It’s been just over two years since Brian O’Leary took the helm of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). PW recently caught up with O’Leary to talk about the challenges BISG is addressing today, what’s on the organization’s radar going forward, and the state of the organization.
To start, can you give us a quick state of the union? Are you happy with where BISG is, and what are some of the bigger things you're focusing on now?
I started with a plan to significantly expand programming, and we’ve done that. Last year, BISG delivered three-dozen events, 12 of them as in-person sessions on topics that included metadata, of course, but also content workflows, rights, digital retailing, and blockchain. Our webinars are really popular, and we’re using them to deliver committee updates while also broadening awareness about things like mergers and acquisitions, the state of the paper market, and how libraries look at publishing.
With the BISG Board, we’re looking at ways to strengthen the alignment between our strategy and our five standing committees, which meet regularly to address issues related to metadata, rights, subject codes (BISAC), the supply chain, and workflow. We’ve also started a partnership with the Book Industry Guild of New York to open up a dialogue about supply chain capacity and how we can collaborate to avoid the bottlenecks that hampered retailer access to books last year, particularly in the fourth quarter.
BISG is best known for industry standards, like BISAC Subject Codes and Best Practices for Product Metadata. Are there other initiatives you have underway?
Promoting standards and best practices is a core component of what BISG does. For much of the last 20 years, we’ve focused on improving how the industry collects, maintains, communicates, and updates book metadata. That made most of our communications operational in nature, focusing on the how questions. In 2019, you’ll also see us focus on the why—the marketing applications for book metadata. Our metadata committee will lead this effort, and you can expect us to offer webinars and programs about using metadata to improve discovery and sell more books.
Can you give us a sense of where BISG membership stands? More broadly, who joins BISG—and why? Has that changed in recent years, and who, in your opinion, should join BISG?
Today, we have 165 members, up 20% since the start of 2017. Our membership represents all parts of the book publishing industry: publishers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, libraries, and industry service partners. That makes sense, because BISG works to solve problems that affect two or more parts of the industry. I’m pleased with the growth, but there are still some opportunities for us, particularly in the manufacturing and retailing segments. If you’re interested in improving how the industry operates, communicates, and innovates, BISG is the place to be.
Last fall in Chicago, BISG hosted a full day event, 'Book Publishing: From Concept to Consumer.' Is this kind of programming going to be more of a focus for BISG going forward?
The event in Chicago was our first attempt to talk about the entire supply chain for an audience of people who are either new to publishing, or experienced in only a specific functional area. And yes, we’ll be repeating the program this fall, probably in Chicago or Minneapolis. We’d love to scale it beyond that, as well. We know there are colleagues eager to gain a holistic view of how books are made, marketed, and sold, and not all companies have the resources to provide such training.
Each year, BISG fields a survey that solicits observations and impressions from around the supply chain. Anything stand out this year?
Two-thirds of those responding wanted us to identify specific ways to improve the effectiveness of the supply chain for metadata, and half supported developing a rights taxonomy. While metadata and rights are core areas for BISG, the level of support surprised us. So we’ve already introduced the topics to the relevant committees and expect significant progress to be made this year, with input from a broad range of stakeholders.
What do you think are the important issues or innovations facing the book industry as we gather on London in 2019, and where do you things headed a little further out—what will be talking about in London in 2025?
I’ve been thinking about how much the global market for books is growing. Right now, selling rights around the world is currently a labor-intensive effort. Over the next six years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see rights taxonomies take hold across international marketplaces, allowing for scale. We might see experimentation with blockchain technology to automate rights transactions, including permissions. For larger deals, London and Frankfurt will keep their roles, but online transactions will grow the market for many publishers, offering meaningful revenue at much lower costs.
In the U.S., “flat is the new up,” as they say, but as literacy rates grow by double digits in a number of territories around the world, publishers will need to improve workflows, update how they communicate and sell rights, and broker more deals for translations of English-language works. These are all areas where BISG can be helpful.