Making Information Pay 2009

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) presented its sixth annual Making Information Pay conference on May 7, at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium in New York. The conference's focus this year was "Shifting Sales Channels: and what publishers are doing about them" and featured presentations by eight industry leaders, in addition to remarks by BISG Executive Director Michael Healy.

As Healy made his opening remarks, hash tags for those intending to twitter the conference were displayed. And twitter they did: read tweets on the program by searching #mip or #BISG.

The first half of the program, entitled "State of the Markets," focused on the question "What's really going on today?" which Healy described as the genesis of the program.

Leigh Watson Healy, chief analyst for the advisory firm Outsell, Inc., gave the keynote speech and emphasized that the current recession will fundamentally change the market: "we have seen the last vestiges of the industrial age, [and are] now moving truly to the knowledge age." Hackneyed as it may be, she said the catchphrase "flat is the new up" was confirmed by BISG data. On an encouraging note for university presses, the companies she sees thriving are "market share/brand leaders, and innovators/boutiques." The increasing importance of specialization and niche markets was addressed several times throughout the morning.

Jim King of Nielsen BookScan US and Kelly Gallagher of R.R. Bowker gave presentations on the strategic use of data, on retailers and book buyers, respectively. King encouraged publishers to look closely at data on BISAC categories—in particular the very specific subcategories—to determine trends. He also noted that BookScan just began tracking book sales in non-traditional outlets (i.e., supermarkets) in 2008, and there are other venues, including digital downloads and comic book stores, that they have yet to begin tracking. Gallagher suggested that publishers do not always know their customers well enough, and need to look more closely at the data on book buyers. He also emphasized that the majority of "book awareness" (where a customer first learned of a book) is now coming from online sources.

A particularly engaging presentation kicking off the "Publishing Innovations" portion of the program came from Dominique Raccah, publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks. She said her focus has been on what the next iteration of a publishing company looks like. Like Healy, she emphasized the benefits of category leadership, and predicted a "real return to the value of niche publishing." Sourcebooks has created a toolkit for their authors to engage in their own digital marketing, and is focusing on creating new approaches to content by exploring options such as enhanced digital books and iPhone applications. Raccah asked publishers whether we can "create a zero inventory model" and if not, "how low can we go?"

Marcus Leaver, president of Sterling Publishing, speaking on "The New Marketing Budget," began with a slide reading: "Question everything." He emphasized that doing things just because that's the way they've always been done has to end, and that we must only do things we can measure. He described various measures taken at Sterling, which include drastic reductions in their trade show budget ("I'm not going to Frankfurt...the trade show is over"), and cutting their list by 25%, but increasing title-by-title marketing by 33%.

The move to electronic catalogs has been a hot topic of discussion for university presses, as well as the larger publishing community. Josh Marwell, president of sales for HarperCollins, explained the various advantages of e-catalogs that pushed his company to make the move (easier to update, more immediate, increased shareability), and how they've confronted the challenges inherent in the switch (creating a new workflow, outreach to reps and customers). He mentioned that HarperCollins will be supporting Edelweiss as well, an e-catalog system that some university presses have begun to work with.

The morning's final presenter, Dave Thompson, vice president of sales analysis for Random House, ended the program on an optimistic note, pointing out that, "even in the worst economy in our lifetimes, book sales are only down 1.2 percent." He advocated using the data available from sources like Bowker and Nielsen BookScan in innovative ways and focused in particular on indicators of "book awareness," and where particular demographics of buyers are purchasing their books, echoing Gallagher's points about the need to know more about book buyers.

The program's sentiment seemed to be best encapsulated in Raccah's paraphrase of a quote from Simon and Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, when she said that most publishing executives are currently running two companies: "the one that is, and the one that will be."

Presentations from the conference may be viewed here:

Meredith Benjamin
Communications Coordinator, AAUP