What Holiday Crunch?
Diana Wells -- 12/20/99
Sellers and shippers say they're staffed, stocked and ready for the rush

Despite predictions that online sales will increase 200%-300% over last year, the general consensus in early December of major wholesalers, shipping companies and online booksellers was that this holiday season will be a smooth one, with few, if any, problems getting books into customers' hands.

Connie Coury, v-p of marketing for Baker & Taylor, summed up the opinions of everyone to whom PW spoke when she said, "Everything is on target for this time of year," adding that the company has doubled capacity at its distribution centers since September in preparation for the holidays.

K n Book Distribution has added roughly the same number of seasonal workers to its telemarketing and warehouse staff as last year and, according to director of marketing Jim DiMiero, is keeping up with demand while experiencing record sales.

Jim Chandler, president of Ingram Book Co., said he expected shipping and fulfillment to be no different this holiday season than previous ones, cheerfully conceding that "you can only shove so much through a funnel at once." He noted that Ingram has worked closely with key online retailers this year to track sales expectations and early trends; he estimates that the company will see a double-digit increase in sales during the season.

Both and seem confident that they can handle the seasonal rush without the late shipments and problematic returns procedures that plagued last year's holiday season. Kay Dangaard, director of press relations for, reported that the company "has gone to great lengths to ensure smooth customer service and order fulfillment" by building new distribution centers and increasing its focus on "quality control."

Carl Rosendorff, senior v-p at B&N. com, admitted that "last year was a learning experience," one that spurred the company to start planning for this year's holiday rush last winter by streamlining fulfillment and delivery systems, increasing capacity at its distribution center and stocking up on titles earlier than ever. He also noted that B& is already seeing "significant increases over last holiday season, across the board."

The giant online retailers aren't the only ones who appear ready for the rush. is so confident that it can keep up with its expected 250%-300% increase in online sales that it installed a new ordering system just one month ago, courageous timing by any standards. Among other things, it allows customers to track orders and maintain multiple addresses to facilitate gift-giving.

Kanth Gopalpur, Powell's online manager, told PW that more than 60% of holiday orders are being shipped within 24 hours, the rest taking between two and three days. He foresees no problems with either fulfillment or shipping this season, noting that Powell's had a test rush in September, when it announced a new policy of free shipping for orders over $50, which led to an immediate 50% increase in online sales over the previous month.

Even United Parcel Service seems unfazed by the heightened expectations. Steve Holmes, a public relations manager for UPS, remarked that while the company hired 90,000 extra workers for this holiday season -- about the same as last year -- it has made significant investments over the last few years in high-tech programs, such as its online tracking system, that will facilitate shipping during the rush. Holmes added, "E-commerce is permeating every package we deliver, in one way or another." The U.S. Postal Service has added 40,000 temporary holiday employees and leased more than one million square feet of additional processing space.

Toby Vs. Goliath, Er, Amazon
Toby Press, the new publishing house that sells its titles only directly to consumers (News, July 26), sued two weeks ago, complaining that the online retailer lists the house's titles as temporarily unavailable, according to the Associated Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The suit was filed in federal district court in Pittsburgh, Pa.Amazon's statements, Toby Press charges, "have prevented customers from locating and purchasing the book, by misleading them into believing that the book is not available at all, when in fact it is available through the Toby Press."
Company spokesperson Bill Curry said that couldn't comment because it hadn't seen the suit yet. Still, the company apparently has taken action on the issue. A search on the Amazon database for all six titles of Toby Press's first list, which appeared in October, resulted in the note, "We are unable to find exact matches for your search."
Toby Press has asked that replace the original "unavailable" statements with one reading: "This book is not available from, but can be ordered from the publisher directly at www.tobypress. com."
Toby Press was founded in the U.K. by American expatriate Matthew Miller. It publishes only new fiction, only in high-quality hardcover editions without jackets, and it sells only directly via its Web site &&A href="" target=_Blank>www.tobypress. com>, advertising in newspaper inserts, through mailings and on the Net.--John Mutter