To many today, this would be considered a prosaic and old-fashioned dream that went out with the era of “gentlemen publishers” 50 years ago. (Thankfully we now have plenty of “lady publishers.” How gentle they are can be the subject of an essay in another venue.) Certainly, this would not appear to describe Hachette, HarperCollins, Random House or Wiley, who provided some of the innovative case studies in the report.
However, Epstein is no Luddite, panning technology and large publishers. I think he was referring, in this day and age, to the spirit that we bring to the “product” side of the business, whatever the size and sophistication of the firm—the “art side,” as my old Goodyear Publishing Company boss and mentor Al Goodyear used to say.
In fact, after writing his charming short book on the history of trade publishing from the 1920s through the turn of the last century, Epstein made a bet on technology and business by investing in the Espresso Book Machine—the book-at-a-time device that may soon become a ubiquitous presence in bookstores, airports and libraries. It is the Espresso machine, developed by On Demand Books, of which Epstein is co-owner, that forms the centerpiece of one of the 10 case studies presented in the BISG report.
Shatzkin and Hill define the terms: experimentation, “trying something with no idea how it will turn out,” and innovation, “using new techniques to accomplish an established objective.”
Out of the mix, the BISG report presents case studies that fall into three areas: “Product Development and Marketing Experiments,” “New Processes,” and “Outside the Box.”
The Espresso Book Machine Installation
A good example of an “Outside the Box” case study featured in the report is on the Espresso machine installation in the University of Alberta’s bookstore. This case, by the way, I think, points to the most revolutionary of the innovations in the report. Based on an interview with Todd Anderson, the bookstore’s director, it is central to a major industry transformation in distribution, inventory control and reduced carbon footprint strategies.
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.