Posts Tagged ‘Book industry’

Ingram Book Company Sinks to Lowest Level of Customer Service

People have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for all manner of customer services lapses, and while it is the case that it has more difficult to hire employees and more challenging to get products from publishers in on time, some are simply milking the situation for all its worth.

Ingram Book Company operates under several different names, such as Ingram International, Ingram Content Group, or for some of my readers here, Spring Arbor Distributors. Their customer service record over the past years has been dismal, as evidenced by wait times of over an hour on their phone lines, shared with me by other dealers in the retailer Facebook group.

So instead of hiring extra customer service agents, or expanding their customer service hours, they did the opposite; forcing more issues to be submitted through the chasm of email; correspondence they had not intention of responding to.

Their actual announcement read, in part:

To best support all customers, we are adjusting our phone hours to support calls during peak call times, allowing us to focus on email support outside of this new phone schedule.
Effective November 1, 2021, our Customer Care phone support hours will be 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST / 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PST Monday through Friday.

Four hours. They cut it back to four hours.

This from a company which inflates list prices, imposes short discounts at the drop of a hat, and has no commitment to the actual marketing, promotion and publicity of the products they sell.

Their future — and they know this — is their partnership with Amazon in the US and Chapters in Canada. The individual, independent retail stores they’ve served for so many decades can’t possibly be part of their long term business plan. And their own retail division, Barnes and Noble, while having a good year in 2021, is subject to the roller coast ride of the pandemic and the industry as a whole.

With no other choice, I sent an email a month ago.

The three titles I received in a single shipment bore a bar-code and printed price of $14.99; but they charged two based on $16.99 and one based on $17.99. Plus a less than trade discount.

The problem is, I went through this with them about 2½ years ago with exactly the same titles, and they said they would clean up the database. I got a credit note that time.

Not this time.

Not even a reply.

I was taught, “Reply to a letter with a letter, to an email with an email, to a phone call with a phone call.” That’s just basic courtesy; basic human decency; basic business etiquette.

Not for Ingram…

…Today I received a very damaged book. I can’t through to them on the phone and I know there’s no point in trying another email.

Instead, I need to reconsider my supplier base; and rethink the type of services I’m prepared to offer my customers moving forward on the more obscure titles not carried by a major distributor such as Harper, Penguin, Hachette, or in the case of suppliers used by dealers reading this, Anchor/WA and the former David C. Cook Distribution.

If it’s not with those companies, I’m prepared to tell my customers that the titles aren’t available through us; preferring at this point to prioritize my business efficiency instead of Ingram’s.

Previous Industry Shakeups: Trade Paperbacks in the 1950s

Industry shakeups are nothing new. My wife subscribes to Shorpy a website which offers classic, high definition photographs. She forwarded this one to me:

Circa 1940: In an effort to generate more foot traffic in his Chicago camera store, my grandfather Edwin Shutan dedicated a section to a book rental library and hired a staff librarian, Miss Michaels (shown). Edwin charged just 10 cents for three days with no deposit or membership required. His library was immaculate and well-stocked with all the latest titles from authors such as Thornton Wilder, Alexander Woollcott and Lloyd C. Douglas, to name a few. View full size.

If you click to zoom in on the picture, you’re immediately reminded of the days before trade paperbacks; every book in the scene is hardcover.

That got me thinking about the trade paperbacks that now form the backbone of most of our stores. The website Mental Floss looked at this 4 years ago:

…If paperbacks were going to succeed in America, they would need a new model. De Graff, for his part, was well acquainted with the economics of books. He knew that printing costs were high because volumes were low—an average hardcover print run of 10,000 might cost 40 cents per copy. With only 500 bookstores in the U.S., most located in major cities, low demand was baked into the equation.

In the U.K., things were different. There, four years prior, Penguin Books founder Allen Lane had started publishing popular titles with paper bindings and distributed them in train stations and department stores. In his first year of operation, Lane sold more than three million “mass-market” paperbacks.

Quantity was key. De Graff knew that if he could print 100,000 paperbound books, production costs would plummet to 10 cents per copy. But it would be impossible for Pocket Books to turn a profit if it couldn’t reach hundreds of thousands of readers. And that would never happen as long as de Graff relied solely on bookstores for distribution. So de Graff devised a plan to get his books into places where books weren’t traditionally sold. His twist? Using magazine distributors to place Pocket Books in newsstands, subway stations, drugstores, and other outlets to reach the underserved suburban and rural populace…

[I’ve left a huge gap in the story here, you’ll need to click the link]

…Literary authors and critics weren’t the only ones turning up their noses at paperbacks. Bookstore owners, for the most part, refused to stock them, and students at most schools and universities still used hardcover texts.

Enter the “trade paperback.” Publishers had been unsuccessfully experimenting with larger-sized paperbacks since the 1940s, but it wasn’t until Doubleday’s Jason Epstein introduced Anchor Books trade paperbacks in 1953 that the idea caught fire. The idea arose from Epstein’s own college experience. “The writers we had discovered in college were either out of print or available only in expensive hardcover editions,” he wrote in Book Business. Instead of reprinting last year’s hardcover bestsellers and classics, Epstein envisioned a line of “upscale paperbacks” handpicked for their literary merit from publishers’ deep backlists.

Anchor’s trade paperbacks were larger and more durable than mass-market paperbacks and were an instant hit with high schools and colleges. Their attractive covers, illustrated by fine artists such as Edward Gorey, immediately distinguished them from the grittier pulp paperbacks, and they appealed to a more “intellectual” market. As a result, they found a nice middle ground in price. Epstein’s paperbacks had small print runs of about 20,000 and sold for 65 cents to $1.25 when mass-market paperbacks were still going for 25 to 50 cents. Trade paperbacks also opened doors to bookstores. Within 10 years, 85 percent of bookstores carried the handsome volumes.

In 1960, revenues from paperbacks of all shapes and sizes finally surpassed those from hardcover sales…

Click here for the full article.

I also looked at a 200-page, highly-annotated .pdf copy of a 2007 sociological research paper (thesis) Where Did All These Books Come From? The Publishing Industry and American Intellectual Life by Maro N. Asadoorian.

In 1953, Anchor Books was founded, and many consider this the true starting point for trade paperback publishing (Bonn 1995, 267)… “[I]it was during this time [the 1950s] that paperbacks began to sell in very large quantities, eroding somewhat the big sales of hardbound novels” (Hackett 1975, 116). Though the paperback industry faced some challenges during the late 1940s and early 1950s regarding overproduction and clogged distribution channels (Bonn 1995, 265), the industry grew in both size and power as the Age of Acquisitions drew near. In 1957, Publishers Weekly started a separate bestsellers list or paperbacks, and later separated mass market from trade paperbacks (Hackett 1975, 121). In 1968, “trade paperbacks became a feature of the Model Bookshop” at ABA conventions (Grannis 1975, 96) and throughout the 1970s and 1980s paperback houses published more and more original titles (Bonn 1995, 267). As we will see, this growth in paperback publishing was a huge turning point in the direction and attitude of the industry as a whole. As early as the end of World War II it was clear that “most people understood that a large part of the future lay in paperbacks” (Tebbel 1987, 408).  [pp. 87-88]

So who were the winners and who were losers?

The trade paperback impacted hardcover sales — and related author royalties and bookstore margins — but the increased volume meant many more books were being sold. Mass market (pocket) books were great if large volumes could be assured, but the trade paperback offered a safe middle ground for both original works and reprints.

I suspect that then, as now, certain categories responded to the changes differently. Even today we see a much higher percentage of hardcover cookbooks than we find with hardcover young adult fiction.

One thing is certain in publishing: It’s never a unchanging landscape. As with the music business, technology is always the sidebar to every story; almost always the reason for every sweeping trend.

Publishers Optimistic about Brick and Mortar Stores: Book Expo America

From World Magazine:

NEW YORK—Online retailers like Amazon are still gobbling market share for books, but book publishers are unexpectedly optimistic about the future of physical bookstores.

Publishers held their largest annual gathering in New York last week, the BookExpo America (BEA), where they show off their titles and discuss trends in the industry. On the eve of the gathering, the trade group American Booksellers Association (ABA) announced that 2,000 independent bookstores now exist nationally, the highest number since 2005. Twenty years ago, there were twice as many independent bookstores, but after several years of decline the trade group is pointing to a resurgence.

Not only are we still here, there are more of us,” said Oren Teicher, the CEO of ABA.

The article includes these highlights:

…Some publishers and retailers also think the eBook trend has leveled out—in other words, eBooks are unlikely to take much more of the market than they currently do. Several publishers discussed successful experiments they’ve done in pairing a physical book sale with a digital edition, so customers can read wherever they are. The more time people spend reading, they said, the more books they will buy…

Barron’s last week published an article arguing that Barnes & Noble’s stock was heavily undervalued. The booksellers’ retail stores continue to be profitable, and its digital side, Nook, is posting fewer and fewer losses…

…Publishers desperately want bookstores to survive. The animosity toward Amazon, which holds the majority market share of online book sales and eBook sales, was thinly veiled at a discussion about the future of bookstores…

…Amazon had no presence at BEA beyond a lone bookshelf stand with a small sign…

…But online retailers like Amazon can’t provide well what industry people called “discoverability.” Though online retailers can provide recommended titles based on past purchases with scary accuracy, nothing replaces the physical browsing experience. Even eBook publishers acknowledged that principle…

Read the full article at World.

Kevin DeYoung: Real Books Must Never Die

Actually, he said it more like this:

…Perhaps I am a wishful thinking bibliophile, but I just don’t think the physical book is going the way of the dodo bird. No doubt, many scholars and students will house parts of their reference libraries on an electronic device. Some frequent flyers will stick books on their tablets instead of in their brief cases. And some techno-geeks will conclude that everything is better on an Apple product. I’m sure ereaders will make inroads. They serve a useful purpose. But only to a point.

Old books are like old friends. They love to be revisited. They stick around to give advice. They remind you of days gone by. Books, like friends, hang around.

And they prefer not to be invisible…

…The other problem with ebooks is their bland sameness. This is why I can’t make it much farther than two books on any electronic device. The books don’t feel like anything. The font is the same and the white space is the same. There is no variance in paper or size or weight. Each book, when read on an ereader, loses its personality…

…Books have not been around forever. There are other ways to put words together on paper, papyrus, or cow’s hide. So it’s possible something else will come along to take the book down from the shelf. But it won’t be the iPad I’m using right now…

Read, share, print and distribute (!) the entire piece by Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition. Be sure to read and share the full essay, not the excerpt shown here.

HT: Daryl Dash

World Book Day Encourages Reading Among Children

Today both is and isn’t World Book Day.  Let me explain.

The first Thursday of March is World Book Day in the UK, while in other countries it’s celebrated on April 23rd.

In the UK, the event was launched in 1998.  Students receive a £1 voucher which can be redeemed in bookshops, and in the Christian bookstore environment there, publishers are offering kids books at special prices, including some that may be sold for only £1.

While books play a small role in a similar event in California, it’s hard to imagine something of this nature here in North America, but it’s something both literacy advocates and the publishing industry would deeply embrace. 

In reality here in North America, the school system stands in competition to the retail book trade; sending home advertising flyers to parents from marketers such as Scholastic from which the schools (and daycare centers) receive kickbacks in free books based on monthly sales.

But what a difference a program like World Book Day would make in Canada or the U.S., if only to increase the awareness of what children’s products retail stores have to offer kids and parents.

Toronto Store Closing Brings Total to Eight; LA Retailer Bucking The Trend

While Christian stores continue to struggle, the record of store closings in Toronto in just a little over three years shows that the general market is equally hurting.  John Goddard’s article in the Business section of The Toronto Star focused on the closing of one of the five Book City locations, but also contained this sidebar showing the recent casualties within the city limits:

2012 – Books for Business, off Bay St. on Adelaide St. W., in the financial district; The Book Mark, on Bloor St. W. in Etobicoke; [and Book City in Bloor West Village];

2011 – The Flying Dragon, children’s bookstore, Leaside.

2010 – This Ain’t the Rosedale Library.

2009 – Pages Books, Queen St. W.; David Mirvish Books, Markham St.; McNally Robinson Booksellers, Don Mills.

The article went on to describe the Book City closing:

“Physical retail stores for media — books, music and video — are becoming increasingly unviable,” owner Sean Neville said.

Book City’s decision to close one of its five locations coincides with the company’s move to expand its product line at the remaining stores, Donker said.

“We need stores that have enough square footage for us to be able to add something new without hurting our selection of books,” he said. “We’re looking for a few things to take over for the small decline that’s happened because of ebooks, online sales, that type of thing.”

The 1,000 square feet or so at the Bloor West Village location offered too little room to accommodate expanded inventory, which so far includes greeting cards and toys, he said.

But before we become too hasty, there’s this story about an entrepreneur who is swimming against the tide:

In the past few decades, the publishing industry has gone through drastic changes: large chain bookstores have pushed out independent bookstores, and now digital book retailers and ebooks have pushed out the chains.

But Josh Spencer is turning back the clock. A former online book seller, Spencer now owns a 10,000-square-foot used bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, aptly named The Last Bookstore.

On the corner of 5th and Spring streets, The Last Bookstore is a book-lover’s paradise with a large cavernous space, a hushed atmosphere, comfy couches, and, of course, rows and rows of books. Formerly a bank that opened in 1915, the building boasts tall columns and antique furnishings that give the space a nostalgic air, while murals and sculptures – one made completely of books suspended on wires – add a more modern feel. The store also features a section of used records and a small coffee bar.

Spencer, who sold books online for the last 12 years, said he was approached in 2006 about creating a physical bookstore in downtown LA. Three years later, Spencer opened a small store on Main St. and soon had more books than the few shelves would hold. Spencer and his employees found the current space and opened the store in June.

…continue reading this story at World California…

If it’s true that trends move from west to east, The Last Bookstore might not be last after all.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Amazon Wants to Burn the Book Business

The headline really says it all, but the story, at five online pages, is worth reading from beginning to end.  It covers the early beginnings of the company and then focuses on the company’s plans to enter into publishing its own titles.

HT: The Author’s Guild via Thomas Nelson Indies on Facebook

In the Digital Age, How Do People Find Out About Books?

How do people discover books in the digital age? The answer might surprise you.

According to a recent survey, presented at the Digital Book World conference in New York last week, nearly half of readers discover new books through the recommendations of family and friends, and nearly a third discover them at bookstores…

So begins an article at which links you to a video featuring Jack McKeown, president and co-owner of Books & Books Westhampton Beach, presenting the results of a survey by New York-based advertising agency Verso Digital of readers on discoverability, book-buying, pricing and much more.

I found the article at, which reported the stats look something like this:

  • 49% – Family and friends’ recommendations
  • 30% – Bookstore staff recommendations
  • 24% – Online and print advertising

In other words, while buying channels may be changing, awareness — what they refer to as discovery — is coming through traditional channels.

A Print-on-Demand Publisher’s View of eBooks

We asked Rob Clements of Clements Publishing the following question, because we honestly don’t know anyone in Christian publishing in Canada who is more aware of what’s happening as technology is changing the publishing industry.

Q:  ‘Christian bookstores are finding an increasing number of people experimenting with eBooks as opposed to print.  Would you say that the impact that this is having on publishers using Print on Demand is greater than, equal to, or the same as what is being experienced by mass-print publishers?’

A: “I am not convinced that ebooks have cut into POD sales . Many genres, particularly academic books, are not easily converted to the current ebook formats. If anything, the onset of ebooks is driving more business into the print on demand model because conventional publishers cannot count on the kinds of hardcopy sales they used to. Whereas ten years ago a publisher would move into print on demand if a title was selling less than 500 units annually, a lot of publishers are doing this with titles that sell 1500 units or less. Other publishers are using POD as an export solution —  laying down their front list titles in international  markets so that they don’t have to physically ship books to places like Australia.

“In both cases, print on demand takes the risk out of printing decisions. Inevitably ebook sales will grow and print sales decrease in the coming years, but there will always be people who for various reasons wish to purchase the print copy.”




Determined to Kick the Amazon Habit

At the Salon website, Writer Laura Miller responds to Amazon’s pre-Christmas use of your store to help them sell their product.

I suspect I’m not the only person starting 2012 with a resolution to buy fewer books from Amazon. Resistance to the e-commerce giant and its crypto-monopolistic ways crystallized just before Christmas, when it offered customers a 5 percent credit to use its price-checking app in brick-and-mortar stores, thereby undercutting local businesses.

Booksellers have been complaining about “showrooming” — the practice of using a bookstore to browse and learn about new titles while buying the actual books online — for a while now. Amazon’s holiday-season gambit, and a New York Times op-ed denouncing it written by novelist Richard Russo, alerted readers who value their local bookstores to the possibility that those stores will vanish if we don’t make a point of patronizing them.

…continue reading here… (the rest of the article discusses how some New York booksellers are involved in eBook sales.)

An op-ed piece in the New York Times disagreed with the Richard Russo piece Miller refers to:

Regarding Richard Russo’s “Amazon’s jungle logic” (Views, Dec. 14): Who wouldn’t take advantage of Amazon’s guerrilla price-check application? Shopping is all about getting the most bang for your buck. And since brick-and-mortar store prices typically include the cost of shipping and handling, Amazon purchases will almost always be at least $5 cheaper.

But fear not, local bookseller. The whole point of a physical location is so that readers can try before they buy in a comfortable setting. Even though Amazon saves its customers a couple of bucks here and there, they’ll never be able to match the atmosphere of a sit-down bookstore.

People will always need places to meet and exchange ideas, and at the end of the day Amazon’s price-check app will have the same effect as offering free Wi-Fi: increased foot traffic in your store.


Here’s a New York Times business section take on the Amazon “showrooming” maneuver.

Here’s the original Richard Russo piece on that fateful Saturday in December.

Appraising the Strength of the Giant

December 8, 2011 2 comments

It is a challenge to take on Amazon because they are quickly becoming every publisher’s number one customer. It puts publishers in an awkward position.”

~Michael Hyatt, Board Chair and former CEO of Thomas Nelson; interview with
Christine Sheller at High Calling Blog

One Third of British Children Don’t Own a Book

This disturbing news was reported Monday in the Daily Mail:

Almost four million children in the UK do not own a book, research suggests.

It raises concerns that the number of children growing up without books is rising, with poorer youngsters more likely to miss out.

The latest report by the National Literacy Trust, based on a survey of 18,000 youngsters, reveals a third – 3.8million – do not have books of their own.

And the number has increased from seven years ago, the last time the poll was conducted, when it stood at one in ten.

Today’s report also reveals boys are more likely to be without books than girls, and children eligible for free school meals – a measure of poverty – are more likely to not own a book.

The findings, not unsurprisingly,  show children who do own books are more likely to enjoy reading, read more books and read more frequently.

All the more reason to make sure books for children are included in this season’s purchases.