Robert Klara is just the kind of enthusiastic young customer
bookseller Barnes & Noble is seeking.
Mr. Klara, a magazine editor living in New York City, buys at
least three to four new books a month. He also likes to give books
as gifts and relishes time spent in bookstores, including the Barnes
& Noble near his office. "I enjoy the physical act of browsing," he
But the affection Barnes & Noble might feel for Klara is not
entirely mutual. He has been reading about the company's proposed
acquisition of another industry titan, wholesale book distributor
Ingram Book Group, and he's worried.
The acquisition "would seem to be giving Barnes & Noble an unfair
competitive advantage," he frets. "They're a business predicated on
moving popular books, not the best books."
Klara's concern is only one among a number of unhappy scenarios
haunting book lovers. They worry that the $8 billion consumer book
publishing industry is rapidly consolidating into a handful of
corporate monoliths interested only in cranking out predictable
bestsellers. At the same time, they fear the demise of the friendly
And for many, Barnes & Noble's $600 million bid to buy Ingram -
the world's largest wholesaler of books, with 11 high-volume, high-
speed distribution centers - spells cause for further alarm. (See
Book wholesalers - also known as distributors - are middlemen who
constitute a vital link in the industry chain for most booksellers.
They offer one-stop shopping: a single source for books from scores
of different publishers at discounted prices and rapid turn-around
times. For most operators - especially in today's increasingly
competitive market - such services are not a luxury but a necessity.
Once Barnes & Noble owns Ingram, many industry observers worry, it
will not only have first dibs on all the high-volume blockbusters,
but will also have access to all sorts of sensitive information
Ingram's many other customers - the independent booksellers. Access
to details such as profit margins, credit lines, and buying
some say, would enable Barnes & Noble to steamroller smaller
Of course, the company has issued assurances that its only
interest in the purchase is to increase speed and efficiency
throughout the industry, and that safeguards will be built in to
protect all Ingram customers. But most independent booksellers
remain up in arms.
"It's as if Wendy's and Burger King were suddenly forced into
buying french fries from McDonald's," says Mitchell Kaplan, an
independent bookseller, who owns Books & Books in Miami Beach.
And yet, there are dissenting voices in the industry, those who
insist that the reverse is true - that thanks to new technology and
economies of scale, the consumer book industry is actually on the
brink of a change for the better. All that's really going on, says
David Cully, president of distribution for Barnes & Noble, is a