Meanwhile

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Don Linn

By Don Linn, Founder, Linn and Co.

Summer in publishing is generally a quiet time and while we had the final demise of Borders, the withdrawal of John Malone’s offer to buy Barnes & Noble (he ended up buying less than 20%), the running battles over Amazon and taxes, and what seemed like hundreds of new ereading devices devices announced or introduced with the usual fanfare, this summer was no exception. The business took its Summer Fridays,  spent time at various beaches and launched (and shut down) its quota of imprints while a few notable people moved around from publisher to publisher. Oh, and we had conferences. Lots of conferences.

Meanwhile, as we were looking elsewhere, a couple of potentially important things were happening on the less-glamorous perpiphery that could have a big impact going forward. I say “could” because in each case, execution will be critical and each of the players involved still has something to prove on that front.

The first event was printer R.R. Donnelley’s acquisition of Libre Digital, “a leading provider of digital content distribution, ereading software, content conversion, data analytics, and business intelligence services to book, magazine, and newspaper publishers as well as to ereader device provider” (bit.ly/rj5YZh ). This marks the first time, to my knowledge, that a printer has backward integrated into providing publisher services and, if successful, would be able to offer publishers a soup-to-nuts solution for content creation and production. The “if” is huge here, as LibreDigital has been through more incarnations and had more strategies, none of which has been particularly successful, than most businesses, but it marks an interesting vertical integration strategy from a major printer.

Another notable event in supply chain managment was Ingram/Lightning Source’s announcement (bit.ly/rfu6DW ) that it had entered into an agreement with Brazil’s Singular Digital, a leading book manufacturer in Brazil with extensive regional distribution. This not only gives Ingram a huge footprint in the fast-growing South American and Latin American markets but provides them with virtually worldwide capability to distribute content (print or digital) globally. If done properly, this could give publishers the ability not only to significantly reduce costly inventory, but also to have that inventory in the right place, at the right time, just in time to the benefit to the entire supply chain. Again, execution is critical and coordination among the various Ingram services has proven difficult in the past, but this is a hopeful development.

Third, in an announcement last week, Perseus’ Constellation and UK publisher Faber and Faber’s Faber Factory said they would form a joint venture to provide digital distribution services to publishers in the UK, Ireland and the Commonwealth (bit.ly/aqpIyt ). This move marks further consolidation in the digital distribution chain, hinting at a day when ebook retailers can minimize the number of vendors they must deal with and when digital distribution is truly global. The rights situation continues to be a barrier here, but cross border consolidation only adds pressure to resolve controversies over global rights. (As an aside, Edwards Brothers, another sizeable commercial printer has an arrangement with Perseus’ Constellation platform that provides some of the proposed Donnelley/Libre services. As Edwards Brothers continues to expand its POD/short-run printing capabilites worldwide, this could be competitive to the Ingram move discussed above.)

And finally, in a differrent arena, Random House announced that it would be going with strictly digital catalogs from now on and NetGalley reports it’s gone from less than 50 publishers to over 120, including all of the Big Six, in a little over a year. These developments signal the beginning of the end of paper catalogs and ARC’s and should be welcomed and embraced by publishers and readers alike.

In short, the “boring and mundane” parts of our business continue quietly to work on transformative innovations while the chattering classes prattle on about the latest shiny thing. Supply chain management, demand planning and seamless global distribution are huge and fundamental building blocks toward publishing’s future.

Welcome back from your vacation. Get your hands dirty (or get some help from someone who will).

This post was originally published on Bait ‘n’ Beer and has been reposted here with Mr. Linn’s permission.

In the publishing industry, Don Linn was book distributor (as owner/CEO of Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, which he sold to Perseus Book Group in 2006), publisher (at The Taunton Press), and a serial entrepreneur and general ne’er-do-well. He has been a founding investor and advisor to three ‘new publishing’ start-ups (OR Books, iambikaudio, and the late Quartet Press) while consulting with and advising other publishing entities on strategic and tactical matters.

About Don Linn

Don Linn has a sordid past as an investment banker, cotton and catfish farmer, book distributor (as owner/CEO of Consortium Book Sales & Distribution), publisher (The Taunton Press), entrepreneur and general ne’er-do-well. He’s a graduate of Harvard Business School and Vanderbilt University and is endlessly fascinated by books and publishing and their collision with technology. Among other things.

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