Ingram Buying B&T?: Readers React
Readers of our story yesterday about Ingram's possible purchase of Baker & Taylor--in effect creating one national wholesaler--expressed concern and disapproval for a variety of reasons, including their own experiences as booksellers, examples of related businesses with few wholesaler options and on general principles.
Several B&T customers were particularly unhappy. "As the owner of a very small indie and a long-time customer of Baker & Taylor, I am opposed to Ingram's potential to become the only wholesale distributor," wrote Francine B. Tanguay of Annie's Book Stop in Wells, Maine. "It's not good for my business, for bookselling as a whole, and therefore not my customers. Annie's Book Stop depends on the fast turnaround for special orders which we get daily and is our one edge to keep Amazon at bay. After almost 34 years in bookselling, I think I know a little about the business and one wholesaler is not a good thing."
Another bookseller wrote: "What a nightmare this would be for my store. B&T is responsive to the little guys like me and offers some nice discounts. I've been waiting for two weeks to get an account set up with Ingram."
Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., added: "Should any of this come to pass, authors, publishers, booksellers and the reading public will be the losers. This kind of consolidation, just as with Amazon's hegemonic vertical integration, will imperil the biodiveristy of the industry even further."
Several readers pointed to problems in related businesses. One wrote: "I work at a comic shop. For those who may not know, there is one distributor in the U.S. (and most of the world) for periodical comics, and, in effect, many of the trade books. From our experience, it is a very, very bad thing to have one distributor with no competition."
Another complained about the effect of Follett's 2016 purchase of B&T on school libraries, which led to an "almost complete vertical integration of the entire operation and product in my school district. I always valued working with B&T, especially for certain high school subjects. Miss them. Cannot understand why that consolidation occurred."
Susan Weis-Bohlen, owner of Susan's Kitchen and Breathe Ayurveda and former owner of breathe books, Baltimore, Md., noted there are other options: wholesalers "Nataraj Books, Integral Yoga and New Leaf offer many health and wellness titles, hard-to-find esoteric books as well as some mainstream books too!"
Hiroshi Sogo, director of Books Kinokuniya, observed that there are also some implications from an international perspective, where these two companies have been highly active: "It is assumed that any major bookshop chains in OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries would be dealing with both companies, instead of either one. To see the two become one could be a good thing, provided the unified entity can increase their service levels and offer better terms and conditions, and also provided that their stock management in Tennessee and Momence, etc., can offer the state of the art capability of cascading indent orders from global customers seamlessly and really fast, etc.
"In addition, it could be a game changer in this industry if the united force could develop their joint might to face up against Amazon, although one would hasten to admit that to say that would happen may be a wild speculation and wishful thinking."
Citing American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher's comments that there have been very few instances in the history of the book trade where anything good happened when the competition in a sector de-intensified, Sogo added: "As an international book trade concern, we are inclined to suspect that something negative could befall on us if the merger & acquisition happens in a foreseeable future.
"It is also intriguing to see how Barnes & Noble will find their future in relation to this topic. As commonly known, the Barnes and the Folletts families were originally working together in Chicago before William Barnes moved to New York and tied up with G.C. Noble to set up the B&N business. In a way, it may be seen as a reunion of the parties after a hundred years or so."