Since becoming CEO of Independent Publishers Group in January 2016, Joe Matthews has built it into a distributor for independent publishers that now has more than 1,000 clients in the U.S. and U.K., and has more than 400 employees and 150,000 SKUs. Matthews began at IPG in 2006 as an educational sales rep and took the helm following the retirement of his father. He has grown the company with the help of a series of major acquisitions, including the purchases of InScribe Digital (in 2016), International Specialized Book Services (in 2018), and Midpoint Trade Books (in 2018).

Matthews’s biggest deal came in November with the purchase of U.K.-based United Independent Distributors (which includes the distributor Eurospan and several U.K. distribution centers). The acquisition doubled the size of IPG and helps close the gap between IPG and Ingram Content Group, the #1 trade book distributor in the U.S., and it also makes IPG the largest distributor in the U.K.

“I do feel like this is a life-changing transaction,” Matthews told PW in a story marking IPG’s 50th anniversary this year. “It’s a large number of employees and a huge volume of numbers through their system. I would say it doubled IPG.”

For Matthews, the acquisition is also a significant piece in IPG’s reinvention during a time of transition. “Online has taken a massive market share as a result of the pandemic,” he says. “In response to what’s happening with this shift toward online, this shift toward audiobook, this recent 13% growth in e-books, we’re becoming a much more global company to bring out the efficiencies of the scale we need.”

Other changes during the year include replacing IPG’s commission reps with a 25-member in-house rep group. “I remember one publisher saying that the #1 thing we want from our distributor is sales and the #2 thing we want is sales,” Matthews says.

From an infrastructure standpoint, IPG added 20,000 square feet in September to its Chicago warehouse, which is now nearly 250,000 square feet. With an additional off-site facility where it parks pallets, IPG now has about 12 million units in hand.

Though some things have changed, IPG’s mission hasn’t. “The reason why we exist in the first place,” Matthews says, “is still the reason why we exist today: the idea that an alliance of small publishers together can act like one big publisher. That’s it. We’re an alliance of little guys that looks like a big guy.”