At the BookExpo America convention, the Ingram Book Company issued an announcement which was covered in the following story from the front page of Show Daily, a publication distributed free each day to convention attendees.
Ingram to Expand Small Press Title Base
In an effort to satisfy its library, international and Internet customers, Ingram announced plans to expand its title base from its current 360,000 titles to 500,000 by adding product from small presses. Debbie Pressnell, director-book product, said the move will also allow Ingram to “better service our full-service bookstore accounts.”
Ingram will do so by enhancing the number of titles in its “greenlight” program, which consists of titles held in small quantities and offered at short discount. They will also be seeking titles that can qualify for Ingram handling — which involves the usual requirement of having ISBNs, bar codes, and titles on spines as well as the new conditions that the press provide Ingram with four free titles to start and that they contact PMA for marketing advice. “We want to give small publishers a chance to prove themselves,” said Pressnell.
This new Ingram policy is the preliminary result of a meeting Jan Nathan and I had with the Ingram management in Nashville in March of this year, and of subsequent conversations with them.
These conversations are continuing because, as you can clearly see from the sketchiness of the announcement above, there are many essential terms yet to be worked out.
It is possible at this point to add a bit more information about this new policy. Those of you who already have your books stocked by Ingram will not be asked to change your current arrangements to fit the new pattern. And in regard to the new policy, there will be a fixed initial time period, probably six months, during which time Ingram will keep available the initial four books they receive. After the initial period, Ingram will offer each publisher a formal agreement to keep the book in stock if there has been sufficient sales activity, or drop the book if there has not been sufficient activity.
What Is Really Going on Here?
Ingram fully intends to be the dominant supplier of books sold over the Internet by companies like Amazon.com, just as they are now the dominant wholesaler to bookstores. The great challenge for Internet booksellers is to develop reliable and fast sources of supply for older backlist books from the major houses, and for books published by independent presses who lack good distribution arrangements. Ingram wants to solve that problem for the Internet booksellers by stocking many more titles — 140,000 more titles — and by stocking them quickly.
PMA fits into this picture because the Ingram management understands that books produced by PMA members have a better chance to sell than books produced by non-member independent presses. They know that the simple fact of PMA membership means that a publisher has at least begun to address the problems of book marketing, and they also know that PMA members have access to effective and affordable marketing programs. They do not want to stock just any additional 140,000 titles; they want the titles for which there will be demand. Books from PMA members are an excellent bet.
Now some words of caution. For many PMA members, the fact that the Ingram door has opened a crack is going to be very helpful. But this opening is by no means the complete solution to any publishers’ marketing problem. Ingram is just a middleman, a pipeline, a company (as Ingram senior manager Y. S. Chi remarked in his speech at the PMA University luncheon) which is very good at doing work that publishers and booksellers don’t want to do — the nightmare of warehousing, picking and packing, shipping and billing countless small orders.
But Ingram does not create demand, it only satisfies demand. Publishers who imagine that having their books stocked will of itself generate sales will be sadly disappointed.
PMA has also begun discussions with Barnes & Noble. Last year B&N opened an enormous distribution center so that they could have, in effect, their own, captive, wholesaling operation to serve their stores. This year they have launched a huge Internet bookselling site. Their plan is to stock 400,000 additional titles at their distribution center.
Does your trade association, PMA, have the leverage necessary to set the terms that will govern these new business relationships between the giants of the book industry and our members? No.
Does PMA have the clout to strongly influence the outcome? Yes, it does.
For more information on the Ingram Express Program, please click here.
This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor July, 1997, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.