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E-tailers Plead for Baker & Taylor

25 Jun, 2002 By: Joan Villa

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is moving forward with its plan to streamline distribution for video product due out next month, but has slightly modified which wholesalers can handle various retail accounts.

Unlike Warner Home Video's plan to assign wholesalers a particular class of trade, however, Columbia will not send out letters to retailers explaining that rental stores must now purchase through either VPD or Ingram Entertainment.

Studio executives won't comment, but insiders say the studio has instructed its authorized distributors to begin informing their customers. Columbia TriStar trade ads “on a go-forward basis” will begin labeled with the disclaimer, “Available through authorized distributors.”

One change to the plan is Baker & Taylor will be allowed to service e-commerce and institutional markets, sources said. Initially Baker & Taylor was completely shut out, but the studio relented after a handful of key retailers including Amazon.com aggressively lobbied the studio on the distributor's behalf, insiders said. However, one insider said, Baker & Taylor is still “cut off for rental.” As for bookstores, traditionally Baker & Taylor's forte, “they will be handled through Ingram or VPD,” the insider said.

TLA Video COO Claire Brown Kohler was one retailer who urged Columbia to keep Baker & Taylor as a distributor for her growing e-fulfillment business.

“If we were not allowed to buy our Columbia titles through Baker & Taylor I'd stop carrying Columbia titles on the Web,” she said. “They have better fill rates. We've documented this consistently, they have a better order process and a lot of times their prices are better.”

Although relieved with Columbia's decision to retain Baker & Taylor for e-fulfillment, Brown Kohler is worried about the growing trend of limiting wholesale sources.

“In five years when the studios look around and say ‘We're not getting satisfaction from VPD and Ingram,' they're only going to have themselves to blame,” she said.

Baker & Taylor will still pursue its video rental business even though it can now only service a handful of major studios – 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment and Buena Vista Home Entertainment -- after being cut first by Universal Studios Home Video and now Warner and Columbia.

“We're going to continue to support [rental product],” said Baker & Taylor president Jim Ulsamer. “The rental stores are getting used to the idea they have to use multiple sources. It's inconvenient but it's not uncommon in many industries.”

Alliance Entertainment, which supplied music stores and large accounts such as Toys ‘R' Us, will still not be included in the Columbia distribution plan, sources said. However, Columbia will supply specialty distributors such as Eurpac and Aafe, which service the military.

“Columbia never cut them off or even contemplated cutting them off,” one insider said. “Actually, in the model, they consider them to be retailers. They work on behalf of the Army and the Navy.”

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