Many Parts, But One Book Business
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Posted by: Brian O'Leary
Last week, I attended both Winter Institute 14, hosted in Albuquerque, New Mexico by the American Booksellers Association (ABA), and the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting, which took place in Seattle. I returned from the trip with a renewed sense that the Book Industry Study Group represents the interests of an industry with many parts, but one over-arching purpose.
At Winter Institute, we participated in a panel moderated by ABA CEO Oren Teicher, who had asked us to join a discussion of industry trends and analytics. The other panelists included: Michael Becher of Industry Insights, which oversees data collection and analysis for the annual ABACUS study of store operating and financial data; and NPD’s Allison Risbridger, who described 2018 retail sales in the U.S. market.
I had an opportunity to share some of the results of our recent “state of the supply chain” survey, part of which confirmed industry agreement that retailers, including the independent booksellers represented by ABA, were particularly challenged. Our survey indicated that almost two-thirds of those responding saw retailers as notably stressed in the current industry environment.
While that’s a useful headline, it naturally leads us to ask, “What can we do about that?” The survey identified three areas where a supply-chain perspective could make a difference:
- Data-driven decision making (improved forecasting tools and techniques, better integrated supply-chain data, understanding industry metrics at a macro level
- Timely, high-quality metadata (better managing metadata across the supply chain, marketing applications for book metadata, and making better use of BISAC metadata in internal reporting and marketing)
- Keeping up with new technologies (communicating tech issues to non-tech people, tools to improve workflows, reducing reliance on outdated technologies and approaches)
These areas have been shared with the BISG Board of Directors, and they are already part of our work to set priorities for calendar 2019 and beyond.
We joined ALA’s mid-winter meeting to continue a dialogue about issues related to libraries and eBooks, a conversation started last June by ASGCLA, an ALA division representing the interests of governmental and consortial libraries. A final report on the June meeting had been issued just before the mid-winter meeting.
That report includes recommendations across five topic areas, including licensing models, impacts and benchmarks, accessibility, curation (giving libraries greater ability to curate materials to help patrons discover them), and content deserts (obtaining desired but unavailable or difficult to find content). BISG has leading or supporting roles in several of these topic areas.
Thematically, we saw a great deal of overlap across the survey results and discussions at the Winter Institute and ALA’s mid-winter meetings. Common themes included: “I see only part of the picture”; “The tools I rely on are inadequate”; “I’m constrained by capacity (time, in particular, but also supply-chain capacity)”; “We’re competing against other industries”; and “We need to work together more closely”.
We do need to find ways to work together more closely. Winter Institute attendees talked about the variety of issues they faced, including recent (holiday season) difficulty getting adequate stock for certain desired titles. The comments were directed at one publisher, but it’s an issue that affects firms across the supply chain, particularly as book-specific paper availability and printing capacity are challenged. This is an opportunity BISG is already pursuing, and we expect to announce a first-half initiative shortly.
While supply-chain capacity may seem somewhat removed from the ASGCLA eBook efforts, both efforts depend on developing shared, industry-wide understanding of what is happening, how each segment contributes to what is happening, and what options we might pursue to better position book publishing as an industry. There will always be a publisher perspective, a distributor perspective, a retailer perspective, a library perspective, and more. But, we all want and need to grow the size of the pie for reading across the U.S. market. Finding a solution to that challenge is built into BISG’s organizational DNA.