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....
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.