Hoping to boost sales in a tough market, Baker & Taylor and Lightning Source have signed an agreement to make the latter's titles available to B&T customers. In discussing the deal, both parties stressed the advantages: the move will make B&T more attractive to its library and retail customers while broadening Lightning's market coverage, which has been oriented more toward the retail market than toward libraries. The Lightning database currently holds about 40,000 titles, most of which should be available via B&T by the end of the month. Both sides declined to discuss details of the revenue split, though Lightning said that the two would be "on equal footing."

For all its potential benefits, the announced plan is a tacit admission of the challenges inherent to the on-demand business. Companies that were once tempted to dip into the new business of flexible publishing have found it hard to balance high infrastructure costs with the inconsistent and low revenue that comes from on-demand orders, sometimes forcing them to try to pool their resources.

Lightning, for its part, said that this only partially applies in this case. "We didn't do it so we can combine orders; our economical order quantity is one," said Lightning CEO Ed Marino. "But does the volume help us? Definitely. We grew substantially last year, and we want to continue growing."

Marino also talked about a third benefit. "As a company that's a part of the Ingram family, it's natural to have us associated with the Ingram Book Company--they are our largest trading partner. But this, in some respects, identifies Lightning as an independent operation." Still, the fact that B&T is Ingram's biggest competitor could, in theory, have jeopardized the deal, but Marino said the two wholesalers' markets are different enough for this not to be a problem.