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 August 1, 1999

Writer leads Books West

BOULDER — As a Telluride-based freelance writer, Dave Rich’s lifestyle from 1992 to 1996 was an enviable one: skiing, hiking and mountain biking, then writing about it for myriad magazines.

He also published several hiking and biking guidebooks via his publishing company, 3D Press. He soon found that producing the books, however, was a very different pursuit than getting them on the shelves.

“Basically, the distribution channels for my titles weren’t there,” Rich said.

He took it upon himself to get shelf space for his work, and partnered in April 1996 with Bill Nack to form Books West, a regional book distributor.

Soon thereafter, Rich, now chief executive officer of the 12-employee company, moved to Boulder and Books West followed, permanently relocating from Telluride in July 1997.

“Having moved up here, we get a great view of the Western book business,” he noted.

Books West has grown markedly from its roots servicing the Telluride area from a 5 by 10-foot storage shed. It now distributes 3,500 — mostly regional — titles in seven Western states, split evenly between two regions with markedly different taste: the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest. Rich said he would like to see the company grow another 50 to 75 percent by 2001, and then to stabilize.

Rich and Nack’s hard work and continued enthusiasm and energy have garnered accolades from local publishers.

Linda Doyle, associate publisher at Englewood-based Westcliffe Publishers, has known them since they were “young kids in Telluride.” Of Books West’s business practices, Doyle noted, “They’re dependable, they’re prompt in their payments. They will do well if they are conservative and grow at a slow, steady pace.” Doyle also noted that the bankruptcy of another regional bookseller helped boost Books West’s business opportunities; Rich concurred.

Rich’s first love — writing and editing — has been eclipsed by the day-to-day requirements of running a book distributor, although Books West continues to publish a few books a year. He hopes to increase that output in the future, once the distribution infrastructure is more self-sufficient. Of the difference between the two sides of the company, Rich explained that publishing is “a creative activity,” while distribution is “nuts and bolts.” However, he added, “It’s very hard to make it just as a publisher.”

Rich’s partner, Books West President Bill Nack, echoed that sentiment. “A distributor is merely a facilitator between the publisher and the book seller,” he said.

Nack, whose background prior to Books West was in computers, sees e-commerce not as a threat to Books West, but as much a potential customer as a “brick-and-mortar” bookseller.

People tend to buy regional titles as souvenirs on vacation — something that cannot be replaced by the Internet, says Rich. Because of this tendency, only 20 percent of Books West’s business is with traditional bookstores, while the other 80 percent come from everything from outdoor retailers to gas stations to gift shops.

Thus, the mention of Amazon.com does not strike fear into Rich’s heart. Of the huge book retailers and distributors that may further conglomerate, Rich noted, “A mouse can make a meal out of a giant’s crumbs.”

Books West plans to have a Web site with full access to their inventory for retailers next year, but Rich notes that this is not his first attempt at e-commerce. “We had an online bookstore before Amazon,” he said, noting that his 1996 e-venture failed to sell a single book.

BOULDER — As a Telluride-based freelance writer, Dave Rich’s lifestyle from 1992 to 1996 was an enviable one: skiing, hiking and mountain biking, then writing about it for myriad magazines.

He also published several hiking and biking guidebooks via his publishing company, 3D Press. He soon found that producing the books, however, was a very different pursuit than getting them on the shelves.

“Basically, the distribution channels for my titles weren’t there,” Rich said.

He took it upon himself to get shelf space for his work, and partnered…

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