To mark the first 50 years of Ingram Content Group—and the company’s first $2 billion year, in 2020—John Ingram, chairman of the board of ICG and Ingram Industries Inc., will talk with PW senior v-p, editorial director Jim Milliot and reporter and former Ingram spokesperson Keel Hunt, author of The Family Business: How Ingram Transformed the World of Books, published in April by West Margin Press, an Ingram subsidiary.
In the book, Hunt traces the roots of ICG, the country’s largest book wholesaler, print-on-demand company, and independent book distributor, from its early days, when John Ingram’s father, Bronson Ingram, purchased the Tennessee Book Co., a textbook business, for $245,000 in 1964. Six years later, the Ingram Book Co., the forerunner of ICG, was launched. Following Bronson’s death in 1995, John took over the company.
Under John Ingram’s leadership, two of the most important additions to Ingram have been the creation of Lightning Source, for print-on-demand, which began life as Lightning Print in 1997, and Ingram Publisher Services, which shipped books for its first customer, Applewood Books, in 2005. Lightning Source proved especially valuable during the pandemic, when, with traditional supply chains disrupted, demand for its services skyrocketed; Lightning printed more than 400,000 copies last June.
Distribution took a major leap forward in spring 2016, when ICG bought the Perseus distribution business. Hunt quotes Ingram as saying that with the purchase, “the center of gravity for the Ingram Content Group shifted from wholesale to publisher services.”
Inevitably in a company that has thrived for half a century, there have been a few missteps—among them the failed acquisition of the Ingram Book Co. by Barnes & Noble in 1998 and 1999. According to Hunt’s book, the idea for the purchase came from B&N owner Len Riggio during a brainstorming session among B&N executives and Ingram brass. John Ingram was intrigued by the proposal because it came at a time when consolidation among both its retail customers and publisher partners was putting pressure on the company’s traditional wholesale business. In addition, he was concerned that B&N and Borders would expand their own supply networks and was increasingly worried about the rapid growth of online bookselling.
The collapse of the deal was a “heavy blow to John,” Hunt writes, but it made him more determined to find ways to expand the company and to create a new version of the ICG In the more than 20 years since, John Ingram has done precisely that.
Ingram, author Keel Hunt, and PW editorial director Jim Milliot will be in conversation on Tuesday, May 25, 4–4:30 p.m. ET.