In an industry dealing with issues associated with the growth of digital publishing, it was no surprise that both the business segment and main panel at the Book Industry Study Group’s annual meeting centered around the impact of electronic publishing throughout the supply chain. The meeting, one of the most well attended in recent years, was held September 27 at the Yale Club in New York City.
BISG executive director Len Vlahos said the association has adopted a new mission statement and is in the process of looking for a new “brand” for BISG that could likely involve a new name. The new mission statement is being accompanied by new priorities for BISG. On the panel Simon Ross, Madeline McIntosh, Ron Schlosser discussed what the spread of digital publishing has meant--and hasn’t mean--for their respective companies.
McIntosh, COO of Penguin Random House, said that despite the increase in digital sales, the focus at PRH is to deliver immersive, narrative works. She estimated that about 70% of the publisher’s titles would gain little from adding video or other elements to an e-book, explaining that such embelishments would get in the way of the actual story. The other 30%--mostly illustrated books for adults and children and some other adult nonfiction areas--can benefit from new digital treatments and that PRH will keep experimenting to find products that work.
McIntosh said PRH will leave self-publishing services to its Author Solutions subsidiary, but noted that the rise of self-publishing “will make us double down” on the services PRH offers authors which includes providing authors with far more reach into markets than they could achieve on their own. She said PRH needs to be more “selective” and focus on books that the publisher can help reach their full potential. She sees the international market has a “massive” opportunity, especially for e-books, noting that in the past sales of print books abroad were constrained in many countries by poor industry infrastructure. Asked what keeps her up at night, McIntosh said that PRH can’t fall behind industry developments while it integrates Penguin with Random House. The first step in that process is extracting Penguin’s systems from Pearson.
Ross, managing director for journals at Cambridge University Press, said publishers need to take control of their own future, noting that he believes that “copyright is under threat.” And while Cambridge has done quite a lot to keep up with the changes cuased about by digital publishing the fact remains that the lower prices of digital editions has not resulted in higher unit sales.
Schlosser, executive chairman of McGraw-Hill Global Education, acknowledged that higher education publishers have been disintermediated from their customers for years by such things as the used book market. Going forward, higher education publishers must be prepared to develop more materials that help make individual learning possible. He said that in 2008 80% of MHE revenue came from traditional textbooks, a percentage that fell to 45%in 2012 with the balance made up from sales of digital materials and customized textbooks. He said that in the new materials being developed by publishers content will be only part of a larger package.
To address the challenges and opportunities caused by digital, BISG’s new mission statement reads, “Book Industry Study Group’s mission is to facilitate innovation and shared solutions for the benefit of all companies and practiciners that create, produce and distribute published content, and the organizations that support them.” That change, Vlahos said, doesn’t mean BISG intends “to become something wholly different, but that it does need to make changes to reflect the digital transition, which was by far and away the top concern of its membership. (Number 2 was “other,” reported chair Ken Michaels).
Among the new initiatives BISG will undertake are: decvelping an industry forecast; continue to evolve BookStats; strengthen its student attitudes report; develop best practices on subscription models; “sunset” its attitudes of consumers towards e-books and e-reading report; develop a closer partnership with W3C, the worldwide organization responsible for Web standards; form new committees on best practices for keywords and tagging in metadata, and for understanding common core standards. BISG will also hold more events and conferences, including a new conference next year in Brazil. It is also moving its Making Information Pay for Higher Education conference to the day before the 2014 edition of Digital Book World.
The meeting also served as the location to present the first BISG Industry Awards. The four winners were: Edelweiss (Above the Treeline) for the Industry Innovation Award; Laurie Stark, v-p, publishing operations support, Penguin Random House, for Most Valuable Committee Participant; Phil Madans, director of publishing standards and best practices, Hachette Book Group USA, for the Friend of the Industry; and Allen Lau (Wattpad) for the Disruptor Award.
As previously announced, Wendell Lotz, v-p, Metadata, Ingram Book Group, was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to an individual for outstanding work on behalf of BISG over the course of their career