The very real possibility that Perseus Books Group will take over most of the distribution clients of Publishers Group West is causing many independent publishers to worry about the rapid consolidation among distributors. If Perseus is successful in acquiring the majority of PGW's distribution contracts, Perseus will then serve as the distributor and fulfillment company for more than 300 publishers. In a company that size, several publishers said, there is a good chance their titles will not receive the attention they need. "How can we maintain our visibility when we are becoming an ever-smaller piece of a larger puzzle?" asked Michael Wiegers, executive editor at Copper Canyon Press, which is distributed by Perseus's Consortium unit. Another Consortium client, Jim Perlman of Holy Cow Press, said he is concerned that with the addition of PGW, Consortium "will lose their ability to handle books with the knowledge and concern they've displayed in the past." Several PGW clients voiced similar questions, wondering where they will fit in at Perseus. "The viability of our list in this marketplace depends in part on a fairly intimate familiarity with what we do," one PGW publisher said, and another wondered what the "pecking order" will be when all the companies are combined.
Concerns about the consolidation would be allayed somewhat, publishers said, if they had a clearer idea of what the sales force eventually will look like. One PGW client observed that the "key issue" for her was "who are the reps who will be selling our books. If we knew who will be selling our titles, the more seriously I'd consider [Perseus's] offer." The composition of the sales force was also a top priority for Consortium clients. "My concern is about our reps," said Margarita Donnelly, director of Calyx Books. "I can't tell if they're keeping the reps, and I can't imagine our going forward without the reps we've had all these years." A Consortium client believes the addition of PGW will further dilute the Consortium brand, and that the size of the sales force will not be expanded enough to cope with additional titles. "A rolling together of the [Consortium and PGW] sales forces seems inevitable. Some 300 publishers being repped by one sales force will be a disaster," this publisher said.
Perseus CEO David Steinberger has promised to bring on PGW staff, but other all functions being centralized in Perseus's Jackson, Tenn., warehouse, it is far from clear how the PGW operations will be merged into Perseus. The move to Jackson is bad news for at least one PGW publisher. "The real shame is that PGW is run so well; they have really great fulfillment," this publisher said.
Publishers do see some plusses in the combination of Perseus and PGW. Holy Cow's Perlman noted that a larger Perseus will be able to further expand its reach in the marketplace. Another Consortium publisher said the combination of PGW and Consortium will yield a stellar sales force of the "best and brightest reps." Copper Canyon's Wiegers said the addition of PGW staffers would be a positive development.
Aside from practical concerns, several publishers felt it was ironic that independent houses were now being consolidated at the distribution level. "All this conglomeration is frightening," said Calyx's Donnelly. "It's not like you have a lot of choice." Another distributor had an even more ominous view. "The perception is that independent publishing in general is up for grabs right now and it's every man for himself, and that's a damn shame."