For Publishers, It’s All about the Data
It has to be some kind of sign of the times that none of the expert presenters at the 8th Annual Making Information Pay conference of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) on May 5 bore the title of Publisher, Editor, Operations or Production executive.
Nonetheless, getting to the heart of the matter, “we can no longer go with gut instincts,” Scott Lubeck, BISG Executive Director warned his full house audience of just such foregoing professionals at the McGraw Hill auditorium on May 5. Lubeck is establishing a voice of action as a mark of his tenure-- rivaling Joe Gonella’s wonderful custom some years back of opening each BISG meeting with the reflective reading of a poem reminding us of the literary grounding that defines our industry.
Today, the great awakening that has mobilized our wits finds that “this is not an industry that fails to get it,” he said. “Show me the data,” and we can point ourselves in the right direction. What BISG is all about is providing “actionable data” that industry leaders and professionals can do something about. The applications on which this data rich event focused on can lead to rapid product development, drive decision making, underscore the value of our rights properties and create the kind of customer loyalty that leads to profitable growth.
Leading the morning off, Ken Michaels, Chief Operating Officer of Hachette, deconstructed publisher workflow as an author-centric process from which the strategic building blocks of process management are derived that create products and customer satisfaction. Starting with the comforting premise that authors will always write and will always have stories to tell, the challenge to day is to enter that content into the publishing system in such a manner that it will be forever available for all forms of consumption.
Thus, the story becomes content, and the content becomes both data and meta data whose quality, architecture and management empower the industry to effectively transform from push to pull marketing strategies – responding swiftly to marketing opportunities and demands.
Michaels outlined Hachette’s comprehensive overhaul of a traditional print and inventory based product delivery system to a demand-responsive “inventory intelligence” tied to building outreach capacity and responsiveness utilizing three channels: contact management to reach influencers, list management for targeted distribution of marketing materials, and “event based” campaign management.
With internal workflow and outreach systems at the ready, the company uses data from all sources to create “user analytics,” feedback loops to know their customers, sharing understandings and responses with a team culture that has replaced the legacy hierarchical corporate structures.
Michaels was followed by a product development focus from Bill Kasdorf Vice President of Apex Content Solutions, who has been heavily engaged in IDPF ePub standards and BISG digital content structure standards, and the ubiquitous and idea-rich Andrew Savikas, interim CEO at Safari, VP of digital initiatives at O’Reilly and Program Co-Chair of O’Reilly’s Tools of Change.
The very listing out of their affiliations dramatizes how sharply a relevant discussion of product development in the industry has shifted from what would have been characterized as acquisitions and editorial development (which, if we ignore we do at our peril nonetheless). Kasdorff’s take-away laden presentation rested on the reminder that we “publish content not books.” Books are part of the picture and they continue to come in many forms – novels, textbooks, guidebooks, manuals etc. “Thoughtful chunking” of their content will lead to repurposing flexibility in their many uses. Design, semantics, economies, workflow strategies, standards and meta data are all some of the major components of the product developers tool kit.
Savikas provided an O’Reilly case study of how a company optimized for print transformed itself to a web based business model. His analogy is to use the model of a business startup – starting small with low risk projects and learning big.
Madi Solomon, Director of Content Standards at Pearson, PLC, and Bret Sandusky, Director of Product Innovation at Kaplan Publishing followed with operational examples of how understanding taxonomies, meta data and data base applications can drive intelligent product development. Solomon advised that it was more important to modularize data to the purpose rather than aggregating a lot of data that may not be fit for the purpose. She concluded by noting that “content is no longer a scarcity – but attention is.”
Sandusky contrasted the roles and value of internal data bases (meta data) that the publisher controls, and external data bases (the web) not under the Publisher’s control. He added an interesting bit of advice – more useful today than ever in communications – the “repeat after me” exercise. It is always useful after providing information to another to have them repeat what it is they think you just said.
As an overture to the BISG Copyright Clearing House (CCC) project on rights management systems, Mike Shatzkin introduced Heather Reis, CCC Director of Data Systems and Services, David Marlin, President of MetaComet Systems, rights and royalty consultants. In some respects this could be pay-off highpoint of the program in its promise. Both speakers reported on preliminary results of industry interviews that reinforce the dismal state of rights management in its imprecise and loose legacy provisions in publication agreements, the absence of complete capture and application of any given company’s intellectual property rights vested in its titles, the increasing importance of rights management not only as a revenue source, but also in risk mitigation, and the increasing difficulties attendant on permissions licensing.
Tara Catogge, Inbound Supply Chain Senior Vice President of Levy Home Entertainment wrapped up the session with a report on consumer book buying behavior in the 22,000 big box chain outlets that turnover some 25% of US total GDP (a factoid that I found stunning). In sum, mass market chains sell a high percentage of blockbuster releases, and while there is a gradual drift from print to digital, book sales Continue to retain a steady percentage of market share. Other major trends are growth in Juvenile book share and the shift from push to pull merchandising.
It was interesting to have her remind us of big box founder, Sol Price’s merchandising rules that found their way to Sam Walton as he built Wal-Mart to what it is today: selection, time, price, place, quality and form.
At the close we were introduced once more to Angela Bole, Deputy Executive Director and her staff, and BISG’s new marketing director, Mindy Im. As with any successful organization, it is through their energies and determination that these events take place smoothly and seemingly without effort. Not so – plenty of effort.
Visit the BISG web site for the posting of presentations.
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.