For years I've been recommending distributors for overseas based publishers looking for representation in the ANZ marketplace. I've also managed a business unit responsible for book distribution to booksellers, specialist accounts and direct/academic sales. I've been a publisher, I've been a customer, I've been a supplier/distributor, I've been a competitor, I've worked for one of the largest wholesalers in the world. Many, MANY hats so I've seen the ANZ supply chain from a number of angles and to be honest, I don't like what I see anymore. The ANZ book supply chain is shot.
One of the problems we have in Australia is the lack of a physical wholesaler. The overseas wholesalers (Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Gardners, Bertrams) have a presence in Australia in one form or another (staff, agent etc) but they don't have a warehouse here filled with books. As most of us know, there are real benefits with the consolidation of orders to a wholesaler, not to mention metadata workflows, customer service, and operational efficiency. With their economies of scale and commercial pull, orders can be sent to Australia and New Zealand within a couple of days - something the local market cannot compete with no matter how hard they try. But that's wonderful for the major US and UK publications. What about locally published books?
United Book Distributors (owned by Pearson) is arguably the best DC in Australia but there are other good operations like ADS (Hachette), HEDS (Harper Collins), Random et al. But they are not interested in taking on the smaller guys. It is not financially viable. The options for distribution with the mid to smaller presses is shrinking. We have Footprint (academic and specialist publishers), NewSouth (UNSW + local and international trade, specialist publishers), Woodslane (predominantly trade), Capricorn Link (trade), Peribo (trade), Dennis Jones (trade/independents) and a handful of others. But getting one of these guys to take on your list isn't easy. Publishers complain about the amount of calls and the set-up process, and then when they have distribution, they complain about lack of attention, lack of sales, and other issues that come from too many presses being distributed within one organisation.
No one is really interested in one book distribution - there isn't any money in it! Even publishers who do a dozen titles a year, that might sell a few hundred - or a couple of thousand even - is not worth it, particularly if the book is cheap. Margins have eroded, the sales aren't there to support it, costs of distribution are high, and if you are also doing sales & marketing representation, you really need high priced books to justify all your costs.
Overseas publishers, particularly niche, scholarly presses and those that publish less than 25 books a year, are having a hard time finding someone to represent them. The majority of these presses don't provide enough wholesaler discount to entice a supplier, costs of freight (particularly from overseas) are high, and returns are a nightmare for everyone. So my question for overseas publishers in particular is DO YOU REALLY NEED AN AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR? You are already doing sales and marketing in your own territory, you should already be working with the major wholesalers, and you should be digital. Can you do it yourself? Do you need a sales & marketing agent or someone on the ground in Australia to oversee things? There are dozens of questions you need to answer. Let RM Marketing Services guide you in this process.
What are YOUR THOUGHTS on the Australian book supply chain? With changes over the years at Tower/Scribo, DA/Central Book Services, the MDS closure, and future changes (Inbooks, Wiley rumours?); changes to the print and digital landscape; changes to consumer/bookselling buying habits - what are your concerns and issues? Are you a publisher? Are you a distributor? Share your story with others....
Well, it's what many of you are thinking so I thought I would just say it. Why not start my new blog with the bleeding obvious!
After nearly 11 years working for a key account for local and international publishers, with responsibilities that covered everything from retail (wholesale) distribution to library supply (academic and public), print products to digital (online reference and ebooks), marketing communications that included website, social media, enewsletters, print promotions and more - I've got more than enough experience to help others with the Australasian marketplace.
During my time at James Bennett/Inbooks I was always asked - and respected - for my advice on the publishing industry. From international wholesalers to small publishers, my role as Publisher Relations and Marketing Communications Manager was utilised by many - for free! *
And let's not ignore my 13 years in publishing prior to that - product, sales, marketing, key account management, business development....my career has been extremely varied and wonderfully rewarding. It's covered trade, professional and vocational education publications and all facets of marketing. And it's seen an awful lot of change - remember ordering everything via ocean freight (and adding two months to publication dates) or faxing through price and availability enquiries to overseas suppliers (no internet or email)? Ah, the good old days...
At the end of the day, the publishing industry is in my blood. I can't help it. Warts and all, it's a fascinating - and changing - industry. And the one thing that I've noticed the most - particularly for the larger organisations - is that they are now run by accountants. The nature of publishing has changed. Everything is counted, every cost reviewed, every cost saving initiative is introduced. No one seems to have enough resources - or time - to do even the most basic of jobs. There isn't the same flexibility, there isn't the same money available, and sadly there is also not the same level of experience in the book trade that there used to be. Too many people come and go because they have "digital" skills but they don't GET the industry, they don't take the time to learn it, and many lack basic customer service skills.
Isn't it the first rule of business? No one exists without the customer. It's about giving them what they need in order to sell or consume your product. I fear publishers have lost sight of that and I'm here to help.
In starting this enterprise of mine it took me all of two seconds to come up with my mission: helping publishers do what they do best.** Contact me today for any marketing service you require help with.
* OK there was the odd bottle of wine presented as a thank you gift
** And if you don't know what that is, you will definitely need my help!
Rachael McDiarmid has been in the Australasian book trade since 1990. Working in trade, academic and professional publishing as well as library supply and book distribution, she's worked with thousands of publishers, distributors, library vendors, and authors around the globe. She loves a belly laugh, strong coffee, wine, and good food. She is known for her no bullshit approach. This is her blog.