On June 15, Mark Kuyper, former CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, succeeded Len Vlahos as executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, the U.S.’s leading book trade association for standardized best practices, research, information, and educational events. Where will BISG go next?
As we kickoff the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, what’s your take on the state of publishing?
I think we are an industry on the brink of significant innovation. We have made it through the challenging work of introducing content in digital formats. But while it has been a lot of work, it has generally been uninspired. For the most part, we have taken what was once in print and made it available digitally. I am not minimizing what has been done—it has required new technology, workflows, skills, marketing, and more, and there have been some wonderful flashes of innovation. But I think our brightest, most creative days, are ahead. The variables have never been so broad: any length of content, delivered in an array of methods and formats, interwoven with stunning amounts of data. It is exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Can you talk about your vision, and what topics you see BISG seeking to study and address?
In the big picture, I would like to see BISG be the most valuable resource for the book community when it comes to information about how to efficiently move content. Currently, we have a collaborative working group compiling best practices in accessibility. Later this year, we will publish a Quick Start Guide to Accessibility and offer a summit on this topic. We are also partnering with BookNet Canada to bring a data quality testing tool to our publishers, as well as to give providers an opportunity to be certified for their level of accuracy. We have also partnered with the American Library Association to release Digital Content in Public Libraries this fall, which provides the latest information about patrons and their uses of books, e-books, audio and other resources provided by public libraries. Our much-anticipated YA subject code listing will be available soon as well. These are just a few of the projects we will deliver this year. We also want to create a system of ongoing workflow evaluation in our ecosystem, to make sure we can find and extinguish fires quickly.
For so much of the last decade, digital distribution has dominated the headlines. Yet physical distribution remains the industry’s lifeblood. How do you see the print and digital ecosystem evolving?
It’s funny how we have created this mythical battle between print and digital. I think both will exist for a long time to come and the percentages and market shares will fluctuate. Neither print nor physical will win out. The consumer will win, though, because as technology expands, it creates more options to deliver content.
I constantly talk about how business always trends toward its most efficient means and toward what gives consumers more of what they want. In that context, I think the most efficient process is for content to move directly from the creator to the consumer. There will be myriad ways for publishers to assist in that process, but every one of them will have to prove their value.
When I speak to publishers today, they often talk about managing the breadth of exposure for an author, including video, conferences, social media, print, digital, online events, interactive content, and so forth. So, I think there will be many more delivery options to discuss than the two we have pitted against each other in the current environment.
Data has really become a hot topic at conferences lately. How important is it to keep metadata and our data practices front and center?
It’s very important. Everything we do in life, not just reading books, is increasingly driven by data. Data gives you the tools to learn and improve. For example, I just read an article about the Google self-driving car, which is a car conceived and operated by data—the car is always collecting data to tell the car what to do. The car is constantly seeking information to perform better. The same is true for books. Data attached to books helps them travel more efficiently through our ecosystem, but it can also feed back data to help us be smarter about how we create and distribute content. Right now, we are able know how many pages are read in a digital book, but in the future we will be able to glean now-unfathomable amounts of information about distribution, use, and consumer behavior—data we can barely imagine today. That data will give us the information we need to make us smarter and better at what we do—though, I have to add the caveat that this all has to be tempered with respect for privacy.