May 3, 2019

Baker & Taylor leaving retail wholesale market—what that means

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Word is out and reactions are in: Baker & Taylor is closing the wholesale retail side of its business, and indies are a bit panicky.

B&T and its parent company, Follett, told Shelf Awareness this week that the decision was “not an easy one,” and cite increased operating costs and customer demand for next-day delivery among the primary stressors. Though they considered a number of options to remain within the retail market, it was determined that “the best course for Baker &Taylor would be to devote our resources to our public library and publisher services businesses.”

David Cully, president of B&T, told Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly that business will likely continue through the summer, and the warehouses in Bridgewater, NJ, and Reno, NV, will be closed by the end of 2019. According to Shelf Awareness, 244 jobs will be lost.

So what does this mean for indie bookstores? It means that Ingram is now their only national wholesale retailer—and any stores that rely on B&T are going to have to revamp their strategy, turning to Ingram, to regional wholesalers, and directly to publishers.

The American Booksellers Association was among the first to comment:

“The competitive wholesale environment has played an important role in the resurgence of indie bookstores over the past several years in the United States. Baker & Taylor’s decision to no longer serve the trade market is very bad news for indie booksellers and, in the long run, will not be good for consumers. ABA intends to work as closely as we can with other industry partners to ensure that indie bookstores can continue to access inventory in as cost-effective and rapid a manner as possible to allow member stores to continue to serve their customers. However, there’s no way to sugarcoat it—today’s news is not good.”

Michael Tucker, owner of Books Inc. (an independent chain in California) told PW that B&T been doing “a very good job servicing us” and offered better discounts than Ingram. However, he also flagged that there’d been a shift in recent years, with his bookstores (and many others) increasingly ordering directly from the publisher.

Billy Reilly, board president of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) added that while he’s seen the same shift at his bookstore, River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, NY, he relies on wholesalers for customers who need their order filled immediately (one of the very problems that B&T says put them under) and “having one less option to go to in order to fill those needs is not good.”

To translate: This means less opportunities for independent bookstores to offer speedy delivery on orders—which could mean more customers will turn to Amazon.

And it’s not just trade bookstores that will be in a bind. Comics Beat reports that “B&T is one of the main graphic novel distributors to comics shops and bookstores.”

Meanwhile, Ingram, now in the powerful position of sole national wholesaler, claims it will be more than able to fill the gap upon B&T’s departure, and will help bookstores set up accounts and make the transition. Ingram CEO Shawn Morin told Shelf Awareness: “We’re here for the indies. We only succeed if our partners succeed.”

Which does provide a point of hope. Ingram relies on bookstores just as much as bookstores must now rely on Ingram. The last thing Ingram will want to do is create a market that drives brick and mortar stores out of business.

There’s also an opportunity for regional wholesalers to resurge. PW reports that companies in New Jersey and California are already working out how they can provide an alternative retailers and publishers.

And in the continued search for a silver lining, we find this: Indies banding together to adapt. In a newsletter, NAIBA reported that it is “compiling a resource list for booksellers who need to open direct accounts with publishers.”

It’s hard to predict what’s to come, but for now we’ll remain hopeful.

 

 

Amelia Stymacks is the director of digital marketing at Melville House.

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