The BISG 2010 Annual: Creating Our Own Future
This year's Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Annual Meeting at the Yale Club on Sept. 24 was alive with new-found energy and challenges. "Disruption in the industry is not just coming from technology, but from the new power of consumers and of authors, " Scott Lubeck, BISG executive director, warned.
Dealing with this transformative disruption frames the organization's new focus on the nuts and bolts of marketing, data management and distribution issues confronting the book business.
Old models of industry reporting and meta-data management arising out of a print-based industry no longer work for a mixed media, digital and Internet universe. BISG, as a consequence, has joined with the Association of American Publishers (AAP) to develop a new reporting system. It will replace both the old BISG annual "Trends" report (whose publication in 2010 was suspended), and the AAP monthly and annual sales reports.
Tina Jordan, vice president of AAP, reported that a new statistical model is being developed that will report stats three ways-by format, category and channel. E-books and mixed media formats, and subscription- as well as unit-based revenue sources, will be included. The huge disparity in the annual sales figures occasioned by the two former reporting systems will be resolved, and accounting for the large array of independent and non-conventional publishers reaching the market will be incorporated.
Lubeck introduced several committee chairs handling major projects whose outcomes will greatly benefit the supply network on which we all depend and from which we will profit if we are to stay in business.
Setting the stage for pressingly needed e-book identifier standards to bring order into currently chaotic practices, Phil Madens of Hachette Book Group, co-chair of the Identifier Committee, described the much needed study project about current practices and problems to be completed by Michael Cairns of Information Media Partners by the end of the year.
Another murky area that BISG is determined to tackle was reported by David Marlin of MetaComet Systems, a co-chair of the Rights Committee. Their task is to develop a standard vocabulary and method of tracking and reporting on rights accounting that currently leaves many revenue opportunities unexplored and many uses unpaid for.
Now that we have a host of archival, delivery (e.g. ePub), component (e.g. SVG) and meta-data (e.g. ONIX) standards, do they do the job and what is the best way to use them? Jabin White of Wolters Kluwer Health, chair of the working group on Standards for Content Structuring, described a study to develop a best-practices guide for the use of strategic identifiers for digital content.
Are we still in the book business?
Heralding new reader-centered and multiple media strategies as the new paradigms for publisher business models, opening keynoter Maureen McMahon, president of Kaplan Publishing, asked, "Are we all still in the book business?" In the print era, producing a book was a linear process. The digital book is a team process for whose product we don't yet have a language.
We speak of pages and covers, for example. How do these terms apply in the digital book? She reminded me that even to this day in some houses, book budget forms still use the terms "plate" and "plant" costs for pre-press-derived from 60-year-old technology and workflow practices long since absent from the scene.
Citing studies done at Kaplan, McMahon noted that "the levels of attention readers expect are escalating every day." She observed that in today's market, it is important to identify who "owns the readers" in structuring a publisher's marketing programs. A house is either author-focused or reader-focused, depending who owns that relationship.
Warning that what we think we know may not be so in choosing what to study, she cited another Kaplan experiment under which using only iPad as a platform, they offered 95 titles for free downloads during a one-week period. As it turned out, the number of units downloaded in that week equaled 25 percent of total print unit sales for the same titles for a year-are there more potential customers out there than we think?
Challenging the herd instinct to venture blindly into the unknown in a time of uncertainty, McMahon quoted [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos, who said, "It helps to base our strategy on things that won't change." What won't change, she reported he said, is large selection, low prices and fast delivery.
Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publisher services at RR Bowker, once more delivered an informative update on consumer e-book reading and buying behavior. I recommend going to the BISG site for his complete presentation. He noted that the many variables in the marketplace—the mixed media, fragmenting supply chain and unstable economy-make gathering data difficult.
Nonetheless, some pronounced trends do come through that demand of publishers that they become intimately aware of consumer behaviors and expectations. Among the dynamics, he notes, were the differences in interests and best-sellers as one goes up the generational ladders from Z, Y, X, baby boomer to mature.
They also discovered that social networks are not a strong motivator for book selection when compared to free sampling and online book reviews. Among the interesting key e-book reading trends was that as the portable device purchases curve rises, the amount of time and number of books devoted to reading on them increases at an even greater pace.
Proving that a convincing directional sign doesn't always point to the self evident, David Jolliff, vice president for cross-media services at Pearson Canada, showed how educational publishing has completely transformed itself by leaving behind the familiar packaged textbook product model in favor of providing services through what he called the "new student portfolio," a text linked to multiple media and online resources.
This services approach combines e-books and texts and access to rich media in real time. A barrier not yet overcome is the continued lack of a portable device that can effectively replace the uses to which students put the interactive qualities of the highly formatted textbook.
Epilog: Go for it!
Wrapping up the three-hour session, David "Skip" Prichard, president and chief executive officer of Ingram Content Group, took command of the stage and, in his characteristic high-energy mode of delivery, recited all of the ways in which books (in whatever format) are receiving more attention than ever.
The market for books is not finite, he asserted, and books are, in fact, attracting increasing mindshare. Ingram Content, for example, now has 6,000,000 titles and growing, serving 35,000 business partners.
New modes for providing content in more compelling ways are emerging in an age of accelerating change. The exploding use of portable devices and the re-evaluation of print as a medium that will continue to stand on its own legs contributed to Pritchard's hopeful outlook.
Quoting Peter Drucker, he challenged the audience to accept that "the best way to predict the future is to create it."
Ingram's Content Group is probably, in my mind, the most outstanding example of how that can be done in our industry. They planned ahead decades ago-and we see the successful synthesis of the old and the new in the Ingram business model. Of course, Ingram is not alone in this application of foresight in the midst of tradition. Edwards Brothers, O'Reilly and Wiley come to mind.
Book publishing has its roots in the carvings and paintings on stone that humans left behind as an expression of their driving impulse to record and make permanent the narratives of their experience. In their own way, they were creating a future that expresses itself in our modern forms. That impulse also won't change. And I'm betting on it.
A word about BISG
BISG is both a broad-visioning and a nitty-gritty standardizing trade organization, unique in its structure as it brings together a forum for all sectors of the economy that provide distribution channels as well as content development and curation.
In the past 10 years, it has emerged as a vital driver in the infrastructure growth of the industry. Its direction has been charted by chairs such as Joe Gonella of Barnes & Noble and now co-chair Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks and Andrew Weber of Random House, and by executive directors Jeff Abraham, then Michael Healey, and now Scott Lubeck, rounding out his first year.
A dedicated staff makes possible delivering on this leadership. Angela Bole, deputy director, and her staff deserve credits from the industry for their effective work.
Drawing upon the drivers' talents and resources that populate its committees and task forces, Lubeck defined BISG's goal to stregthen its role as the core driving a circle of research, setting standards, and education and dissemination. This energy will help empower the industry's diffuse network of creators, technologists and enterprises as they continue on the course of creating their own future.
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.