The emphasis was on how the publishing industry can best navigate these uncertain times at the 2010 annual meeting of the Book Industry Study Group held in New York Friday morning. Both speakers and organization staff and committee members discussed programs and initiatives already launched or in the works to help all industry members better cope with publishing’s rapid changes.

Maureen McMahon, president and publisher of Kaplan Publishing, began her opening keynote by asking whether “are we still in the book business,” and a minute later took it a step further by wondering “are we still all in the same industry.” She said Kaplan now does more digital products than print products and said developing digital products is an entirely different process than publishing a book. While creating a printed book is a linear process with one step following another, creating a digital product must be a collaborative effort, she said. To succeed today, publishers need to listen to their customers, and those customers expect new technology to be part of the information and education books that Kaplan does. “Let the customers be your compass,” she said.

Given the lack of information about the size of the digital market, Kaplan made 95 e-books free to students for one week at the beginning of the fall term to get a sense of demand. At the end of the week, the downloads amounted to 25% of all print units sold for a full year. “It was a big number,” she said of the downloads. For the publishing industry to grow, the industry needs to reach out to people who haven’t been traditional readers. But in doing so, McMahon, warned publishers will come in competition with technology competitors and must be able to compete on price and interactivity.

Kelly Gallagher, v-p of publishing services for Bowker, updated a few e-book statistics. In August, e-books accounted for 5.8% of all unit sales compared to 2.8% at the beginning of 2010. The percentage of consumers likely to by an e-book in August was 16%, up from 13% in January, while figures in August showed that women now accounted for 68% of Kindle purchases.

BISG executive director Scott Lubeck noted that the belief that all types of companies need to work together in the changing market was reflected in an increase of 35 new members to BISG during the year, and the attempt by the organization to form partnerships with different parties to better serve the industry.