “hundreds” of new accounts since May, with the greatest number coming from the Midwest, the South, and the West. Bookazine has also increased its title base by 18% and increased its frontlist buying, he noted. The company recently hired Josh Harwood as its Northeast sales director, and Kallman said more hires are to come.
Everson said that Ingram has also broadened the depth and breadth of its inventory, in many cases bringing in titles based on the recommendations of booksellers. He added that Ingram wants to ensure that its Indie Vault “is really solid this year.” Ingram has also added some more nonbook products that B&T had stocked but it did not.
While both Kallman and Everson said that the transition away from B&T has generally been orderly, Everson said booksellers had switched over faster than he thought. As a result, Ingram’s sales with indie booksellers in June were up between 18% and 22% over June 2018, while July sales are running 25% to 28% ahead of last year. For his part, Kallman said Bookazine is prepared “for a robust fall.”
A key to creating a smooth transition has been informing publishers and booksellers about what Ingram is doing, Everson said, adding, “We talked to the ABA board in July and will talk to them again in October.” In addition, he noted, Ingram reps will make a trip to the West Coast in early August to talk with a number of large bookstores to learn more about their daily ordering patterns. Ingram has also set a two-city listening tour to meet with booksellers in Boston (on August 16) and San Francisco (on August 21).
One of the major concerns of booksellers interviewed by PW, particularly for those on the West Coast, has been how quickly Ingram—or for that matter Bookazine—can fill orders, including special orders. “I don’t know about the rest of the country, but I can say that the B&T closure is hurting booksellers on the West Coast,” said Alison Reid, co-owner of Diesel Bookstore in Los Angeles. “B&T’s Reno warehouse carried a far deeper stock than Ingram’s Roseburg [Ore.] warehouse. We were able to fulfill many of our customers’ special orders in a speedy way.” B&T’s Reno warehouse has stopped fulfilling trade orders and will remain open until the end of February to fill orders from public libraries.
“Baker & Taylor worked very hard to fill a gap when Partners West went out of business,” said Tracy Taylor, general manager of Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle. “They picked up many regional titles we count on. As more and more books are sourced from Ingram Tennessee rather than Ingram Roseburg, we have experienced larger turnaround times on the West Coast, and we know that if someone doesn’t step in to replace this loss, the cost-of-goods number we all closely watch every month will increase.”
Judith Kissner, of Scout & Morgan Booksellers in Cambridge, Minn., said that she hopes Ingram can deliver the same kind of service B&T did. “For a small store like mine, Baker & Taylor was set up in way to that helped us better serve our customers,” she noted. Kissner relied on B&T’s next-day delivery, without extra charges, as a way to compete with Amazon.
Everson said that Ingram is looking for ways to enhance delivery time, especially during the holidays, when quick delivery can make the difference between a sale and a lost sale. Kallman said that Bookazine is also looking for ways to speed up delivery to the coast.
When B&T operated a Reno warehouse, it developed a Rapid Replenishment program in partnership with HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Everson said that Ingram is talking with publishers about replicating the program, and that he expects to announce some deals for the fourth quarter.
A number of booksellers said that though they generally like working with Ingram, they remain concerned that the company is the only major wholesaler. Bookazine’s Kallman said that fear is one reason he expects to continue to sign more accounts. “Every bookstore needs to have at least two players in their cascade,” he added.
Shortly after B&T’s May announcement, many publisher and distributors announced special terms to encourage stores that had been using B&T to order from them directly. Most booksellers PW interviewed—even those that hadn’t been using B&T—said that they have been doing more direct ordering with publishers lately. But ordering directly has its own challenges.
Andrea Vuleta, executive director of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, said that to order directly from publishers, “we will have to roll back to 10- and 14-day lead times.” She added, “We will be addressing that timeline management specifically at the regional trade show this year.”
It is not only West Coast booksellers who are worried about the time that publishers take to fill orders. Nina Barrett of Bookends and Beginnings in Evanston, Ill., said that it could take publishers anywhere from two to seven business days to fulfill a special order. “That sounds incredibly lame to a customer who knows they can go online and get that book maybe the same day, or at latest in a day or two,” she said. “Unless we solve the problem of how to get individual books quickly to customers who ask for them—which is what, for the most part, wholesalers allow us to do—we really are not on a level playing field with the online juggernaut.”