Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.
I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.
It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.
This, my latest in this series of interviews with publishers and editors is a conversation with John Ingram, the chairman of Ingram Content Group Inc., which is now both the largest wholesaler in the book industry, and with its Lightning Source digital printing division, also the largest printer of print on demand books in the world. In addition, with the recent acquisition of Perseus Distribution, Publishers Group West, Legato and Consortium, Ingram is the largest distributor of independent publishers in all markets worldwide. Ingram also operates IngramSpark, which is now a major provider for self publishing authors.
Clearly Ingram is now pivotal to the book industry, as a key supplier of services, logistics and infrastructure to virtually every element and category within the business.
John Ingram deserves significant credit for recognizing the need for ongoing innovation and change in the book supply chain. Ingram Book Company and Lightning Source are both technology oriented operations, and with John’s leadership, the company has invested in a long list of important initiatives that have made major contributions to the growth and development of book publishing and distribution.
While many look at logistics and supply chains as boring necessities, I’d argue that they are very often the key elements of business success, and Ingram’s dedicated focus on invention, improvement and efficiency have been critical to keeping book publishing workable in a period of massive disruption.
John is a graduate of Princeton University, where he received his bachelor of arts degree in English in 1984. In 1986, he received his master of business administration degree from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University.
John joined the family business, Ingram Industries Inc., in 1986, serving as the Assistant Treasurer and later as President of Tennessee Book Company (which became part of Ingram Content Group in 2009). He later served as President of Ingram Book Company, Vice President of Purchasing for Ingram Micro Europe, and Director of Purchasing for Ingram Micro Inc.
It is no small thing to foster innovation and experimentation inside a large company. It requires committed leadership and a willingness to both imagine a future and risk failures, learn from experiences both good and bad, constantly being aware of the broader picture of your industry and cultural trends, yet still maintaining focus on the core elements of your own business. None of this is easy.
I wanted to talk to John about some of the ways he and the Ingram companies have been able to manage change, and also to tap into his vision – how he sees the future of publishing and book distribution unfolding over the next few years. It is my pleasure to present this conversation with John Ingram for Publishing Talks, as part of my effort to document the key elements of a changing media environment as the book business moves into the future.
I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.
Philip Ollila (widely known as Phil in the book industry) is the Chief Content Officer of Ingram Content Group Inc., one of the largest distributors of book content and providers of digital printing in the North American book industry. Phil is responsible for Ingram Content Group’s publisher facing business, and has been instrumental in leading the transformation of Ingram from a traditional wholesale service provider, into what is now a fully integrated solutions company for clients. Ingram combines wholesale distribution, print-on-demand, digital distribution, inventory management and comprehensive worldwide services for both physical and digital content.
Phil leads a number of Ingram business units including wholesale merchandising, Lightning Source, Ingram Publisher Services and digital distribution through CoreSource® and also heads up Ingram Content Group marketing. Before joining Ingram, where he has held several leadership positions, he was Vice President of Marketing and Merchandising for Borders.
Anyone in the book business, and many people outside it know about Ingram. It is one of the two large book wholesalers transitioning from a key role in the physical supply chain between publishers and retailers. Perhaps earlier than any other large company in the industry, Ingram had the foresight to invest in a range of services that would enhance their offerings to both their suppliers (mainly publishers) and their customers (bookstores, libraries and many other retailers). In many ways, it is only the two large former traditional wholesalers, Ingram and its competitor Baker & Taylor that have the unique perspective and ability to act as really powerful and influential transformative agencies as the book business evolves into a combination of print and digital products.
Phil Ollila is therefore now in a key role at a tremendously interesting and fast moving business that possesses a great deal of information valuable to publishers and to anyone interested in how publishing, books and readers will interact in the future, both near term and much, much farther into the future.