Virtual inventory and Ingram’s ipage: FAQ

Ingram’s Alistair Pitts explains the advantages of virtual warehousing and how ipage can help sell more books

What is ‘virtual inventory’ and how does it work?

Virtual inventory is the digital equivalent of a shelf in a storeroom or warehouse. Just like the traditional version, the point is to have your books available the moment someone wants them. The major distinction is that the space in a virtual warehouse is essentially infinite. The vast improvement in the quality of print-on-demand books since the technology was originally developed means that virtual inventory is now a viable alternative or complement to traditional print models.

How does virtual inventory benefit publishers?

While print costs per unit are still higher for POD books than their traditional offset counterparts, virtual inventory can be used to greatly reduce the risk that copies will sit on a physical shelf costing money for months before they find a buyer—or worse go unsold entirely and need to be destroyed.

The ability to print in or close to markets acts as an insurance policy against unexpected disruptions to international supply chains, such as those resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. It also helps publishers and retailers to capitalize quickly on opportunities—so if events or trends make the topic or theme of a backlist book newly pertinent, copies can be dispatched rapidly.

And what about booksellers?

Having access to a huge catalogue of titles on demand allows bookshops to curate their range to match the needs and interests of customers. It also means they don’t miss out on a share of sales in the long tail of backlist books.

Readers aren’t always aware that the bookshops they support can offer much more than is physically held in store. Although some booksellers have understandably been wary of the potential impact on footfall of having some form of virtual shop front, if organised well it can be a great asset for communicating the breadth of choice that shops offer, including titles that they might not always hold in physical stock.

How can publishers make their virtual inventory visible to booksellers?

Publishers who make their titles available for wholesale via Ingram are automatically listed on ipage®, Ingram’s book search and ordering platform. In the UK, Ingram offers free delivery of a single copy of any title that a publisher has priced in GBP to any UK address. This makes a bookseller’s cost-benefit calculation much simpler when deciding whether to place an order. Typically, a paperback ordered via ipage will be with a bookseller within a few working days, meaning that readers don’t have to wait long for their new book. ipage is currently used by around 150 booksellers in the UK, as well as in the US and Australia—and if rights allow, publishers can also price their titles in USD and AUD to make them directly available in these markets. Hundreds more retailers worldwide use ipage to source books from the UK, the US or Australia.

Can I open an ipage account as a publisher?

While ipage is primarily designed for booksellers, it can be useful to have an ipage account as a publisher so that you can see your books as they will appear to retailers using the platform. You can begin the set-up process for a view-only account here.

If you know booksellers who might find ipage useful, direct them here.