5 Questions with John Ingram, CEO, Ingram Content Group

John IngramJohn Ingram, chairman and CEO of Ingram Content Group, has been leading the successful transformation of the company for some time now. And what was once primarily a book wholesaler has become a comprehensive, innovation-driven company that, founder and Ingram’s father, E. Bronson Ingram, may not recognize.

John Ingram will be one of the main stage speakers at Digital Book World 2016 in New York from March 7th-9th, where he will be interviewed by Founder and CEO of The Idea Logical Company, Mike Shatzkin.

We recently spoke with Ingram about what the company is doing differently, what he will be speaking on at DBW16, and what he’s most excited about in today’s publishing world.

Ingram has been involved in helping the book business change with technology for many decades. Is this a role that is a “mission,” or is it just the natural outgrowth of Ingram trying to improve its own business?

Can I just answer “yes?” It’s kind of both. I view my responsibility as to do my best to keep Ingram relevant. And in our role as a service provider, you stay relevant by being able to have solutions that help other people run their businesses better. So it’s both helping the book business change, and it’s kind of a natural outgrowth of being a service company.

How integral is the ability to experiment and adapt or even transform to a publisher’s success in today’s digital world?

I think it almost goes without saying that experimentation is critical in a world that is changing, because how can you know what you need to do without poking around and trying to figure out what it is that ultimately makes sense? The nature of change requires that those who hope to be successful experiment as a means to trying to figure out where you can add value and add relevance in the industry and for the people whom you serve.

Without giving too much away, can you give us a brief taste of what you will be touching on during your presentation at Digital Book World?

I decided to do the presentation as a Q&A because I think it will be more effective for the themes I’d like to discuss. And I guess what I’ve kind of figured out over the last seven to 10 years is that what I am is an entrepreneur, and I just work in a big, private company. So I’m comfortable in a world that’s changing. But having said that, it’s not like everything we’ve done has always worked out. And even the changes that have worked out have come with a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Oftentimes when you look back over a period of time, it’s easy to gloss over the struggles that preceded success. Failure is, to a certain degree, an expected part of the process. You just hope to keep your failures reasonably small and for them to happen quickly. And it’s all easier said than done.

What most excites you right now about the future of publishing?

I think the opportunity for new technology and creative people to help solve fundamental issues, and to try to address problems or pain points for publishers. In our world, just looking for really clever people and new technology would help solve the pain for our clients and the people we’re trying to provide services for. A great example would be trying to help publishers figure out how to more effectively sell more direct or to add channels. Either and both. I don’t think there’s any magic bullet, but I do know that technology and the right people can do amazing things, and that’s what excites me—trying to create those intersections and then figure out how to turn those into services.

Why do you come year after year to Digital Book World?

Well, I like to come to DBW because a material part of my role as a learner is to learn and to see as much as I can of what’s going on in the industry. Not that everything you see can become a service that you provide, but at DBW I find that I learn a lot about what’s happening on the cutting edge of the publishing industry. And I learn both from the presentations and from those who come. That’s why I’m there. I’m there to learn and to help me think about what Ingram should be doing going forward.

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