There is no getting away from the simple fact that as the consumption of digital content increases, the need for physical book distribution will contract. There will be a lot of consolidation and there will obviously be less need for warehousing and distribution staff. But is this a threat to businesses like BookSource? I say absolutely not - it’s actually an opportunity.
Handling digital content distribution is only one relatively small part of the supply chain. Content may only exist in digital form, but it still represents a product that needs to be managed, with transactions that need to be handled. Digital books still require invoices, payment and royalties’ management. That need doesn’t change, but it does create the opportunity to handle them much more efficiently and profitably. There is also the need for the production flow to be managed from the concept of a book through to its creation.
For BookSource, this means storing information for our clients. We hold the product and transaction data, as well as information on authors, customers, manufacturers and anyone else involved in the supply chain. We can then provide this back to our customers in the way that they need it. Just because the format has changed, it doesn’t mean the product is actually any different. Publishers still want to know who they sold it to, where, how many and for how much. We have always done this for our customers and we will continue to do so.
Frankly, creating and delivering the product is the easiest aspect of the service we provide for customers. They could do that bit themselves. It’s all the associated services. Paying royalties, handling payments and ensuring invoices are properly produced and redeemed, these are the services that our clients need from us and digital content only increases the complexity.
Selling digital content creates thousands of small transactions that publishers can’t hope to stay on top of. They are used to dealing with pallets of books, not innumerable one off transactions. At a time when they are fully focused on delivering the content that meets the new demands of the industry, they simply don’t have the expertise or resources to service this requirement - and they certainly don’t have the inclination to create it. It’s another outsourceable requirement, just like warehousing and fulfilment. And that’s what BookSource is very good at.
I suppose if all physical books suddenly disappeared, we would have to take a long hard look at our own business model, but it must be remembered that the book isn’t actually going anywhere in too much of a hurry. It will need to live alongside digital content for many more years and having an outsourcing partner that can provide a solution for all aspects of publishing is going to be hugely compelling and attractive.
Yes, digital content is a threat, but there are certainly niche areas where it is not yet. Picture books, coffee table books and so on are very hard to replace. People won’t have an ipad just left on their coffee table, certainly not in Glasgow anyway!
We are looking at the positive side of digital content. On the additional channels it offers and the increased need to handle more and more varied transactions that we can manage for our customers. Digital content sells directly to the consumer, it doesn’t go through distribution and reseller channels like a physical book, and our customers understand that this actually increases complexity rather than removes it.
Marry all this with the constant uncertainty around formats, devices and rights, and we are - comfortable that our services, skills and experience will be very much in demand for the foreseeable future.
BookSource was founded in 1995 by Publishing Scotland (PS) (then the Scottish Publishers Association). In order to protect publisher funds, BookSource was formed to handle order processing, invoicing and cash collection for those publishers and in 1996 began to offer a full distribution service. BookSource is now one of Britain's fastest growing book distributors, supplying books and other printed products to both the retail trade and general public throughout the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.