Distribution in the Digital Age
Observed from 30,000 feet, the modern system for delivering manufactured goods appears little changed from what it was 30, 40, 50 years ago—trucks roll, trains rumble, ships ply the harbors and canals. Only a closer view reveals the logistical revolution made possible by rolling stock, just-in-time ordering and outsourced production. Similarly, the average consumer picking up the latest best-seller at their local bookstore is unaware of how book distribution models are changing. While the book they hold in their hands may adhere to the old “print-and-deliver” model, for instance, the one next to it may have been “deliver and print,” as in large distributors receiving and storing electronic files, and handling the printing themselves.
“The first thing publishers have to do is have the ability to manage digital assets,” says James Gray, president and chief executive officer at Ingram Digital. “We look at existing content workflow in terms of the file output.”
Most publishers currently work with PDF files, he says, which are not as compatible as other platforms with e-reading devices such as the Amazon Kindle. “The move toward XML and new e-standards is something we endorse,” he says.
Because handling print and digital content is a vertical challenge, standardizing file formats is important to Ingram, which sees itself continuing to fulfill its traditional role of storage and distribution, while at the same time removing barriers across multiple supply channels.
“We see a big [opportunity] in Ingram providing storage service … [and] engaging with the people who are buying these books, and the different ways they are interacting with the content,” says Gray—from print to e-books, by-the-chapter downloads to interactive textbooks.
E-books ‘Taking Off’
A major growth market for Ingram Digital is the textbook and academic market, where Gray says consumers are already used to e-journals, and students appreciate the interactivity and updating capacities of online publication. Increasingly important, however, is the consumer book trade.