Executives at Tennessee-based Ingram Content Group affirmed their commitment to support the bookselling and publishing trade as best they can through the coronavirus crisis.

On Sunday, the metropolitan Nashville Mayor issued a “shelter in place” order for Davidson County, Tenn., which covers a geographical area where a large number of Ingram employees live and operate, and took effect as of midnight. But as Ingram’s wholesale, distribution, print on demand, and digital services fall into exceptions in the directives that were been issued, the operations are considered essential services and the company has been encouraged to continue operations.

“We are monitoring all global geographies where we do business for announcements regarding COVID-19 and are adjusting our business accordingly," said Ingram’s president and CEO Shawn Morin in a statement Sunday evening. "At this time, we can report that all our facilities and distribution centers around the world remain open. Ingram Content Group continues to take actions to support the health and safety of all our associates as well as provide critical services to the industry in these difficult times,”

In conversation with PW last week, Morin said, "Our industry is obviously experiencing unprecedented shifts in how consumers buy books. These shifts include changes in book availability due to supply chain issues, traffic at retail stores, temporary closures of libraries and retailers, and an increase in direct to consumer book sales, whether in print or digital formats." He added, "Ingram is fortunate to be in a unique position where it can help the industry cope with fallout from the coronavirus."

The company's ability to cope with any closures was a key point in the conversation. "We have built in a lot of redundancy into our operations," said Morin, noting that with five North American distribution centers, on distribution center in the U.K., as well as seven global print-on-demand facilities, if business is disrupted in one location, it can be shifted to another. "Many of our print centers are co-located with distribution centers. This capability removes risk from the supply chain and provides direct access to channels," he said. "We are also capable of directly serving global channels of distribution through all of our locations. As volume shifts in channels of distribution we are shifting our people and connectivity to where business is going, while paying careful attention to the needs of those who are most affected."

Morin noted that disruptions in the traditional supply chain were already happening, some of which were changing on-sale dates or keeping books out of stores, and that Ingram was seeing an increase in titles being made available through its Lightning Source POD system across all sectors, from trade and academic titles, to children's and illustrated books. "Our Lightning Source POD solution is a risk-free way to guarantee availability and access to channels on a global basis. Our established and extensive network of distribution and print on demand serves as availability insurance should there be supply chain disruptions."

In addition, Ingram's digital distribution platforms, CoreSource, which provides distribution for e-books and audiobooks, and VitalSource, for e-learning and digital textbooks, has seen an influx of titles and conversions as well.

With so many bookstores closed to customers, many booksellers are shifting their customers to shop online, either through their own proprietary sites or through IndieBound, and many are depending on Ingram's ability to continue fulfilling orders. Ingram's direct to home program, which fulfills books ordered by customers directly, bypassing the store altogether has seen increases in volume, confirmed Morin. In addition, other online retailers for which Ingram fulfills orders, including Bookshop.org, Target, Walmart, and Amazon--plus some stores not so well known for being in the book space--have also seen an increase in sales. Categories that are trending are children's books, cooking, self-help, work and activity books, as well as journals.

This, naturally, can only keep up so long as Ingram can keep its offices and warehouses running. "We have developed business continuity plans in the past, but this is unprecedented," said Morin, who explained that those able to work at home have been given permission to do so. "For our warehouses we are focused on keeping our associates safe and healthy. We are allowing for timing between shifts, are focused on social distancing and are cleaning like crazy. If we find ourselves with a requirement to close a facility, we are confident we can be back up and running very quickly."

The key for this to work for the industry is communication. "We have spoken to nearly all of our publishers and retailers in the course of the past several weeks. If our colleagues in the industry have a question or idea about how Ingram can help, we want them to call us," said Morin.

"All in all, we feel like we are in a good position to help the industry during this difficult time. Ingram associates are working hard all over the world with publishers, retailers, and libraries to provide business continuity. We want to make sure that all of clients and customers are aware of ways that they can work with us to help defend their business and prepare for the future."

Mitchell Kaplan, president of Books & Books in Miami, has closed his five bookstores and was forced to furlough 80 employees. He's offering online sales and using his small warehouse to fulfill orders. "When that doesn't work, we are relying on Ingram to deliver books. We are dependent on them and it would be very disruptive if they had to shut down operations," said Kaplan. "As booksellers, we will rely on them now more than ever and are grateful they are there for us."