In the latest Bookmaster Industry Comment, we invited Peter Kilborn, Executive Director, from Book Industry Communication (BIC) to share his views on the trends that matter in publishing.

BIC Background

BIC is an independent supply chain organisation, committed to improving the efficiency of the book industry trade and library supply chains, by helping to implement standards, reduce costs and automate processes. This includes creating an efficient supply chain for both physical and digital products in the trade and library sectors, working with all the relevant stakeholders to eliminate wasteful and time-consuming practices and implement solutions acceptable to all.
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Managing the Digital Revolution

By Peter Kilborn (Executive Director, BIC)

Open Standards

After years of talking about the oncoming digital revolution, in the blink of an eye the breakthrough was made. Most titles now have a digital version available for the Kindle, iPad or other device and there are no longer any serious publishers still standing on the sidelines waiting to see what happens. I can certainly say that there are many publishers that have been very enterprising in their approach to digital content, but many more are dealing with the situation in a reactive and unprepared manner. They are not taking advantage of some very real business opportunities and this is a bit worrying.

Despite the many warnings, most publishers appear to have been taken by surprise by the developments in the digital supply chain. They are resorting to quick work-arounds to deal with it rather than putting time into some serious planning. There is still a resistance to investing in the broad-based IT and standard systems that could underpin the digital supply chain in a positive and long term way. The situation has not been helped by the demands on publishers by significant new entrants who are demanding support for their proprietary processes and procedures.

Sales Reporting is the key mechanism for reporting sales back to the publisher from throughout the supply chain and is in desperate need of standardisation. It is still mainly being done by individual resellers on the fly using fairly crude methods, such as manual or, at best, spreadsheets. This is a serious concern, particularly in the US, where the agency model has required publishers to have the ultimate responsibility for tax reporting. BIC’s US colleagues in the Book Industry Study Group are working hard to implement industry-wide standards for sales reporting. This will benefit publishers because they will be able to take sales reports that they can trust from their supply chains and automatically process the results appropriately and seamlessly. Integrating with accurate reporting information allows publishers to meet their requirements for tax, royalties and other costs based on standardised, trustworthy data.

While the rest of the world doesn’t have the same tax reporting issues as the US, publishers still need standardised knowledge throughout the supply chain or they will simply be unable to meet their commitments properly. If they are forced down the proprietary route demanded by the very large resellers, they will soon find they cannot cope with so many different standards effectively and profitably. BIC has been quite effective at driving open standards but we need to do more to get the larger organisations to listen to us and support us.

Open Identification

Another key issue highlighted by the digital supply chain revolution is the identification of digital books. The ISBN identifier works well enough for physical books, but what about the very digital practice of selling fragments of books? Products need to be identified in a rigorous way in order to ensure sales information is reported back accurately so publishers can meet their contractual and author commitments.

There are many publishers out there trying to avoid these issues by simply not implementing some key practices. As time goes by these issues are going to get bigger and more complex and will cause some significant challenges, particularly I suspect on the contracts side. With the additional threat of piracy, publishers shouldn’t be simply shrugging their shoulders and leaving it all to someone else. We all need to get together and develop globally agreed solutions on how to move the industry forward properly and positively.

The Role of Software

Software systems are key to delivering the standards that we are working towards. Over recent years, there has been a definite shift away from the all-encompassing holistic systems to a more best-of-breed approach to business management. I believe companies like Bookmaster, with integrated industry-specific applications, are offering appropriate solutions. Publishers need solid back office systems to handle finance and administration and these need to be integrated with task-specific applications at the front end that can incorporate all the latest requirements for ecommerce, web services and digital content.

BIC is working hard throughout the world to help publishers meet the demands of the modern supply chain. From digital content management to open standards for sales reporting and product identification, we are developing solutions and methodologies for the industry to follow. In our challenge to achieve these aims, we always appreciate the commitment of software organisations, such as IBS Bookmaster.