Baker & Taylor Enters the Publishing Distribution Business

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Baker & Taylor [B&T], one of the country's largest wholesalers, is moving into the publishing distribution business. And, if all goes according to plan, that should be good news for small publishers and independent booksellers, according to Arnie Wight, senior vice president of distribution for Baker & Taylor. "As we get to a critical mass of publishers, it will result in greater efficiencies," he said. "Greater efficiencies should mean price competitiveness."

B&T's foray into the publishing distribution business is over five years in the making. In 1996, the company rewrote all its software in the book division, creating a "sophisticated, warehouse management system [WMS]," said Wight. In 1999, the company found itself at the brink of its physical capacity and decided to expand. Part of that growth entailed doubling its distribution capacity, and combining B&T's entertainment division with the book division, which meant linking the entertainment division with WMS.

"There was a lot of investment in the expansion," explained Wight, "and we wanted to leverage that investment." Subsequently, B&T looked for an alternate channel of distribution as a way to do just that. It chose the book business, because "we know the book business, and it allowed us to utilize our existing [book distribution] equipment," he said.

To complete the move into publishing distribution, B&T needed the proper software to handle the job, Wight said. WMS was good, but it wasn't "complete." Toward that end, the company licensed Vista, software specifically designed for publishers, to be its "full-business solution." B&T is currently interfacing Vista with WMS.

The company hopes to have a demo showcasing its new capacity available to publishers by April, though Wight noted that already several publishers are interested. B&T is looking for "a particular size of publisher," he said, adding that the Vista software could handle publishers ranging anywhere from $1 million to $5 million in sales to those with sales upwards of $30 million.

The key, said Wight, is leveraging the system and offering "smaller publishers capabilities that they simply wouldn't be able to afford on their own." Those capabilities would include the physical space to house books, as well as invoicing, customer service, and credit and collections. Furthermore, B&T's computer systems will offer publishers data warehousing capabilities and will allow them to collect and mine data, as well as to generate standard and ad hoc reports. "Vista will allow [publishers] to manage their data," he explained.

Wight surmises that, if publishers are more efficient because of the Vista software, then booksellers will benefit from this efficiency, too. "There will be a faster cycle time -- if a bookseller orders today, we can ship tomorrow," he said. "There'll be a higher level of service. And the more publishers we get, we should be able to keep costs down." -- David Grogan