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December 23, 2022
In the previous newsletter we shared the story about how Pariyatti came to distribute books of the Buddhist Publication Society (BPS) and soon after that started publishing them under the BPE imprint.
With all the new titles from the BPS, the ongoing series of VRI Tipiṭaka books being released, the other books from VRI and Pariyatti's own VRP and BPE publications, the inventory increased considerably in volume and Pariyatti moved from a one-room rental in Seattle to a building a few blocks down the street—with office space, a small bookstore for walk-in traffic, expanded shipping room for the web and phone orders, and ample warehouse space. The latter proved very useful indeed, as the story continues...
As Pariyatti grew, the organization began to have more contacts in the field: other publishers and book vendors in the Buddhist realm. The focus in the book marketplace at the time was mainly on the Mahāyāha tradition, including Zen. The Theravāda tradition—Pariyatti's scope—was less known back then in America.
The CEO of Wisdom (Publications), which was already well-established and carried a successful line of mostly Mahāyāha books, one day phoned Pariyatti Founder and President Rick Crutcher. A change was taking place within Wisdom; the company was planning to cease their retail and distributing activities to solely focus on publishing. Wisdom had been the American distributor for the Pali Text Society (PTS) for several years and the CEO mentioned they didn't want to just drop the PTS distribution, it being a venerable, important collection of books. Would Pariyatti be interested in taking it over?
Of course, interest was there, and after exploring what it would entail in practice, it seemed it could be a relatively smooth addition to Pariyatti's activities. Wisdom said they would be happy to just hand over the inventory they had, after first putting Pariyatti in touch with PTS.
Now, PTS was/is a 'bunch of venerable scholars scattered around the UK and Europe,' as Rick put it, so his main point of contact became the UK distributor in Oxford, who was in fact responsible for the entire distribution worldwide. Once the paperwork was done, the contracts signed and everything was in order legally, the shipment from Wisdom with the inventory arrived—in many boxes. While unpacking Rick realised quickly is was a "conglomerate of books—a mess, not organized in any way."
PTS books are not really made for the book trade as such, as they are academic and niche in nature. They don't have barcodes for instance, which makes scanning for inventory purposes impossible. Knowing that the PTS catalog was—and is—huge, Rick got in touch with the distributor in Oxford to see how they managed it all. It turned out that in Oxford the work was done by a whole team of specialists who had made it their entire career, and did nothing else. "It is so hard to keep straight," the Oxford distributor had said. Rick eventually made the trip to Oxford to see the warehouse and to his astonishment everything was organized alphabetically.
All PTS books look kind of similar; the covers are uniform in colour (maroon, green, or grey*), with the title printed on the spine in gold. "Unless you have really good light, you can't even read it." Rick said he didn't think ordering alphabetically would be a workable solution for Pariyatti, and so he began organizing the books by ISBN (or more specifically, by the last six digits of that number).
That solution proved to work perfectly and is in place to this day. ISBNs are not printed on the spine but on the copyright page, so while unpacking and shelving shipments, our warehouse staff does need to open the books to view the number, but once the books are filed, the ordering, packing, shipping, and inventory database organizing can be done completely by ISBN. An additional benefit is that the placement of the books on the shelves turned out to be almost in chronological order this way. Not entirely, as some existing books only got their ISBN assigned years after they were first published, but the majority of the numbers are ascending throughout the years.
With the number of titles in the PTS catalog being high, and the number of books in inventory per title low, a specific shelving system was custom-made. This is now in use at our Hillsboro warehouse, since the move of the PTS collection in December '21.
*Maroon (English), Grey (Pāli), Green (anything NOT from the Pāli Canon—post or directly—including scientific research work, the PTS Journal, dictionaries, grammar, etc.)