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The History of IPG

Independent Publishers Group was founded in 1971, the first organization specifically created for the purpose of representing titles from independent presses to the book trade.

Then as now, small and mid-size publishers had great difficulties selling their books effectively because they could not attract the services of good sales reps and because booksellers were reluctant to absorb the cost of opening new vendor accounts and the high transaction costs and shipping charges that result from small orders.

The obvious solution to these problems was to group a number of independent publishers together for selling and order fulfillment, thereby creating a list that could compete on equal terms with those of the large houses. IPG was successful from the start and has maintained an unbroken record of growth and financial stability. In 1987, IPG was acquired by Chicago Review Press (CRP), an independent publisher founded at about the same time as IPG. CRP, like IPG, had experienced a strong record of growth; at the time of the acquisition, CRP had almost 200 titles in print.

But rapid changes in the book trade were beginning to threaten the viability of even well-established independent presses. The larger publishers began to buy up the middle-sized ones, the chain retailers had become a very large part of the retail market, and the advent of desktop publishing led to a torrent of new publishers and new titles that overwhelmed booksellers. The solution to these problems for Chicago Review Press was to market its titles through IPG, an organization large enough and strong enough to be successful in this new and much more competitive marketplace.

In the 1990s, it began to make sense for a number of large independent presses to make use of IPG's services.

In some cases the principals of larger U.S. publishing companies (30 or more new titles a year) concluded that they were tying up too much of their time and resources dealing with the distribution side of the book trade—warehousing, bill collecting, customer service, and trade sales management—and not enough on the acquisition, editorial, design, and promotion side of publishing, which was where their real interests and abilities lay.

In other cases, these were foreign publishers looking for U.S. distribution. IPG distributes in the United States for large and small independent publishers and for publishers in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Spain, Israel, and elsewhere.

Finally, several very well-established publishers, who had for years fielded their own reps and handled their own warehousing and billing operations, decided to work with IPG. They chose to do so because it is no longer sufficient to merely sell to accounts; they now, especially the larger ones, need to be serviced.

Servicing an account means having sales representatives in almost constant contact, frequently on site, to handle reordering, problem solving, the setting of inventory models, and the customer's response to breaking publicity developments. It also means having constant support from knowledgeable staff at the office.

Presenting new titles to buyers is now only a part of the service that larger bookselling organizations require of their vendors. Even large independent presses have had difficulty providing the level of service demanded by the national chains and wholesalers. In addition, these larger customers also require publishers to deal with them electronically. The capacity, through Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), to electronically process purchase orders, invoices, purchase-order acknowledgments, and advance shipping notices is now obligatory, and it is technically complex and expensive to supply.

Sending regular title data feeds is a service that major distributors must provide in addition to the traditional selling and fulfillment functions. It is now the third leg of the distribution stool. Moreover, these larger customers and Internet booksellers now need accurate, frequent, and complete title information data-feeds in order to support the very sophisticated supply chain management systems they now have in place.

Finally, the e-book revolution has arrived. IPG has sold e-books since 2001 and will continue to be a leader in this field, just as it has been an early adaptor to all of the electronic challenges faced by the publishing business in the past. While some publishers and distributors are satisfied with merely making e-books available, IPG works hard to bring titles to the forefront and to be more visible to the ultimate consumer, be it an individual or library. Accounts have choices as to how books are featured or what books are offered through certain programs. Presenting e-books and print editions together when possible helps to highlight content over format, makes the most of promotional opportunities, and best maximizes marketing efforts and expenditures.

Curt Matthews

Founder and Chairman of the Board, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated and Independent Publishers Group

Curt is the founder and Chairman of the Board of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press (70 new titles each year) and of Independent Publishers Group, the first and now the second-largest independent press distributor. Independent Publishers Group was acquired by Chicago Review Press in 1987. It now distributes thousands of new titles each year, including academic and university press lists and a fast-growing catalog of Spanish-language books.

Thirty-five years ago, while teaching 19th-century American literature at Northwestern University, Curt published a book of translated Japanese poetry, which led to other, more salable titles, and finally to a career in publishing. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and also as its president.

What Makes IPG Different?