Approximately one year after the Perseus Books Group assumed complete responsibility for shipping the former PGW clients from its Jackson, Tenn., warehouse, publishers from all parts of the Perseus Distribution Group empire—Perseus Distribution, PGW and Consortium—give the company high marks for how the integration has proceeded, although some publishers still expressed concern that one company has so much clout in the independent press world. And while some presses said Perseus overpromised and underdelivered in the beginning, operations have improved noticeably.
“At this point, there are no major problems,” said Gary Baddeley, head of the Disinformation Company, which is distributed by Consortium. Dan Simon, publisher of Seven Stories, said that “after an unsettling first year, they're hitting their stride.” Another Consortium publisher noted that things have improved since Perseus switched its focus from “the [PGW] acquisition to distributing books.”
Munro Magruder, v-p of sales and marketing for PGW client New World Library, observed that “all things considered, the transition went swimmingly.” He said there were “obviously some issues” at the beginning when Perseus was building new warehouses and new systems, but that Perseus “did everything they said they would.” He noted that PGW has had no problems meeting the strong demand for New World's Eckhart Tolle titles, which now total over 1.2 million copies since Oprah picked Tolle's Penguin-published New Earth. Another PGW client, Doug Seibold, head of Agate Publishing, said that after a few bumps, he believes Perseus “is building the type of distribution venture” that will benefit the smaller, independent houses like Agate. “They've been very mindful of my needs and wants,” Seibold added.
Both Perseus president David Steinberger and COO Joe Mangan said that after some early issues they are happy with how the distribution business is operating. “We've made it through the integration test,” Steinberger said. Mangan said the most difficult part of the integration was transferring books from the old PGW Indianapolis warehouse to Jackson, but that the issue has been resolved. The Jackson facilities are fully functional and Perseus just completed a 3,000-sq.-ft. addition to house its new print-on-demand service, which it is beta-testing in partnership with Edwards Brothers. Mangan expects the service to go live in the fall. Another new service on the drawing board is Constellation, a digital services division that will provide a host of services—such as file conversion and electronic browsing—for its publishing clients. Steinberger said an official announcement about the new division will be made before the end of the year.
While Perseus appears to have successfully created a new distribution company, some publishers, especially on the Consortium side, miss being part of a smaller, and in their mind, more responsive company. “I miss Consortium the way it used to be. It's not the same,” said the head of one small press who remains concerned about how attentive Perseus will be to the needs of its smaller clients. Perseus has a different business model than Consortium, the publisher contended: “We're in the corporate world now.” Steinberger noted that the three distribution arms each set their own terms. “We respect the needs of the different communities,” he said. Even some Consortium publishers who are pleased with Perseus's ownership said they are concerned about the potential implications of consolidating so many indie houses under one roof. Coffee House publisher Allan Kornblum said that given the volatile economic times, if something went wrong with other investments made by Perseus's parent company, the book group could suffer, which might “bring down small press publishing.” But Seibold noted there is risk with any distributor, and he commended Perseus for being aggressive in making investments for the future. “Small publishers need all the help we can get,” Seibold said.