Guest Columnist: Working Smarter
It can’t have escaped the attention of anyone in the book business that we’re working through the toughest trading conditions that any of us have experienced. In the course of just a few months, we have become accustomed to a flood of bad news from our industry—declining book sales in most outlets, significant job losses, traditional sales channels shrinking and consolidating, and consumer confidence at an all-time low. If you add into the picture declining literacy skills and the apparently irresistible attraction of other types of media, it’s tempting to succumb to persistent pessimism and certainly to abandon the view that comforted many for so long—that we work in a recession-proof industry. It’s also tempting to view the years immediately before the current recession as some kind of “golden age,” though statistics don’t support this viewpoint. In fact, as figures from the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) “Book Industry Trends” report have made clear, unit sales of books overall have been flat for several years. Certain sectors of publishing—most notably children’s and religious books—have bucked the general trend in recent years, and even today there are bright spots, such as the rapid growth (admittedly from a low base) of e-book sales. But these should not obscure the main headline: Book publishing has now moved from a no-growth or, at best, low-growth business to one currently (and we all hope temporarily) in decline.
The traditional reaction in tough times is to cut costs, by doing the same work with fewer people or just doing less, and in recent months we have seen many announcements of job losses, moratoriums on new titles, companies pulling out of major trade shows and much else. The traditional reaction is often the right one, but it’s rarely the only option. Many companies take the opportunity to review some of their key business processes and see what opportunities there are to do things more efficiently and in a more standardized way. At BISG, where our mission for more than 30 years has been to help the book business achieve higher levels of efficiency in its supply chain operations, we have been working to help our members and the industry at large identify ways to cut costs by “working smart.”