With growth of 58% over the past three years, ReaderLink landed at #4,801 on Inc. magazine’s list of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing private companies. ReaderLink CEO Dennis Abboud told PW that as the distributor closes in on the end of fiscal 2019 on September 30, total revenue will be approximately $1.2 billion. The company now distributes books to about 700 chains that operate approximately 80,000 stores.
A key to the recent growth has been ReaderLink’s ability to regain shelf space at major chains that had cut back on their book sections when they thought the rise of e-books would mean the demise of print. In one example, Abboud said, ReaderLink had gained back about 6.5 miles of space at Walmart. The distributor has also picked up more space at such major retailers as Target and Meijer.
With the extra space, Abboud said, ReaderLink is experimenting with adding certain books to different store departments where they could complement the section’s main offerings, such as adding books to the baby department at Walmart. The company is also looking to open new accounts by offering titles from genres or subjects that fit a store’s customer base, such as distributing crafts books to Joann Fabrics.
Children’s books remains ReaderLink’s biggest category. “It is our sweet spot,” Abboud said. Romance and thrillers have done well this year as well, but cookbook sales have slowed following the big year the company had with Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines in 2018. And though ReaderLink always does well with commercial bestsellers, other titles that sell well at bookstores, such as Where the Crawdads Sing, tend to not be as popular at ReaderLink accounts.
Sales of mass market paperbacks have steadily fallen in recent years (down 12.1% through June compared to the first half of 2018, according to AAP’s StatShot), and Abboud conceded that the format is not as popular as it once was. He attributed the decline in part to the fact that aging baby boomers have moved on to easier-to-read formats. He also thinks that mass market is stuck in a negative loop: as sales go down, stores cut back on space, leading to more sales declines.
Though ReaderLink handles distribution for all major publishers, its own publishing operation has steadily grown. The unit received a big boost in February 2015 when ReaderLink acquired the Baker & Taylor Publishing Group, whose imprints include Canterbury Classics, Portable Press, Silver Dolphin, and Thunder Bay. Those imprints and others now operate under the Printers Row Publishing Group, and sales for the current fiscal year will be about $150 million, Abboud said (a total that makes Printers Row one of the country’s largest publishers). In addition to publishing workbooks and other titles that feature licensed characters, Abboud said, Printers Row uses data gathered from its retailers to produce books that address the interest of the stores’ customers.
Abboud said he thinks ReaderLink will have a solid fall, pointing to some strong children’s titles. Dav Pilkey’s newest Dog Man title, For Whom the Ball Rolls, got off to a good start for the company. ReaderLink has also picked up some of Baker & Taylor’s online fulfillment business following B&T’s decision to exit the trade wholesale arena.
Abboud, who bought ReaderLink (then known as Levy Home Entertainment) in 2011, has built the company in part through a string of acquisitions, and while not all deals work out, Abboud has no intention of abandoning that strategy. “We will continue to be acquisitive,” he said.