With its 50th anniversary two years away, the Book Industry Study Group devoted the majority of its annual meeting, held on April 12 at the Harvard Club in New York City, to discussing the best ways the organization can meet the needs of the entire publishing industry moving forward. To that end, the event began with the informal presentation of a new three-year strategic plan built on four pillars: inclusion, research, standards, and education.

Barnes & Noble’s senior director of merchandise systems James Miller explained that BISG has made inclusion its top priority because to succeed, the organization needs as many people as possible at its table. That not only means reaffirming its diversity, equity, and efforts but broadening the segments of the industry it represents. To date, BISG represents publishers, manufacturers, booksellers, tech companies, and distributors, but now, Miller said, it is looking to draw from a broader pool including, literary agents and authors.

Executive director Brian O’Leary said that how BISG will expand its outreach is still under discussion, but noted that it could take the form of working with other organizations, such as the Association of American Literary Agents. (Jennifer Weltz, president of the AALA, was on the meeting’s "The Case for Royalty Statement Standard" panel.)

Noting that BISG had published its industry statistical report, Trends, for about 35 years before it was discontinued, Firebrand Technology’s director of sales and education Joshua Tallent, who is also BISG chair, said that “it is time to get back to research,” to help all members of publishing see the industry’s big picture. But to do that, Tallent acknowledged, BISG needs to increase its funding sources—and one way to do so is to bring in new members.

Standards and best practices have always been at the heart of BISG, and that will continue moving forward, Tallent said, tying that effort to both inclusion—more members will help identify the new standards that need to be addressed—and education. “We need to raise awareness of standards,” he said. Education is also key to meeting another ongoing BISG challenge: improving communication throughout the supply chain.

Andrea Fleck-Nisbet, CEO of the Independent Book Publishers Association, said that BISG needs to “amplify” all the information it currently has on hand. Fleck-Nisbet's remarks echoed BISG's mandate for the education program: to “publicize research, guide adoption of standards and best practices, and foster conversations around emerging issues through all appropriate channels.”

Speakers acknowledged that meeting all of BISG’s targets will mean adding to the organization’s two-person office. Miller indicated that such expansion was on the horizon, noting that, after years of prudent financial management, now is the time “we can invest in the future.” Still, with all that BISG currently has on its plate—it conducts some 30 webinars annually, in addition to hosting five standing committees and number of working groups—O’Leary, who became BISG executive director in 2016, said that the organization's full-time staff can’t take on many more responsibilities without some help. In a bid to cut expenses in order to free up funds, the organization’s New York City office will soon close, making BISG a fully remote operation.

O’Leary broke precedent this year by addressing the annual meeting at length for the first time, speaking of the need for the industry to improve the supply chain. “The supply chain we have now is at its limits,” he said, pointing to several areas where the chain falls short. One example he cited was the widespread use of upgraded legacy systems throughout much of the industry, which make interoperability difficult, thereby reducing transparency and industrywide understanding.

In an industry that appears to be headed back to a time of flat product sales after a two-year pandemic blip in 2020 and 2021, the North American publishing business will increasing rely on selling and effective managing rights, O'Leary said. That is another reason, he added, that the industry needs to create systems that can work with each other.

Award Winners

The annual meeting also featured the presentation of BISG’s annual awards. The Sally Dedecker Award for Lifetime Service was given to Ingram Content Group’s chief content officer Phil Ollila, while the Innovator Award went to Scribd. Walter Mosley was given the Industry Champion Award for, among many other achievements, pushing for more inclusion of more BIPOC employees in the industry and for launching the CUNY publishing certificate program to make that happen.

In a short, good-natured speech, Mosley said that he had never heard of BISG until he was notified he had won an award. He pointed out that the meeting was an overwhelmingly white one, but that he was glad to attend. “See you up in Harlem,” he added.