'Making Information Pay' Confronts Industry Transformation
You can take the New Yorker out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the New Yorker. This is an important benefit if you are an ex-New Yorker (New York City, that is) like me, living upstate in the Hudson Valley and boarding before-dawn Metro North trains that get me to Grand Central Terminal in time for breakfast meetings, such as the one I just attended in the auditorium at the McGraw-Hill Building on Avenue of the Americas and 49th Street.
The Times Square shuttle won't do it—but if you know your subway geography, you can catch the #7 Flushing Local going one stop to 5th Avenue, walk the tunnel over to the D and F lines on what used to be Sixth Avenue, go one stop north, and you will land just outside the elevator that takes you up to street level on the corner just across from the McGraw-Hill Building.
The elevator shaft housing sits there, trim, rectangular—a box almost unnoticed by the busy street life and traffic that swarms past the Rockefeller Center complex and up and down the avenue. What a way to start the day!
This day, May 6, was the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) Making Information Pay 2010—with the theme of “Points of No Return”—its seventh-annual half-day review of the demographics that drive our industry and the trends that describe its present and shape its future.
The headline is that the earth is shifting under our very feet. According to Mike Shatzkin, CEO of the IdeaLogical Co., who has emerged as the industry’s most perceptive and articulate oracle, in a few years more than 50 percent of narrative trade book sales—print and electronic—will be transacted on the Internet.
The legacy model that launched new books through a finely balanced process that relied on brick-and-mortar retail stores and well structured review and promotional channels, is yielding to the new age—and there is no turning back. Presenting also an overview of a pre-conference survey of publishing professionals at work that he and Ted Hill conducted for BISG, Shatzkin suggested that many in the industry were more optimistic about the future prospects for their jobs and skill sets than reality would support.
Shatzkin was followed by Kelly Gallagher, RR Bowker vice president of publishing services, who presented highlights of the latest Bowker data on consumer reading habits and expectations.
The headline again was "Point of No Return"—the active reading market wants things now and expects to get them whenever and wherever they are. There is no going back to the old linear, print-based world as the standard of content delivery.
Today there is an explosion of choices for access to content. The iPad, Kindle, Nook, forthcoming Google Editions—all are simply the most visible of these options. In support of Shatzkin’s survey, Gallagher noted that only 12 percent of e-book buyers buy print books in stores, while 44 percent buy online. The rest are going completely digital. Energizing these shifts in access is the continued shift in communications methods, as social networking is now commonly engaged in by 69 percent of book buyers.
During an information-packed three-and-a-half-hour event, the balance of speakers described how our supply chain has shifted to a demand chain, and how publishing professionals no longer work in a linear push environment going from skill set to skill set but work in a collaborative workspace.
One of the more engrossing presentations was that of Bruce Shaw, president and publisher, and Adam Salomone, director of digital initiatives, of the Harvard Common Press. For over 25 years a conventional publisher specializing in two verticals—cookbooks and parenting—they have in the past few years completely overhauled their process to reflect a content-centric and format agnostic framework—thinking “outside the page.”
They were followed by Matt Baldacci, associate publisher at St. Martin’s Press, who described the changing role of the book marketer—shifting resources and initiatives to online advertising, social networking and the more active engagement of editors and authors.
Maureen McMahon, president and publisher of Kaplan Publishing, a $2.3 billion unit of Macmillan, wrapped up the event with a witty application of the new marketing marketplace in her search to fill the job of sales director.
BISG has done an exceptional job of organizing their website for access to information, and you will find all of the presentations of the foregoing and the seven other excellent speakers, available online at www.bisg.org.
The shirt-sleeve work of BISG is handled by a small but energetic staff consisting of Angela Bole, deputy executive director; Karen Forster, associate director; and Sara Raffel, office manager. Their new executive director, Scott Lubek, presided with good energy over his first such event in the McGraw-Hill Auditorium. His predecessor, Michael Healy, director of the Book Rights Registry in waiting, enjoyed the proceedings from the relaxed vantage point of a member of the audience.
More than 250 industry professionals packed the auditorium and enjoyed the networking and snacks during the breaks. These events provide a kind of broadly shared information exchange that is irreplaceable. They also remind me that our industry is a small and forward-looking cohort, in good and passionately engaged hands, the custodians and protectors of all that we value highly in our culture, and one populated by people who exercise this trust as a matter of course and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Light of step with this vision in mind, but somewhat heavy with information overload, I took the escalator down to the vast high-ceilinged lobby of the McGraw Hill Building, out into the mid-day bustle, and worked my way through the crowd to the elevator box that stood waiting for me on the corner, otherwise unnoticed by the passing throngs—a sentinel in its own way, watching over us.
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.