With the 28th IBPA Publishing University occurring just days after the completion of Ingram's purchase of the Perseus Books Group distribution business and the closing of Partners Group Distribution, changes in the distribution landscape was a repeated topic of discussion at the event. In addition to the distribution topic, the IBPA featured a lively keynote speech from author Kwame Alexander, and over 30 education panel.
Much of the distribution discussion at the two-day conference, held April 8-9 in Salt Lake City, centered around what changes Ingram's purchase of Perseus will mean for both former Perseus clients as well as publishers distributed by Ingram Publisher Services. Publishers were especially eager to learn if they would be getting new sales representatives, or if Ingram intends to change existing sales territories.
Finding a good distributor remains a challenge for many of the 230 new and independent presses who were in attendance at the conference. The purchase of the country's largest distributor of indie presses, Perseus, by what had been the second largest independent distributor, IPS, will further limit the distribution options for publishers. A number of publishers told PW they had either left IPS to join Perseus, or had left Perseus to join IPS. Now these houses are part of a distribution group representing over 600 publishers.
Some publishers suggested that the time may be right for a new distributor to emerge that could represent a smaller group of publishers. A smaller player, they feel, could potentially offer more personal service than what the IPS/Perseus combination can. A couple of publishers said they hoped Mark Suchomel, who formed the Legato Publishers Group for Perseus after leaving IPG, might be interested in starting another new venture. (Suchomel, who had been running all of Perseus' distribution businesses, did not make the move to Ingram after the sale.)
Asked at a panel what she thought the Perseus acquisitiong meant for self-published and indie authors, Robin Cutler, senior manager of IngramSpark, said her hope is that some of the self-published authors in IngramSpark will evolve into publishers that could take advantage of one of Ingram's full service distributors.
The conference was not all talk of distribution, however. Newbery winner Alexander, in his keynote, gave a spirited description of the road he took from a young child working for his father's publishing company to an award-winning children's author.
During his career, Alexander has operated his own small press and, at one point, self-published his work. Along the way he learned the value of taking chances in marketing. He took big publishers to task for believing there is only one to sell books when, in fact, "there are hundreds of ways." To promote a book by one of his first authors, Alexander recalled, he hired two actors to attend a book reading, fearing that his shy author would not make a good presentation. Sure enough, as the audience was getting bored with the reading Alexander signaled the actors to start acting out the text. He ended up selling out the hundred or so copies of the book he brought to the store.
When sales of his first self-published book were slow, Alexander took to showing up at Farmers Markets up and down the Middle Atlantic states, often selling $1,000 worth of books in a day. Self-published authors and independent publishers can't think like large publishers, he said. "You have to do what you have to do to sell your books."
Throughout his early career Alexander was repeatedly told poetry doesn't sell, particularly children's poetry. When he was doing a reading of one of his early books at a BookExpo America, a publisher asked if he had written anything for a middle grade audience. Though he had not, Alexander said he had and quickly wrote a few dozen pages. The project was rejected.
After Alexander expanded the manuscript to 230 pages, the project was rejected not only by the publisher who had originally asked for the material, but by 17 other houses as well. Alexander was getting ready to publish the book himself when he received an offer from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The Crossover would go on to win the Newbery. Even after he signed with HMH, though, Alexander continued to aggressively market his own titles. "To be an author is to be active," he said.
Asked if he would considered returning to the publishing side of the business, Alexander said he wouldn't rule it out. "My heart is still with small presses."