Gene Therapy: From Book Proposal to Profit
Chris Anderson’s ironic farewell to the retail bookshelf is a harbinger of how direct distribution in the supply chain is bypassing the traditional foundations of bookselling—as well as library patronage—and is also flowing into nonprint formats.
But while that transformation is nibbling around the edges of distribution, the fact remains that the book publishing industry’s supply chain model has as its primary target a physical book on a physical bookshelf.
In this special two-part series, I want to discuss how digital data management drives workflow through the operations, acquisitions, development, production and distribution supply chain; in particular, how use of the Online Information Exchange (ONIX) format connects data flow accurately to the marketplace.
One golden rule to note: There is no universal process that will work for everybody. Each publishing house has a relative scale of business, product mix and corporate culture to take into account, which is demonstrated in the following examples of systems at Stanford and Princeton University presses. In part II of this series, you’ll learn about the systems in place at global publishers Wiley and Simon & Schuster; leading independent, conservative trade publisher Regnery Publishers; and nonprofit public policy research institute and publisher RAND Corp.
Stanford University Press
The Stanford University Press (SUP) Publishing Tracking System is built around a series of modules in a FileMaker 8.5 database. The modules follow workflow chronology from pre-contract acquisitions through production and manufacturing to sales and inventory tracking. It was developed internally by the press’s IT manager, Chris Costner, and is loosely based on a system bought from Duke University Press in 1998.
The major modules are shown in the chart on page 26, provided by John Zotz, chief operating officer of the press and a veteran systems specialist. Stanford’s system has now been sold to Temple University Press and the University of Chicago Press.
Because the system is used to generate reports, proposals and project status, acquisitions editors enter author names in the “Rolodex” module and working titles in the project file at the proposal stage. Proposed specifications, sales projections by channel, pricing and contract features also are entered, the system calculates the numbers that will accompany the project’s descriptive material, and a print proposal is generated. More than 90 percent of proposals are rejected, Zotz notes.
As a project moves past acquisition, “ownership” of data input is taken over by authorized staff in each department, such as editorial, design and production (EDP). The press has about 36 employees, “and just about everybody in the building uses [the system]” to check on status or title information. An average of 150 new titles are published each year, and a backlist of about 3,000 titles can be tracked.
Title activity and data interface is maintained with the University of Chicago Press Chicago Distribution Center, which handles distribution. Budgeted expense and invoice information are tied into the Stanford University Oracle accounting system. Accounting and work-in-process modules within the press’s system enable it to track budgeted and actual plant costs.
Reference tables such as the Title Master File and Rolodex contact file (staff, authors, outsources) can be updated by any staff member and will affect any reporting throughout the system. ISBN’s are assigned at the time of contract.
Maintaining data integrity is critical, and any changes made to the Title Master File need to pass through a human “gatekeeper,” Zotz notes. The publication date, once established, is maintained in the EDP module by the production department. Vendor-required data is pulled from several modules and transmitted in a weekly feed to an outsource vendor, Quality Solutions Inc., under contract with the University of Chicago Press Distribution Center, for formatting and distribution to the marketplace.
The quality and content of the ONIX file—which contains 31 basic metadata elements (see box below)—is key to accurate bibliographic and distribution information. At Stanford, the gathering point for accurate and complete new-title data is the preparation of the semi-annual catalog and the “Web-ready” pages on each title that are viewed in-house for checking accuracy and various other purposes.
Princeton University Press
The gathering point for stray and updated information describing each title is the same at Princeton University Press, according to Chuck Creesy, the press’s director of publishing technology. “The assembly of the seasonal catalog imposes a discipline,” Creesy says. “I’ve been wrangling data since 1987, and I’m reluctant to put bad data out there.” Nonetheless, he says, marketing and channel pressure “degrades the data” by demanding early notice. Barnes & Noble and Bowker, for example, push for data 180 days before publication.
The press averages 225 to 290 front-list titles a year and has a backlist of about 3,500 titles. It generates the ONIX files and sends monthly updates to about a dozen targets, including Ingram, Nielsen Bookdata and Amazon, which—together with Barnes & Noble and Bowker, as well as several others—are in the core constituency for ONIX distribution for all publishers. “Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla, of course, and they get the first new-title feed. Although ONIX is supposed to be a universal format,” Creesy notes, “some users are demanding customization. Amazon, apparently for copyright concerns, limits book-review excerpts to 20 words. As a consequence, we prepare the review element in ONIX in two versions.”
ONIX files for the complete list also are made available for download on Princeton’s Web site. Creesy waits until final corrections have been made to the seasonal catalog and bluelines have been approved before importing basic bibliographic data for the typesetting files into a Microsoft Access database. Meanwhile, the marketing department places the seasonal copy in Microsoft Word files on the Press’ network, from which the book descriptions and endorsements are copied and pasted into the same database. When all the data has been assembled, Visual Basic scripts are run against the tables to produce the ONIX files.
The California-Princeton Fulfillment Services—a partnership between the two presses in Ewing, N.J.—is the site to which Neil Litt, Princeton University Press’ director of EDP, delivers his bound-books inventory. The marketing department monitors stock levels, and the sales department notifies production monthly about needed reprints.
Litt notes that about 1,000 of the press’s titles are archived at two “virtual warehouses.” The press’s two digital printers turn around those “long tail” titles, and ship within 48 hours on orders issued from the fulfillment center. Litt’s first human contact with the process is the some 60 to 75 pages of two-line entry invoices for 5,000 to 7,000 demand printings he gets monthly from one of the printers; the other printer sends an electronic invoice to the accounting department.
Earlier in the process, though, the editorial department enters prospective new titles into Princeton’s Press Wide Database, a workflow and project management system built by the press. The tracking process is similar to that of Stanford’s. It moves a title from the “speculative plan” to the “contract plan,” and then to production, where a job number is assigned.
An approved budget and pub date drive the “project plan.” The system can generate useful management tools, including: a schedule and workflow report, and a Web-based, calendar-sorted task list for each department or person.
The marketing department can sort by book genres to see potential promotional conflicts or synergies, and work back from pub dates in planning promotions. Subscribers can receive automated alerts when changes occur.
The Move to E-Book Publishing
Princeton made an early commitment to e-book publishing in 1999, according to Priscilla Treadwell, Princeton’s electronic publications marketing manager. At that time, it digitized more than 300 backlist titles, and made them available as e-books in several formats and distributed them through various retail channels. It placed roughly the same number of backlist titles with Net Library and eBrary to test the market, and is now expanding that by 600 to 800 additional titles. The press plans to build e-book editions for a variety of partners into each of its seasonal lists.
Stanford is not yet geared up for an e-book publishing program, although it takes part in the Chicago Distribution Center’s digital print center operated by Edwards Brothers at its warehouse facility. The University of Chicago Press’ (UCP) Bibliovault service (www.Bibliovault.org) is set up to archive and distribute scholarly publishers’ electronic files.
According to Sylvia Mendoza Hecimovich, UCP’s design and production director, UCP has begun XML file archiving. Working through its Digital Media Group and the Bibliovault staff, UCP hopes to eventually use these files to drive e-book distribution.
All those interviewed consider their e-book programs marginal revenue sources at best, but most stand prepared “when, as and if.” Driving printed books to the bookshelves remains the principal goal of workflow systems, with flexibility to apply demand printing whenever possible, and to exploit the “long tail” by keeping titles alive indefinitely.
Effective management of these goals requires real-time information that depends on accurate data flow. Accurate data in the marketplace maximizes results.
Eugene G. Schwartz is a regular contributor to Book Business. He is a publishing industry analyst, writer and editor-at-large for Foreword Magazine. A former PMA board member, he is president of Consortium House, a management and business consultancy to publishers.
Go Behind the Scenes With Wiley, Simon & Schuster, RAND Corp. and Regnery Publishers
Check out Book Business’ March issue for an in-depth look at the data management systems that Wiley, Simon & Schuster, RAND Corp. and Regnery Publishers have in place to streamline and improve workflow, all the way through to distribution to the marketplace. The Wiley and Simon & Schuster profiles will provide a look into much larger-scale models and how they work. Don’t miss it!
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.