Ep. 01: How Did Ingram Get Its Start?

Join us as we discuss with John Ingram how it all began and how indie publishers play a pivotal role in the larger Ingram mix.

The intent of Ingram is to help a publisher run their business better. Hear from the man himself, John Ingram, Chairman of Ingram Content Group, on how Ingram got it’s start, how print on demand became a cornerstone of Ingram’s publishing services as a financial solution for traditional and indie publishers alike, and where John sees Ingram in the future. Every publisher wants to achieve book sales, but very few think creatively about their supply chain and their book’s connection to the market, which is where Ingram comes in. Start your publishing journey today with a company that cares about your publishing success


Robin Cutler [00:00:07] Hi, everyone. Welcome to Season Two of Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark Podcast. This episode is sponsored by Pressbooks, easy-to-use book formatting software that lets you create a book in all formats and generate publish-ready files for IngramSpark. I'm Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark, and I'd like to start this season off by saying, thank you to all the listeners who tuned in to Season One. Also, to our Author Spotlight Series, and all those ready for our second season. We have fantastic episodes planned for you this season with very special guests. And starting off with the man himself, John Ingram. Welcome, John.

John Ingram [00:00:50] Thank you, Robin. It's a pleasure to be here.

Robin Cutler [00:00:53] John, you are chairman of Ingram Content Group, part of Ingram Industries, correct?

John Ingram [00:00:58] That's what the card says.

Robin Cutler [00:01:02] Ingram is based in Nashville, Tennessee, for all of you who don't know about Ingram. John is a Princeton and Vanderbilt grad, so no small things there, John.

John Ingram [00:01:14] Just a few years of education under the belt. A lot more in the school of hard knocks afterwards.

Robin Cutler [00:01:24] Yeah! For those of you who might not know, so Ingram's been around for what, 50 years now, John?

John Ingram [00:01:31] It will be 50 years in 2020, which is a...really a startling revelation to me. I hadn't really thought of it, but just recently, someone pointed that out to me, and it's true.

Robin Cutler [00:01:47] Yeah. Not only Ingram's birthday, this 50th birthday which is major, but also, a lot of people don't know about...well, a lot of people do know about Lightning Source, Ingram's print on demand company. What you might not realize is that Lightning Source now is coming up on its 20th birthday. That's hard to believe, isn't it?

John Ingram [00:02:09] Yes, considering I was very much there at the birth, and a big part. I remember, vividly, walking around our big warehouses with a couple of my colleagues. YS Chi, who was running operations and purchasing at the time, who's now on our board of directors. With YS, and I remember turning to YS and going, "I don't understand. Why are we wallpapering our warehouses with books? We've got to find a different way." I'd seen an earlier iteration of a kind of print-on-demand technology, and I just thought, "That's what we need to do." At the time, we may have had 300,000 books in our inventory that we stored physically in the warehouses, but once you get past title about 100,000, it was almost impossible to predict demand. Rather than put two books up on the shelf and pat ourselves on the back and say, "Boy, aren't we doing a great job?" It made a whole lot more sense to me to say, "Why don't we store those titles digitally and make however many somebody wants, whenever they want them?"

Robin Cutler [00:03:26] Well, it is genius and it always has been. What I love about Lightning Source and print on demand within Ingram and IngramSpark is that this is a technology. We talk about it a lot within IngramSpark, in how it solves a huge problem for authors. But what a lot of people don't realize is that the largest publishers in the world are using this technology.

John Ingram [00:03:54] Yeah, they are. The relevance for IngramSpark is that as it's the same relevance for large publishers is, why tie up capital in inventory when you don't have to? You don't need to do that. It's one of the Achilles' heels, I'd say, of the traditional publishing industry, is that publishers love their content, they love their books, and I understand that. But they also end up with warehouses full of over-printing of books, which is in effect, capital. It's money that could be much better used in the creative process, which is really the secret sauce of being a publisher. Finding, curating, creating that content…within reason, most of everything else ought to be looked at as a "make versus buy" type of decision.

Robin Cutler [00:05:04] Print on demand, as some of you may have heard me talk about, what it allows for, especially a new author that doesn't know the size of their readership, and most authors don't.

John Ingram [00:05:21] Understandably so.

Robin Cutler [00:05:22] Yeah, why could they, right? It allows you to kind of test the market and it also lets you bring your content forward to this marketplace without the risk of investment of what you're talking about with inventory.

John Ingram [00:05:40] Well, and that, and the fact that all of Lightning's titles are made available through Ingram Book Company.

Robin Cutler [00:05:47] Yes.

John Ingram [00:05:48] Which is the most--

Robin Cutler [00:05:49] No small thing.

John Ingram [00:05:50] Which is the most connected wholesaler of books in the world.

Robin Cutler [00:05:55] Yes.

John Ingram [00:05:55] Now, we all know that there…how retailers actually implement the feeds, the metadata feeds is not always perfect. That creates some problems in some cases. But it by far is the best solution that is out there.

Robin Cutler [00:06:17] To me, also, one of the great bonuses to print on demand is that you can easily update your content. If you find you've made errors, that happens very frequently, you can just fix them and upload a new file. If you win an award, or you get a great endorsement from James Patterson, you can easily add that to your book and keep your book fresh.

John Ingram [00:06:43] 100%. There are a lot of smart uses. I was just doing a little video a few minutes ago, celebrating Lightning's 20th anniversary, 20th birthday. I said something to the effect that...a publisher's use of Lightning is only really limited by their own ability to think creatively about the supply chain.

Robin Cutler [00:07:21] Yes.

John Ingram [00:07:22] Now, a lot of them don't think very creatively about the supply chain. Their creativity's more on the other side. But as you well know, we spend a lot of time trying to educate people, the publishers, into how they can use Lightning. At the end of the day, it only makes sense if we're helping a publisher run his or her business better. But we know from overwhelming evidence that we can do that, and that Lightning can make a material difference in a positive sense to a publisher's publishing program.

Robin Cutler [00:08:05] What I've been so impressed with John, since I joined Ingram Content Group, is the investment that you continue to make in this sort of technology. Not only Lightning, which is fantastic, but also other technologies and delivering content to our retailers, our libraries, and also online.

John Ingram [00:08:27] Well, you know, at the end of the day, Ingram Content has really morphed from a traditional wholesaler of physical books to physical places. Now, nothing wrong with that. We do a lot of that. We still do a lot of that today. But Ingram Content now is a much more comprehensive publishing industry services company. We have a large tool bag of both physical and digital services that can help publishers run their businesses better. I think about it in the sense of our role is to really help our publishing partners do better. Oh, by the way, if we are successful with that and we are, and we'll continue to be, then publishers are not going to mind paying us to help do that. It's the ultimate win-win, or the alignment of interests. We really are well-aligned. I don't think all businesses are aligned with their partners where our success only happens if we can help our partners be successful. That's how I want it. That's how I like it. I just want to do more of it.

Robin Cutler [00:09:48] Yes, and what I love, one of the initiatives that you and Shawn Morin, who's our CEO, launched about four or five years ago was the Easier to do Business. I can tell you we walk around here now at Ingram and we live this every day. We think about what we can do that's going to make it easier, especially on the IngramSpark side--

John Ingram [00:10:14] Well, it's an important initiative, both for us to be easier to do business with in our own family of companies and services, but we've had a lot to learn in the IngramSpark world because the needs are much more. Our history is a B2B, business-to-business operation, and Spark is much closer to being a business-to-consumer type of platform. That's taken, as I'm looking at you and you know all so well, that's taken a lot of learning from us to figure out how to be effective in that realm. We've learned a lot, and we're doing a better and better job of trying to make it where our Spark partners can be self-sufficient. We can't afford to have a staff to take care of thousands of micro-publishers' needs. We would be out of business in a heartbeat.

Robin Cutler [00:11:26] Yes.

John Ingram [00:11:27] We've had to learn to do things better, and you and your team have done a great job of that. I am only sure that we'll get better at it, and we're committed to continuing to build relevant services, particularly on the sales and marketing side. That's where a lot of my focus and interest is at this point in time, because that's kind of the next real frontier for us. Not something Ingram has traditionally tackled, but as we've shifted from this wholesaler, getting passive demand, to trying to help our publishing partners actively sell. We've got to continue to invest and build tools and capabilities in that area, and I know we are, and I'm very confident that we'll do it, and build a really interesting set of tools.

Robin Cutler [00:12:36] Yeah, and I love you for saying that because it all comes from you, as our chief person sort of driving all that we do here at Ingram. One of the things I always like to say is an indie author and an indie bookseller, sort of naturally go hand-in-hand. Ingram, in my mind, is the only resource that can connect those dots in a real formative sort of way. We're working with my team now to try to do that not only with booksellers, but also with libraries.

John Ingram [00:13:17] We do business with a lot of publishers big and small. We do a lot of business with a lot of downstream partners, whether it be retailers, physical or virtual, or libraries, and other non-traditional places that books are sold. Really, our task is how to build a web between all of those pieces. Between the upstream pieces and the downstream pieces, with the ultimate goal of selling, helping, facilitating the sales of lots more content.

Robin Cutler [00:13:54] Yes, that's exactly. We're all clear here at Ingram, that's our role, right?

John Ingram [00:13:59] Yes. I'm glad to hear.

Robin Cutler [00:14:01] That's really great. Before we wrap up, because we're running out of time, is there anything in terms of the indie author space that you see kind of on the horizon? Besides just facilitating a sale, do you see that you're kind of excited about?

John Ingram [00:14:20] I think analytics...the wholesale and marketing probably fit together. Although one's kind of at the back end of the process and the other seems like at the front end, it's more of a circle. They all go together. I'm bullish on where we are, where our position is in the marketplace, and our ability to provide relevant, valuable services. I'm glad for what we've built. Spark is celebrating five years. I can't believe how far it's come in that amount of time. It's a really important part of what we do, and it's only going to grow and prosper. By having the breadth of publishers and customers that we deal with, it allows us to be able to afford to make the investments. Very few individual publishers, or even downstream partners could afford to do what we do on a one-off basis. But because we're a little bit of the WD-40 in the middle that kind of facilitates a lot of things and pieces, that we can do it, and I believe we'll continue to.

Robin Cutler [00:15:45] Well, I certainly thank you, and thank you for the fifth birthday shout-out there. It's been, I have to say, I've worked for other companies within the publishing business. I've had my own publishing business over the years, and I have to say, I really love coming to work here for you, John, and really appreciate the trust and all the resources that you've made available, especially for the IngramSpark team, and for our customers, so thank you so much.

John Ingram [00:16:22] Well, thank you, Robin. My conclusion would be to thank all of our Spark partners. Nobody spends the time, energy, efforts, blood, sweat and toil to create a book, or a piece of content that doesn't want to see that get to every bit of audience that would be interested in it. We're not perfect, and don't pretend to be, but we're really committed to our indie authors and indie publishers, and going to continue to try to drive resources in this area to help everybody prosper and be more successful. It's been incredibly gratifying to see the amount of uptake of people that have used Spark and been successful. Now, some haven't been. That's going to always be the case. This is not for everybody in every situation. But it certainly has proved to be for most bodies--

Robin Cutler [00:17:42] Yes.

John Ingram [00:17:43] …in most situations. We're grateful to people who have chosen IngramSpark, and gratified when we hear about great results and people feeling good about the experience that they have, and hope to continue to grow on that.

Robin Cutler [00:18:01] Well, thank you so much, John Ingram, and thank you all for listening today. We hope these episodes inspire you on your own publishing journey. If you're ready to publish today, please visit the IngramSpark website. For more tips on publishing like a pro, subscribe to our podcast and weekly blog, or check out our free online self-publishing courses available in the IngramSpark Academy. Talk to you soon.

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