By Edward Nawotka
“BISG’s job is, to borrow an analogy from music, to increase the ratio of signal to noise in the publishing industry,” says Scott Lubeck, Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group. “Or, to put it a different way, we’re kind of like a Rosetta Stone for the book business.” The group has had a more visible role as data analytics have become increasingly relevant to the publishing industry, and this Thursday, BISG hosts the latest in its NEXT series of conferences.
With digitization, the stakes are higher than ever, and Lubeck puts pressure on publishers to find reliable sources of information. “If you don’t command content that you can repurpose into XML, or you don’t apply metadata for discovery, or you don’t understand rights data, you lose,” he says. “BISG’s role is to produce actionable data that will make a difference to people’s day-to-day businesses.”
Lubeck joined BISG a little more than a year ago from Wolters Kluwer Health, where he was VP of Technology. He notes that BISG’s role in the industry is often misunderstood. “For starters, we’re not an academic institution,” he says. “We are a 35-year-old self-funded non-profit. We’re a wholly inclusive membership-based organization. We have 220 members from all segments of publishing. We’re not just about publishers or retailers, which is what some seem to think. We include both of those, as well as e-tailers, printers, software developers and hardware manufacturers. We have Google, Amazon, Random House, RR Donnelly as members, for example, but we also have smaller members. Our goal is to serve the entire publishing industry, bar none.”
BISG has a very strategic focus, says Lubeck, one built around three pillars:
“The first and most important is producing a set of standards and best practices,” says Lubeck. “Everyone wants something to become a standard, but when you have so many voices it just becomes chaotic. As I said, BISG’s job is increase the ratio of signal to noise, and to achieve this we have 14 active membership committees who are either developing best practices, or pioneering around digital content.” This, he says “is the heartbeat of the organization.”
The second pillar is producing research. “We do this to support the work our committees are doing. It’s largely focused on trending data, such as our ongoing report on consumer attitudes towards e-book reading or student attitudes towards content. A key research project for BISG is BookStats, a partnership with the Association of American Publishers to develop a new methodology for reporting book sales. “Publishing has become so multi-channel and products so diverse, that we need capture that in the data.” Since May 2010 when the project was announced, AAP and BISG interviewed over 40 industry stakeholders and surveyed 400 more, with Bowker assisting in data collection. BookStats first report is due to be released this May.
BISG’s third pillar is producing educational programs and conferences, such as the aforementioned NEXT conference taking place this Thursday (registration ends today). “No matter how many standards and practices we can come up with, no matter how much research we do, if it doesn’t get implemented, it doesn’t matter. That’s what the events are for.”
This Thursday event, entitled “Developing the 2020 Publishing Program” focuses on innovation and the issues that publishers are going to confront over the next ten years, such as coming up with a mobile strategy and how to get closer to customers.
Lubeck is quick to acknowledge the proliferation of publishing conferences and responds to the suggestion that fatigue may be setting in: “Book industry people are getting sent to more and more conferences because they are afraid. And then they get to them and there are people sitting up on a podium, who are just like them, and are being presented as “subject experts.” He argues that BISG’s events are different because they focus on “collaborative problem solving” and seek to come up with “actionable plans,” rather than merely providing attendees with talking heads. “We know that traditionally siloed companies squander talent,” says Lubeck, “so what we try to do at our conferences is bringing different people together in a room together who can enhance the constructive part of the conversation and increase the relevance of the information to each other.” To this end, the NEXT conferences combine both the traditional conference format of speakers, with the “unconference” format, which brings together groups for improvisational, organic discussion.
In many ways, BISG’s NEXT format, and the company’s own organizational structure are reflective of a core philosophy: one of active, rather than passive, participation in the future of the industry.
“All too often, people sit around waiting to get the memo,” says Lubeck. “But we don’t want people to get the memo, we want people to write the memo. That is crucial to how we survive, as individuals and as an industry.”
Registration for the BISG NEXT: Developing the 2020 Publishing Program closes at the end of the day today. Register here for the conference.