Shelf Awareness‘s dedicated issue of September 26th, 2016 gives a detailed picture of Ingram Content Group as it was in those innocent times. Their piece includes this little gif which is no doubt now out-of-date. But I leave it in ‘cos I can’t make a gif myself, so am a bit impressed by it.

Ingram Content Group is part of Ingram Industries, a Nashville-based conglomerate with interests in marine engineering as well as entertainment and the book business. Ingram Industries are big in barges. The Content Group was founded in 2009, though before that there was a large book wholesaling business which had already been engaged in ebook facilitation and on-demand book printing for about a decade. They really have come a long way from their start — the date of which is a bit opaque to me. This New York Times article from 1984 tells us that in 1970 this division of Ingram Industries moved from being a school and library supplier into the wholesale supply of bookstores. Frustratingly it doesn’t tell us when the school and library supply business began, but the Ingrams started making barges shortly after World War II so we can perhaps assume a date between these two limits. Ingram Content Group is still a book wholesaler of course, but it’s so much more.

In this new world of virus consciousness Ingram is possibly even more important to the book trade than ever before. They can ship books to bookstores and now importantly drop-ship to the end reader; they can print books in their Lightning Source operation; they can manage digital files and thus ebooks; they provide warehouse and distribution services for lots of publishers; and of course they are supplying books to myriad bookstores — including Amazon. They are possibly now the biggest force in the book business — empty claim since I’ve no idea how you’d measure, but they are a vital part of the system of book creation and distribution. They are stepping into the breach in these constricted times, doing shipping for many bookstores. This includes Amazon*, who are of course reserving much of their warehouse space for household and medical products. (This of course sounds like a noble task, but one can’t help reflecting that margins are likely to be a good deal better for them with those sorts of product than they are for books, no matter how much they’ve succeeded in nailing publishers to the floor over larger and larger discounts.)

Chris Meadows at TeleRead wonders if Ingram ought not to be closing too in order to protect staff. “Ought” gets us into areas of ethics and moral philosophy which I’m not willing to explore. I dare say employees are glad to have the pay, and let’s hope that safety can be maintained, as well as book supply.


* Again I speculate on whether this might represent a sign that Amazon’s thinking about abandoning the book business. Getting Ingram to ship on your behalf gets the books out, but must cut into margin quite significantly.

Of course we are all reluctant ever to imagine a book trade different from the one we know and love, but is it possible we are moving towards a world where traditional publishing evolves into an editorial development system, with sales handled by Amazon, and everything else by Ingram? For several years Ingram have offered a print buying service to publishers who don’t want to do their own: I don’t mean just the POD stuff they do at Lightning Source — they will contract with outside book manufacturers for books which print longer runs.

The times we are living through encourage one to get outside the envelope even as we can’t get out of the home.