Lightning Source Indie Days 2019: Ingram Is Bullish on Books, Forecasting Growth in Direct Marketing to Customers

Front Edge Publishing team members John Hile, Susan Stitt and Dmitri Barvinok at Ingram Indie Days 2019
Our team was among the many mid-sized publishing houses that sent professionals to Ingram’s Indie Days . From left: Front Edge Publisher John Hile, Marketing Director Susan Stitt and Director of Production Dmitri Barvinok.

Indie Days —Book sales continue to rise, especially in the huge adult nonfiction category—and mid-sized publishers are successfully selling those books directly to readers in growing numbers. News about the bullish book market was one of the main messages our team heard this week as we went to summer camp.

“Welcome Publishers” plaque at 2019 Lightning Source Indie Days eventThat’s right. We went to camp along with other independent publishers from across the country.

, as Front Edge Publishing’s Marketing Director, I joined Publisher John Hile and Director of Production Dmitri Barvinok for the 3rd annual summer camp known as Indie Days, hosted by the giant Ingram Content Group and its printing-and-distributing unit Lightning Source.

The conference had an off to camp theme and motto of Learn, Connect, Grow, As David Crumm put in his recap of ‘s conference:

Our core value at Front Edge is collaboration—so, this was a perfect setting for our team, because the Indie Days conferences are all about collaboration.

Front Edge Publishing uses Ingram’s Lightning Source print on demand services to print all of our books. So, one highlight of Indie Days was a guided tour of the vast factory.

We gathered with many mid-sized publishers—all eager to learn about Ingram and Lightning Source’s plans for the near future.

We were included in this invitation-only summer camp because FEP is regarded by our peers as a publishing house in the forefront of adopting new technologies—making sure that we provide our authors and publishing partners with the most up-to-date publishing opportunities.

Direct marketing is the next step in publishing

Ingram’s Chief Content Officer Phil Ollila opened camp with an optimistic and enthusiastic overview of the future of book publishing.

Direct marketing to the consumer is the next step in the publishing business, he said. All marketing of books is just a click away due to the world-wide distribution of books through Ingram and its partners.

Among the reports shared with publishers at Indie Days was an estimate that Amazon now accounts for 54 percent of all books sold. Independent bookstores account for 14 percent of sales and chains amount to 7 percent. The rest are sold by a wide range of other retailers and wholesalers.

That makes direct-to-consumer marketing a crucial focus for successful publishers—who need to rely on printers and suppliers to provide the same global reach as Amazon. That’s the focus of Lightning Source’s Global Connect program, which can print and distribute books from facilities in countries circling the planet.

Books printed at Global Connect locations adhere to the same specifications and quality standards in place at Ingram’s Lightning Source flagship in Tennessee and in its other main U.S. factories. Ingram’s Global Connect alliances include, Spain, India, Italy, Russia, Germany, Poland, China, South Korea and next month Brazil.

HP T240 color printer
At the Lightning Source factory, no photographs are allowed. However, HP promotes these cutting edge machines online, so this is a sample image of a machine similar to the ones used by Ingram. Looking across a long row of these huge machines arrayed across the Lightning Source factory floor, they resemble a row of giant snails.

Fantasy? No, These Giant Snail Printers Are a Fact

Google Maps screenshot of Lightning Source factory location in TennesseeLightning Source is a 21-year old division of Ingram. In , they made industry headlines by reaching the largest agreement of its kind with HP to install 24 HP PageWide T240 HD color & mono digital presses for five sites across three continents.

Our mission is all about helping content reach its destination, while providing our customers with the highest print quality, speed and proficient printer models, said company spokesman Shawn Morin. By adding HP’s PageWide Web Presses to our global facilities, we’ll be able to serve our customers with even more options.

The change from offset to digital printing means that books print faster and with a higher quality than ever before, said Product and Operations Leader Rob Grindstaff. This is key because the speed to market is important and retailers and wholesalers no longer have to stock more copies in order to sell more books.

Other News: Content Is Key; January Is Booming; eBooks Plateau

Indie Days is so packed with information and fresh connections with other publishers that it is impossible to highlight all the news in a single column. So, before I wrap up this Letter from Camp, here are a few final news items:

  • Small Press Program—Lightning Source works regularly with large publishers as well as mid-sized companies like Front Edge Publishing. In 2020, Lightning Source plans to roll out a new Small Press program—aimed at helping small-to-mid-sized publishers with an enhanced set of services. The new initiatives will include tools to help authors and publishers increase their discoverability and build their brands—especially through direct-to-consumer marketing.
  • Content is Key—As traditional barriers to publishing continue to fall away, Ingram professionals once again stressed that content is key, especially authentic, relevant, timely voices. This is a commitment Front Edge has been making for years in selecting new books to publish.
  • January is Booming—Over the years, we have advised authors that January is a good month to release new books. Sometimes, we hear skeptical responses that spring and fall seem to be the best seasons to launch titles. That once was common sense in the publishing trade, but experts at Indie Days pointed out that gift cards and credits have become a major part of year-end gift giving. That makes January a rich month for authors.
  • eBooks Plateau—As our team has been reporting in these weekly columns, the explosion of eBooks after the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle has subsided over the past decade. At Indie Days, experts agreed that eBook sales have plateaued, but—just as we have said—they remain an essential part of any publishing plan.
  • Barnes & Noble Buzz—Indie Days came on the heels of several major news reports about Barnes & Noble hiring James Daunt to redevelop the company’s business model. Here’s a New York Times report from . The news has been greeted warmly by communities hoping that Daunt will continue his strategy of freeing up local bookstores to adapt their displays to regional preferences. That could bode well for indie publishers, who have been pushed off Barnes & Noble shelves by fees Big 5 publishers often pay to buy prime display space. Currently, all Front Edge books are listed on Barnes & Noble’s website, but our books have rarely made it onto the bricks-and-mortar shelves. Daunt’s reputation suggests he may open those shelves to indies.
  • Ingram’s Metadata Essentials book cover
    Want to read our series about metadata? Click on this image to begin reading our introduction to these valuable data files.

    Metadata is Key—All of our authors are aware of the metadata conversations we have just prior to releasing a new book. In fact, we have published an entire series of columns about the many steps involved in creating this invisible info-packed data file that travels with books. Once again, experts stressed that high-quality, well-researched metadata is a crucial driver of book sales.

Camp Indie Days concluded Friday afternoon and our team returned home excited about the future of book publishing and our partnership with Ingram and Lightning Source. We returned with fresh ideas and tricks of the trade that we can’t wait to implement on behalf of our authors and publishing partners.

Now, it’s time to do the laundry.

Care to Read More about Sales Growth?

In , Front Edge Publishing Editor David Crumm reported on the growth in adult nonfiction sales, the category that includes most of the titles we have published since our founding in .

About Susan Stitt

Susan Stitt is marketing director of Front Edge Publishing. Over the years, she has guided many authors through the challenging process of launching books and developing strategies that will grow readership. She also has worked widely with nonprofits. Now, she shares her expertise twice each month on our Front Edge Publishing website.

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