The Book Industry Study Group's annual meeting and conference last
Wednesday was full of good news about the organization, which in the
past three years under executive director Jeff Abraham has gone from a
sleepy, near-bankrupt entity to a busy, financially sound group that
acts as a forum to debate and deal with many book world issues, do
research as well as create and maintain standards for the book
industry--all with the aim of improving efficiency and reducing costs.
It is composed of and represents broad sections of the industry, from
publishers, distributors and wholesalers and retailers to
manufacturers, associations, consultants and technical companies.
Interestingly BISG is set up to reach consensus. As Abraham said, a
single "person, whether a corporation or sole proprietor, can object to
and derail" initiatives--and force compromises.
By one measure alone--attendance at the annual meeting--the change in
BISG is striking. In 2002, all of 17 people attended BISG's annual
meeting. The following year the group grew to 46. Last year, 105 were
on hand, and this year 226 people came. Active membership has grown to
163 as of the end of the fiscal year, and 175 through last week; about
1,000 people participate in the organization on some level. In
addition, finances have turned around dramatically. In 2002, BISG had a
deficit of $97,800. Each year since it has had a growing surplus, and
this year it will have net income of $178,789.
Among the accomplishments in the past year:
- BISG has formed a task force and undertaken an array of programs
and publicity to help the industry make the transition to ISBN-13,
including creating a "readiness directory," staging informational
Webinars, printing an ISBN-13 for Dummies brochure and more.
- It launched the Manufacturers Executives Interest Group, which
aims to improve communications--electronic and otherwise--between
publishers, printers and manufacturers.
- BISG issued several major studies, including one earlier this year of small and midsized publishers called Under the Radar and the used book study (Shelf Awareness, September 29), which was previewed at the conference after the annual meeting.
- It continues to work on a "warehouse benchmarking initiative,"
under which companies can compare the performance of their book
warehouses with others'.
- BISG has been surveying members as part of the process of
developing a strategic plan for the next three to five years for the
organization. (BISG has grown and developed so much that is at a
"turning point," as Abraham put it. "Clearly during the last three
years the organization has fundamentally changed.")
- The group continues to monitor and address new technology that
the book industry will need to deal with in the near future, including
the Global Data Synchronization Network and RFID.
- BISAC moved forward on a variety of issues, "the stuff," Abraham
said, that "makes it all worth it." BISAC initiatives had saved
"millions of dollars, he added. "It all goes directly to the bottom
Other news from the meeting:
Reporting on the EAN Transition Task Force, Random House's John Bohman
had mostly positive news but said that despite assurances, the "mass merchandising channel has not
been embracing change" in using Bookland EAN.
The board approved revised guidelines for shipping container labels in
an effort to alleviate a multitude of labels. This entailed extensive
negotiations with UPS on the structure and design of shipping labels.
Jim Lichtenberg of LightSpeed and self-described "RFID dork" said that privacy
continues to be a major issue for the book industry in the development
of RFID, which will consist of a "tag the size of a postage inserted in
the book at the point of manufacture." Some libraries have introduced
RFID, which has proven amazingly fast and efficient in checking books
in and out.
The latest supply chain/tech world acronym to learn is GDSN (Global
Data Synchronization Network), which one BISG member described as "Books in Print
on steroids" The data information exchange is being pioneered by some
retailers and their suppliers and the book industry will need to plan
according to Abraham.
Al Garton, director of chain management, retail, at GS1 US, the former
Uniform Code Council, said that GDSN helps "match supply and demand"
and that "a lot of standards [needed for it] are in place already,"
including EAN and ISBN. The key is data synchronization, which he
described as allowing business partners "to exchange information with
each other continuously with common standards."
Jerry Lynch, group manager, general merchandise, of Wegmans Food
Markets, discussed his company's experience implementing GDSN, which
once done, is used with all partners who themselves use GDSN. It was a
process, in large part because the company was a "trailblazer." He
compared the system's effect with the ability today for anyone to check
UPS's internal shipping information to locate in real time a package in transit.
Lynch considers GDSN particularly important for the book industry
because of "the sheer number of items, new items and outlets" and
because of returns.
Perhaps it's the subject matter, but Book Industry Study Group
participants often have some of the best jokes of industry meetings.
They can also be poignant. Case in point: BISG president Joe Gonnella
of Barnes & Noble started off the meeting paraphrasing a line about
not asking vogons about their poetry, from Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe
"Don't let a supply chain guy read poetry to you." Then, reminding
participants of the ultimate beneficiary of what they do, he read "The
House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm," from an ancient volume of
Wallace Stevens (so old the book had no bar code).
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom the book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.