“Today the book business stands at the edge of a vast transformation, one that promises much opportunity for innovation: much trial, much error, much improvement.”
—Jason Epstein (“Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future,” Norton 2001)
That was seven years ago, and today, innovation and experimentation—trial and error—is the theme of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) report “From Experimentation to Innovation in the Digital Age.” The report contains the results of a survey on the industry’s attitudes and actions pertaining to experimentation (more on page 7). It also contains case studies—based on interviews conducted by Mike Shatzkin, founder/CEO of The Idea Logical Co., and Ted Hill, president of THA Consulting—on 10 publishers who, based on their responses to the survey, stood out for their innovative initiatives. The report was unveiled at the group’s annual Making Information Pay conference, held May 9 in New York.
The now-legendary former Random House editor Jason Epstein wrote in his book that in the last half of the 20th century, publishing had lost its way. It had “deviated from its true nature by assuming, under duress from unfavorable market conditions and the misconceptions of remote managers, the posture of a conventional business.”
That deviation has clearly reversed itself. As Michael Healy writes in his foreword to the BISG report, while the industry’s “appetite for innovation and experimentation that we discovered” may reflect the technological and distribution uncertainties of the times, “the survey and the case studies reveal, above all, optimism, determination and the willingness to use new tools and technologies in the process of creating the future.”
Epstein also made the point that “Book publishing is not a conventional business. It more closely resembles a vocation or an amateur sport in which the primary goal is the activity itself rather than its financial outcome.”
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.