PMA members’ reports on dealing with Baker & Taylor can be categorized under three headings that have to do with getting paid:
1. It’s always a hassle, and occasionally (at least so far) impossible.
2. It can be a hassle, but persistence, careful processing, and certain ground rules will work.
3. It isn’t a problem and never has been.
About half the publishers who shared their experiences are in category 1; roughly 40 percent fit into category 2; and some respondents in both these categories reported improvements that they traced to PMA’s efforts. In all three categories, several publishers compared B&T favorably with other wholesalers and with specified distributors and retailers.
An overview of Baker & Taylor collections and communications is found in this issue. Read on for firsthand testimony about problems, satisfactions, and solutions.
Prepayment as Problem Solver
We started our publishing business 10 years ago, with no understanding of the book industry. I depended on some of the wonderful books that self-publishers have written to learn the protocol of dealing with wholesalers and distributors, and I found that most wholesalers and distributors were fine to work with over the years.
However, Baker & Taylor was nothing but a problem the first four years we were in business. It was always returning books and sending us notices stating that it had a credit with us or that we owed it money. So we established a policy with Baker & Taylor that it must always prepay and that we will accept no returns.
This policy worked so well for us that we now require all wholesalers, distributors, and bookstores to prepay. If a wholesaler/distributor or bookstore sends us an order without a check, we just call and tell them our policy, and they give us a credit card number. I know this may not work for all publishers, but to my knowledge, we have never lost an order because of this policy.
Stuck with Old-Fangled Technology
Since publishing my first and only book in 2004, I have sold a substantial percentage through Baker & Taylor, so I am grateful that I can reach bookstores through B&T. But its systems are archaic, inefficient, and ineffective, especially compared to those at Amazon.com.
The key difference is B&T’s unwillingness to use online and electronic communications technology. For example, B&T:
- Orders books from me by fax.
- Does not let me confirm on its Web site that the books arrived.
- Requires that I mail an invoice to Momence, IL, even though the checks will be cut by staff in Charlotte, NC.
- Won’t send the money to my bank via an electronic transfer; I’m not into paper checks that I then have to take to my bank.
- Won’t let me see an online summary of my account.
I have started communications with B&T through the new email address (IndPub@btol.com) that PMA suggested. Ms. Nguyen is a breath of fresh air. She has responded to my questions and concerns quickly, professionally, and accurately. So I’m no longer as agitated with B&T as I have been most of the past year. My only worry is that if and when she leaves the company for greener pastures, we’re back to square one unless B&T improves its systems.
Comparing Due Dates
I’ve been dealing with B&T for 19 years now and have received weekly checks for due invoices like clockwork throughout that entire period. Granted, the due date slipped from 30 days to 90 days during that period, but that’s pretty much true throughout the industry, and many other wholesalers have stretched it to 120 days.
In the rare times that an individual invoice has become overdue, I’ve sent B&T a statement of unpaid invoices (simple to generate with Publishers’ Assistant software), and payment has been forthcoming promptly. It’s been years since I’ve even had to call these people–I’ve had no contact person because I didn’t need one.
Steve Carlson, Upper Access, Inc.
Book Publishers, Publishers’ Assistant Software
Better Cash Flow, Less Business
Sometime last summer I realized I had not yet been paid for books sent to Baker & Taylor in 2003, but I had been too busy to catch this. My assistant started making phone calls, receiving unsatisfactory responses and no checks. Then I wrote a letter to the CEO (got his name off the Web site) and my buyer, explaining the situation and saying I would stop sending B&T books until this was resolved. I sent the letters by certified mail and emailed a copy to my buyer. Within minutes, she responded, horrified, and said she would make sure my letter got to the correct person. Just a day or two later, I received a phone call from a supervisor in accounting, asking me to explain everything and send all my past invoices, correspondence, etc., to her. I was paid promptly for my back invoices, and I have been paid monthly ever since for books ordered 90 days ago.
However, my orders from Baker & Taylor have plummeted in recent months, while my orders from Ingram are going up proportionally.
Checks with a History
We sent a recap of receipts receivable to B&T on February 15 in accord with the email from PMA. The invoices were dated back as far as October 18, with due dates starting in mid-January. On March 4 we received checks for a little over $3,000, the amount owed. But one of those checks was dated January 25 and another February 8.
We held four orders for a couple of weeks until the checks arrived. We had a similar experience last summer, when we got paid only after several phone calls and notifying the buyer that we were stopping shipments.
Let’s just hope that the new owners haven’t bitten off more than they can chew. We will watch things very closely and will not fulfill orders when B&T gets behind on what it owes us.
Myron E. Ferguson
Home User Press
Sharing the Blame
At least I’m not alone in this. Actually, before PMA got involved, I did succeed in getting a major part of my receivables. It came in the form of a check that had been dated three months earlier! Using the PMA-mail link, I got another couple of invoice groups cleared. I have put in for the final batch once again, and I admit that I was in part to blame by submitting two invoices with the same B&T PO number. At this writing, I’m still waiting for the final check.
I just hope that B&T is not having a near-death experience!
New Technology Publishing Inc.
Why Are We the Only Ones Who Have to Wait?
When we receive payment for several invoices at a time, the deductions Baker and Taylor takes are often a mystery. We get “misdirect slips” charging us for orders sent to the wrong warehouse, but when we provide documentation of correct delivery, B&T doesn’t respond or repay. Here’s another gripe: it takes 120 days to get paid on an invoice, but B&T takes immediate deductions, sometimes dated the same day as its check! Shouldn’t it, in turn, have to wait 120 days for us to acknowledge a credit B&T says is due to it?
F. Ann Whitaker
Baskerville Publishers, Inc.
Is Bigger Better?
B&T is slow, yes, but I’ve found that a making few well-placed phone calls almost always shakes some money loose. We have a dozen titles with B&T, so maybe we’re considered “medium sized” and get treated better than the one- or two-book publishers, but I really have not had reasons to complain.
Marion Street Press, Inc.
A Distributor’s Guarantee
I’m encouraged by the fact that my distributor, Independent Publishers Group (which I secured through a PMA program), guaranteed its publishers payments on B&T stock, regardless of whether B&T ultimately paid them, on the theory that it’s unfair to hold the publisher accountable for stock that the distributor chose to send.
Three Story Press
More on Managing Your Account
Since I wrote “Tactics for Managing Your Baker & Taylor Account” (March 2005), the plot has thickened:
My email inquiries about B&T’s self-issued credits are not answered. I don’t know where it gets some of the credits, and it won’t tell me.
Returns from B&T now arrive without packaging material in relatively large boxes and are seriously damaged. In the past, damaged books from BT could be resold since they weren’t really damaged. Now they can’t. There is little I can do, since B&T issues its own credits.
B&T applied credit memo 18322400 (its numbers) for $18.40. Finally, I discovered memo number VNR218322400 (again, its numbers) for $18.39 that was in fact the credit in question that it was taking. It had dropped VNR2, and its computer took another penny in credit.
Past Due Paid Up
When Jan Nathan said we should contact B&T with specific invoices and amounts if we were having problems, I sent in all our outstanding invoices. Within a day, I got an email asking me to fax copies of all invoices, which I did. Within a few days, I was told they were in the accounting system and scheduled for payment. And yesterday, within a month, I received payment for the past due invoices.
The Big Winner for Trouble
Although I find my contacts to be polite, Baker & Taylor is the most difficult vendor I have worked with in a professional career that spans more than 30 years. I spend more time trying to resolve issues with Baker & Taylor than with all other vendors together (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders). I do significantly more business with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders and have not experienced issues with any of these companies related to invoice payment and returns.
Celtic Cat Publishing
A Different Picture with POD
Payments made promptly, net 30 days. Deposits transferred directly into the publisher’s bank account with email notification. Publisher’s short discounts as low as 25 percent accepted without question. Returns kept in stock instead of being shipped to the publisher. Emailed complaints getting prompt and respectful attention, often within hours or even minutes.
This is my experience with Baker & Taylor. How do I get it? Two words: Replica Books. It’s the print-on-demand division of Baker & Taylor, roughly analogous to Lightning Source over at Ingram. And it’s the “back door” into Baker & Taylor, the one that actually lets you work with B&T on reasonable terms.
I wouldn’t do it any other way.
Happiness Is . . .
Appletree Press has been working with B&T for well over 12 years and hasn’t had a lick of problems. Perhaps, because we are a prepay account; all orders are accompanied by a check made out in the right amount for the books B&T is ordering.
Yes, the volume of books has declined; but I’m happy–every book sent is paid for, and since Appletree Press covers the shipping, B&T is happy too.
And, best yet . . . no returns. Nice.
Appletree Press, Inc.