Switching distribution: Three issues to consider


Colin Bottle of New Vista Ventures shares some advice for publishers planning a move

Changing distributors and IT systems are two of the biggest challenges that will ever face publishers operationally. This industry—and indeed many others—has many stories of such events causing damage to services and, in the most dramatic cases, business failure. Even at best, these moves are distracting from the core business of publishing, as well as costly and fraught with risk.

The initial considerations of moving distributor are often about the physical move. How will I get tens or even hundreds of pallets of stock from one warehouse to another with minimal disruption to service? Then there is the cost of making the move, with each trailer load of books probably costing several hundred pounds, plus potential handling costs at each end. But there are more issues to consider, and dealing with them in good time can make a switch easier. Here are three. 


The knowledge of the people involved in your distribution is very important. It’s beneficial to have pickers and packers who know your products well so they can choose the right editions and ensure customers get what they want and when. Having customer service people and credit controllers who have built up good relationships and can spot when something looks wrong is another big advantage. Yes, good systems can protect against this, but never underestimate the inherent knowledge in skilled and experienced staff. You can’t take that with you, but you need to be confident that any new distributors’ team will be able to achieve it as well. 

Industry standards

Then there are all those industry standard services that you may take for granted. Do you trade heavily with major retailers through EDI? Do you use services like PubEasy for customer queries and perhaps for export orders and smaller independents? Do you operate within the Industry Returns Initiative (IRI) rules or make use of Batch.co.uk for returns and payments? Does your distributor send your bibliographic data via Onix, or interface to a print on demand service? If so, it’s very important that your new distributor is able to offer all the same services to the same standards.

IT systems

There are also IT systems implications to consider. You are likely to be running some of your own websites with B2C ordering capability, production and editorial systems for the dissemination of bibliographic details to a range of trading partners, and financial, sales reporting and royalty calculations systems. If you run these systems in-house then you will need to interface them to a new distributor’s system. Alternatively, you may face the additional challenge that your current distributor provides bibliographic, sales or royalty systems for you as part of their service. It won’t be possible to move these over, so you have the choice of finding a distributor who offers something comparable or selecting and implementing new in-house systems. In either scenario you are likely to be faced with complex decisions on data conversions. 

The impact of these issues will vary depending on the size of a business, and you may not have the in-house experience or time to plan and execute a move—but help is available. For more information about New Vista Ventures’ services in this area, visit www.newvistaventures.co.uk or email Colin Bottle at [email protected]