Reshaping the book supply chain: Challenges and Opportunities

Maria Triantafyllou, T. J. Cherrett

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceedingpeer-review


    Purpose: This paper aims to describe how traditional ‘brick-and-mortal’ bookstores transform their supply chains to retain their competitive position into a fluid and ever changing market dynamic which is currently characterised by the globalisation of book publishing and the explosion in the use of IT technologies. It describes a number of advances in the field, including the integration of e-commerce services, self-publishing and the introduction of alternative book collection and return options, and researches the potential logistics impacts of such practices. It describes a number of best practice examples and provides a guide for bookselling businesses looking to reshape their supply chain in order to reduce the demand for human resources, time and space consumption and increase competitiveness and financial security while minimising their transport and environmental footprint.

    Research Approach: Following a review of existing business models, technologies and challenges, this paper shows how businesses currently reshape their logistics network structures to integrate e-commerce services and develop cost-efficient channels with suppliers and customers. It provides thorough insights into various logistics issues and challenges encountered by booksellers and highlights the need to implement structural changes to maintain operational excellence. Waterstones is used as a case study example, describing its recent transition from a many-to-many distribution model towards a nation-wide centralised logistics network (Bookhub). Analysis is made on the basis of a ‘before-after’ comparison of the mileage and GHG impacts using data gathered from Southampton’s outlet during a series of surveys made in 2008 (before transition), 2011 (during transition-trial period) and 2017 (after transition to Bookhub).

    Findings and Originality: The study identified that the prolonged economic crisis and the fierce competition in the book marketplace press both the smaller independent businesses and the larger booksellers to reshape their supply chains in order to stay afloat. It was found that often many trading partners in the book supply chain play multiple roles to reduce logistics costs and operational complexities with many smaller businesses also engaging in more than one line of business to reach new groups of customers, secure further income streams and alleviate some of the economic pressure, and many larger businesses outsourcing their logistics activities to 3PL providers, adopting virtual warehousing and moving towards the centralisation and integration of logistics activities for online and entity sales and returns. The examination of Waterstones case study showed that such changes may lead to significant transport and environmental savings.

    Research Impact: It was identified from the literature that there have been relatively few theoretical and practical studies available that investigate the rapid logistics changes taking place in the book supply chain. This study researches existing business models, shows how current technological advances, market dynamics and economic conditions challenge traditional book supply chains. Through a review of best practice examples and paradigms it provides a guide on how smaller and larger businesses can reshape their logistics structures to fend off economic decline while reducing their transport and environmental footprint.

    Practical impact: Structural changes in existing logistics networks can boost supply chain performance, facilitate book trade, ensure financial security and minimise the total transport and environmental footprint of bookselling businesses. The centralisation and outsourcing of distribution and collection activities to 3PL providers can shorten traditional multi-tiered book supply chains and reduce operational complexities, while the adoption of print-on-demand practices and the digital book revolution may eliminate returns and waste and reduce the carbon footprint and the costs associated with the physical distribution and collection of books.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2017 Logistics Research Network, Southampton Solent University. 6-8 September 2017, Southampton, UK.
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2017


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