Specialization has led to double-digit revenue gains over the last few years for Book Wholesalers Inc. Originally a supplier of books and related materials to retailers and the academic and public library market, BWI is now focused solely on supplying children's and young adult titles to public libraries. "Service has been the key" to growing revenues in a relatively flat market, John Nelson, president of BWI, told PW.
According to Nelson, BWI "serves as a bridge between libraries and publishers" by distilling the thousands of new offerings for its library customers. BWI deals with about 7,500 publishers and is buying more titles from foreign publishers, especially from France and Spain. With its ability to customize collections for individual libraries, BWI significantly reduces the time it takes librarians to order books, Nelson maintained. And BWI also gets books to libraries quickly. "Libraries recognize they are competing with bookstores for readers, so they want new materials as fast as possible," Nelson said.
The centerpiece of BWI's operations is TitleTales, an online selection and ordering tool that features approximately 200,000 items in its database. Through TitleTales, which is a free service, librarians can create lists searching by title, author, series and ISBN or by a combination of 15 indexed categories. "Our ordering plans are very flexible," Nelson said. TitleTales also includes full text reviews from a number of trade publications (including Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and School Library Journal), pre-publication announcements, core bibliographies that are updated by BWI's MLS staff, and various award lists. All TitleTales ordering is done through BWI's Web site (bwibooks.com).
Complementing TitleTales is SNAP, BWI's Selection, Notification and Acquisition Plan. SNAP allows librarians to create a profile under which BWI will ship new titles based on three options: books that appear in review journals; books from particular authors and illustrators; and books from certain publishers and imprints. SNAP can be either an approval or standing-order plan, and books are usually shipped on a weekly basis. Nelson estimated that BWI ships between 100,000 and 150,000 books per week.
Despite shrinking library budgets, Nelson expects BWI, which is a division of Follett, to have another solid year in 2002. The company is doing "lots of opening day collections," increasing its foreign language selections and doing more business abroad, Nelson explained. And while the company serves many of the nation's 9,000 libraries, including some of the largest systems, it continues to add new ones to its roster. Based in Lexington, Ky., BWI has about 220 employees.