The always fluid distribution business continued to change in recent weeks with a number of new developments. Top among the changes are the decision by Ingram to re-enter the field, while Baker & Taylor appears to be walking away. The future of Words Distributing also remains in flux as the company negotiates with potential buyers following the bankruptcy of its parent company, Bookpeople, last year.

Ingram announced last week that it has hired Phil Ollila to head a new fee-based distribution operation. Ollila, who started at Ingram today, April 12, had been v-p of marketing for books at Borders. In the newly created post of v-p, publisher services, Ollila will report to Ingram Book Group chief commercial officer Jim Chandler.

This is the Ingram company's second try at distribution, but only the first effort by the book group. Ingram's first entry into the distribution business, PRI, was a separate company that did not enjoy the benefits of being part of the wholesaling unit, Chandler said. PRI operated for about 12 years before closing at the beginning of 2003. As part of the wholesaling infrastructure, the distribution unit will be able to utilize such Ingram services as quick fill rates, Chandler said. The new service "will be as broad as Phil wants to make it and clients are willing to pay for," Chandler told PW, noting that he fully expects to offer publishers sales representation.

Chandler hopes the distribution operation will be "active" before the end of the year. He declined to specify what size of publishers Ingram will represent, although he did exclude micropublishers.

A Borders spokesperson said the company "will take some time to assess its resources" before making a decision on replacing Ollila.

Although no final decision about the future of B&T's Distribution Solutions Group had been made at press time, it appeared all but certain that the company will close the unit after less than one year in operation. John Phillips, who had headed DSG, has left the company, and a recording on his voicemail says that B&T "is not pursuing additional clients for the DSG group at this time." A spokesperson said B&T "is in a quiet mode," while it decides what to do with the distribution business. DSG had signed up only one client, children's book publisher Barefoot Books.

The future of Words should become much clearer on April 21, the date set for the bankruptcy court judge to make a decision on the proposed sale of the company. There is an unidentified lead bidder for the distributor, but other offers may still be made, said Words' Judy Wheeler. The company still represents 33 clients.

Midpoint Expands

While the nation's two largest wholesalers flip-flop positions on distribution, companies that focus solely on distribution are expanding.

Midpoint Trade Books, which is now solely in the hands of founder Eric Kampmann and executives Chris Bell and Gail Kump, is preparing to broaden its services, Kampmann told PW. Among the new initiatives are expanding Midpoint's representation to independent bookstores, the creation of a service for single-book publishers and the hiring of new salespeople.

Midpoint has traditionally focused on selling to major national accounts, but it is now talking to the American Booksellers Association on ways to better serve the independent bookstore market. A new program, which will officially be launched at BookExpo America, will use the Internet, telephone sales and other methods to get Midpoint books before the indie bookselling community, Kampmann said.

Midpoint Express is the name of the new service designed to help one-book publishers get into Ingram, Baker & Taylor and other major wholesalers. Midpoint won't sell the book into these accounts, but will provide single-title publishers with the opportunity to get listed on their databases, Kampmann said. Another new effort, Midpoint Custom, will provide publishers that do their own shipping with data processing support. "We've built in a lot of flexibility to our services," Kampmann said.

Midpoint has about 140 clients and had sales of approximately $10 million last year. Kampmann said the company is looking to add more publishers, although he said there was a limit to how many clients Midpoint would represent. "We don't want to have 600 publishers," he said.

SCB Distributors' publisher count isn't up to 600, but the company has added 13 new clients, among them Last Gasp Publishing, Sherman Asher Publishing and Gorsky Press, bringing their total to more than 90. And, two weeks ago, Publishers Group West announced the signing of 11 new publishers.