A QUIET BUT NASTY RESTRUCTURING of the wholesale paperback distribution business in the mid-1990s played a major role in accelerating the destruction of two already endangered species: midlist and category fiction. It can be argued, in fact, that the shock waves of this event triggered some major upheavals in the publishing industry a year later, ranging from top-level editorial turnovers to the cancellation of books—indeed, in one case, cancellation of an entire list of books.
Generally speaking, there are two ways paperback books are distributed: direct and wholesale. Publishers that ship their books to bookstores or bookstore chains are said to be selling direct. But in order to sell their books to supermarkets, ...