Baker & Taylor, best known for serving the library market, is working to up its business with independent booksellers in a series of initiatives overseen by David Cully, who was hired by the company six years ago as executive v-p of merchandising and president of retail sales. Before joining the wholesaler, Cully worked at Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks; he also served as an executive at Simon & Schuster and Putnam. “One of the things that was important to me as a lifelong bookseller,” said Cully, “is that we look at the needs of independent booksellers.”
That feeling was reaffirmed for Cully this year at the opening night dinner for the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, which was hosted by B&T at its warehouse in Bridgewater, N.J., where Cully has his office. Among the booksellers at the event, he said that there was “a strong feeling that independent bookselling is changing,” and added, “I was struck by the number of stores that have been around 15 or 20 years and by the many store owners relatively new to the business.”
B&T has begun to create more programs for independents to address those changing needs. At the end of November, it will launch a pilot program in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association to enable indies to offer digital audiobook downloads through Acoustik.com. A dozen stores will be part of the initial offering, although independents like the Book Carriage and Coffee Shop in Roanoke, Va., that rely on B&T’s My Books and More Web hosting service already offer downloads. Next spring, B&T will translate its knowledge of the children’s library market to the retail market as the exclusive sponsor of the American Booksellers Association’s ABC Children’s Institute in San Antonio, Tex. (April 6–7).
Many of the options B&T is offering booksellers are geared toward maximizing sales by stepping up merchandising. Over the summer, B&T launched Indie Next Promotion in a Box, which provides additional discounts on Indie Next titles and free marketing materials for booksellers that order 20 or more units of titles featured in the Indie Next or Indie Now in paperback lists. In an earlier pilot in the Northeast, sell-through at some bookstores increased by as much as 140%. Another program called NPR Featured Reads showcases 10 titles, delivered every eight weeks, that have received coverage on public radio. The company also offers monthly promotions that range from a seasonal list of titles selected by its merchandising team to the ABA’s 2013 ABC Children’s list.
B&T is putting renewed energy behind some older offerings, too, like NYP (Not Yet Published). The idea, explained Cully, is to provide a “safety net” for retailers when they are short on initial inventory purchases made directly from publishers. B&T also isolates fast-moving titles specifically for independents through Indie Reserve.
B&T also recently introduced sidelines and gifts, an area familiar to Cully from B&N, which could become one of the company’s biggest initiatives for the indie market to date. Nine months ago, B&T began adding items, and it now has 3,000, ranging from Ravensburger puzzles and Melissa & Doug games to Mudpuppy books and gifts. It introduced a sidelines catalogue this fall.
As indies continue to experience a resurgence, B&T’s push into the channel makes sense. Cully noted, “The connection between publishers and independent booksellers is important to this industry. So far as I can see, there is nothing that replaces hand-selling.”