On October 5, 2023, Brian O’Leary (Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group) addressed MS in Publishing students at Pace University in an afternoon seminar. In the one-and-a-half-hour lecture, he enlightened students about the basics of the book industry supply chain. He was joined by his colleague Brooke Horn (Operations Manager, BISG), who chimed in with her expertise. 

The BISG’s mission is to create a more informed, empowered, and efficient book industry. Its vision is to serve as publishing’s primary resource for solving problems that affect more than one part of the supply chain. In pursuit of this vision and mission, the BISG is trying to foster the development, refinement and use of standards that improve revenue, promote product visibility, reduce costs, and ensure transparency across the book industry supply chain in the US and across global markets. Using their research, they want to shape the conversation about the current state and future of book publishing by studying and communicating about emerging topics, issues and trends that affect the book industry. 

Mr. O’Leary described supply chain as the ‘plumbing’ of the industry as it is the network of all individuals, organizations, resources, activities, and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product. It encompasses all aspects of the process right to the product ending up in the hands of the ultimate end user. He then illustrated with examples what the various components of the book supply chain were and how roles and structures varied by the type of publishing. 

The book publishing supply chain has multiple components, sometimes with iterative or overlapping roles. In a typical trade publisher, the supply chain would include authors and agents, publishers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and libraries, all supported by industry service providers for all requirements. Some examples of industry service providers include ERP solution, metadata management solutions, rights management solutions, and analytics and business intelligence. 

With the focus shifting to digital in trade publishing, the supply chain needed to be reconfigured and went the route of agents and authors to publishers to distributors to retailers and libraries. With the advent of self-publishing and Amazon becoming a key role-player in the world of publishing, the viability of publishers and distributors has been brought into question on the digital side of things. 

Looking at the supply chain for an education publisher, what is mostly seen is that while there are some premier authors, the usual norm is to engage work-for-hire authors that are scouted by agents and editors alike. The peer-reviewed and edited manuscript moves to the manufacturers and then to distributors which mostly comprise of LMS providers or publisher platforms with textbooks often being adopted by college stores or states. 

After sharing examples of the book publishing supply chain, Mr. O’Leary talked about contemporary trends amongst the segments of the supply chain. He pointed out that there was a significant growth in the number of self-published titles. Moreover, consolidation in all segments because of eroding margins had become the norm. The shift to online as the dominant retailing option has put additional pressure on brick-and-mortar retailing. Even the libraries’ demand for digital formats is squeezing budgets. 

Outlining the trends brought the focus on the work done by BISG and why it cares about supply chains. The latest issue being tackled by BISG is Metadata and Mr. O’Leary shared some of the data issues being faced currently. He pointed out that ONIX (first standard for Metadata) was being used in an equivalent manner but often in different formats by publishing companies, forming multiple versions of competing metadata, and hence it was difficult to check metadata quality. Other challenges included the absence of timely feedback, inability to query use of metadata elements, manufacturing specifications, scheduling of plans, changes in the same and more. 

Talking about tech stacks and its associate challenges, Mr. O’Leary drew attention to the fact how tech stacks were often based in legacy systems dating to the 1980s and 1990s. Other obstacles included custom integrations with aspects of ERP solutions, difficulty to evolve as new use cases required one-off solutions, how interoperability was elusive, and repositories were proprietary or not employed, reducing transparency and industry-wide understanding. 

While wrapping up his talk he speculated about changes in the US market and talked about what could bring those changes. The list included metadata repositories of record, use of API calls, payment clearinghouses, automating core agreements about returns, real-time data exchange, and integrating other parts of the supply chain (paper availability, printing capacity, units printed, units sold, return by genre, market size, and more). 

At the close, the date for the upcoming BISG Annual Conference was revealed to be on April 12th, 2024.