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Self-publishing News: Trouble at Bertrams Raises Distribution Doubts

Dan Holloway head and shoulders photo

ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway

In this week’s Self-Publishing News, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at problems for wholesaler Bertrams. 

Remember, ALLi publishes a summary of the questions and answers from its weekly #IndieAuthorChat Twitter chat on the ALLi blog. Tonight’s chat will ask how you have been affected by lockdown. This will be published on the Tuesday after the chat. And a reminder that ALLi has created a resource that seeks to answer any questions you may have about Covid-19, from concerns about the impact on events to ideas and news about how the services we rely on are responding. And as we look at online events in the news, do read this fabulous ALLi post on how to host online events as an author.

Bertrams

When I see Bertrams I still think of Agatha Christie before anything else. Maybe that’s because it’s not often that distribution and warehousing hit the news. But this week Bertrams has been the big story. Early in the coronavirus crisis, Gardners and Bertrams announced they were temporarily putting their warehousing and distribution services on hold. That came as Ingram announced they would stay operational. This week it emerged that Bertrams faced more than a short term struggle. Rumours suggested the administrators were about to come in for a second time in 12 years. That has yet to happen. But the company’s owners have confirmed the future of Bertrams is under review. And the online bookselling part of Bertrams, Wordery, has been sold to Elliott Advisors, the hedge fund that owns Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.

One change many anticipate arising from this crisis is an increased outsourcing of what happens after a book is printed (or even after the file is produced). Ingram, the other big player in the area, are certainly bullish about the possibility of picking up aspects of the business publishers might want to offload. All of this matters for indies. It matters because we are very reliant on Ingram, whom many of us access by printing with Ingram Spark. And it matters because we want to get into bookstores. And two things worry me. It worries me that Elliot are consolidating so much physical infrastructure — and possibly that Ingram will have less of a feed into the two biggest store chains. And it worries me that, following Baker and Taylor, another big distributor is in trouble. That takes us one step closer to a monopoly. And while many of us love Ingram Spark, Ingram having a monopoly would be worrying. Though having a tricky-to-evaluate monopoly isn’t something new to us.

VAT

Sales tax is something that features more often here. In particular we have been following the impact of the European Union’s regulation change to allow states to bring sales tax on ebooks to a level similar to that on physical books. This has already led several countries to take action. And earlier this year the UK committed to eliminate VAT (its sales tax) on ebooks from December 1st. As a response to coronavirus, that has been brought forward to May 1st.

Supporting indies raises questions

At ALLi we obviously love moves to support indies. It has been particularly encouraging during the coronavirus crisis to see the outpouring of love for independent bookstores. But every time we see the word indie mentioned, we are reminded that it is not a wholly straightforward term. So Publishers Weekly’s Real Indie campaign is both welcome and exasperating. The campaign champions indie publishers, who of course need support in these hard times. But as we have been reminded for more than a decade now, indie publishing does not always include indie authors. Maybe time to open up!

Publishers Weekly Launches a Covid Impact List

We know that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the book world. Book Fairs have been cancelled. Book launches have moved online. Bookstores have closed en masse. Now, to help you stay on top of all these changes, Publishers Weekly has launched a list of all events affected by Covid-19.

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Over to You

Let us know about great online events of interest to indies, and novel ways of moving what you do online in the comments below.

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