"The Future of Our Business ... Is About Data": A Q&A With New Industry Study Group Executive Director Scott Lubeck
The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) will expand its print and digital product initiatives in the next few years, says the group's new executive director, Scott Lubeck, who presided over his first BISG board of directors meeting Jan. 21.
The organization is attempting to provide the book publishing industry with more training, best practices, policy statements, education and research to help it adapt to changing times. And Lubeck comes to BISG with experience in “repositioning technology and media-related businesses, as well as entrepreneurial leadership in developing these kinds of new business opportunities,” said Dominique Raccah, co-chair of the BISG board, in a statement announcing Lubeck's appointment.
Lubeck, who has more than 30 years of publishing industry experience and most recently served as vice president of technology for Wolters Kluwer Health, takes the reins now that BISG's former executive director, Michael Healy, has become the first executive director of the Book Rights Registry, an entity created as a result of the Google Book Search settlement agreement.
Lubeck spoke with Book Business Extra about BISG's plans for the coming year and beyond.
Book Business Extra: What issues and initiatives are at the top of BISG's agenda for 2010?
Scott Lubeck: … One [key initiative] that we're right in the middle of ... is our research around consumer attitudes toward e-book devices and e-books themselves. And we've just released the first of three research studies.
This is not a generalized study of the consumption of e-content online, which would be outside of our purview and probably outside of the available data on such a subject. But [BISG is] really focusing on book buyers—known book buyers' behaviors. We've identified a very robust panel of book buyers who then bought e-books, and then [we] surveyed them … to elicit their behaviors around purchasing [and] consuming e-books.
It's the first data, research-driven study of this kind. … I think this is probably the first baseline-level setting of this information with regard to book buyers. … We've made it available both as a summary analysis ... [and through] the raw data itself so that our members and others ... can ... slice and dice it.
But, moreover, we're already kicking off the second wave, so that we can trend this data and interview this panel again. ... My guess is that this will be an ongoing research study for us, as we want to build a fund of data—concrete, actionable data around behaviors and this controversial and often-misunderstood market. …
Extra: How will your technology background assist you in your new role?
Lubeck: ... I started my career in book publishing ... in editorial. And my own educational background is not in technology; I was an English major and also majored in romance languages. So I came to publishing with a deep love of content, ideas. My view of publishing is: It hasn't changed, no matter how volatile our marketplace is, no matter how invasive new technologies may be. It's still … acquiring a great idea, adding value to that idea and then making sure it has the biggest impact on the audiences that need to get it. …
It really isn't about technology. [It's about] how our customers', readers' … behaviors were driving change into our business. … If you don't think very deeply about … how users use content … and how we even organize content, categorically, to support that, then your business as a publisher will be deeply impaired. …
Extra: How is BISG's Product Data Certification (PDC) Program initiative progressing?
Lubeck: [Certification programs—such as the launching of a revised program around product data—are] at the core of BISG's mission, really. It's about improving the quality of data. And I would say, just in general, one of the things that attracted me here is [that] the future of our business, our book industry, is about data … because data has become more and more important, and not just to the supply chain. The importance of product information, product data [and] the models that support it support discovery online, [and] support many and ever-broadening areas of work and efficiency and power within our industry that we can't ignore.
So thinking about data—taxonomies, metadata and content as data—data structures that support not only the production of our current book products, but also all the digital products and repurposing of that content that book publishers are now entering into to one degree or another with a sense of urgency … is the preface to say PDC is absolutely critical.
And our ambition this year is to expand certification, really emphasizing not just that the integrity of the data model to support product information is important, but the data you put in that model matters—so also focusing on quality of data as part of the certification program, and working conservatively with publishers small and large so we can provide scorecards against their current data models, help them improve it, drive certification and make folks understand we don't create incentives. That's not what BISG is about, but to be able to work with them so that they understand the value of managing this kind of data, that there is an absolute [return on investment] for the publisher, large and small, in managing this data. Frankly, you sell more books and you get more attention if you manage your data well. And for the retailer and distributor, clearly the ease at which a book can be inserted into the channel, especially in an environment of growing complexity in these channels, is really critical.
So our mission is certification, education, evangelizing the importance of … data [quality] moving forward. That's a top initiative and, I think, looking at it strategically, the first of other kinds of certification programs that we'll want to be working on in the future.
Extra: Publishers currently are unable to track inventory and sales on digital items that are sold via retail the same way they can with print products, and have to rely on retailers for that information. Is this an issue BISG is working on?
Lubeck: Three weeks in, I can tell you this: This is a critical issue for us. … We're not going to own that; this is a collaborative effort. … It's about collaboration around these key issues across a wide landscape of stakeholders both in the United States and worldwide.