Episode 9 - Build Better Books with BISG
Executive Director of Book Industry Study Group
Nicole Tomassi (00:05):
Welcome to Westchester words, education ed tech and publishing. I'm Nicole Tomassi. In this episode, I'll be speaking with Brian O'Leary, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group. Today among other topics, we'll be talking about the book industry study group annual meeting. You may recall that Brian was here about a year ago to talk about environmentally sustainable measures that the publishing industry can be implementing. Brian, It's a pleasure to welcome you back to Westchester words.
Brian O'Leary (00:32):
Well, you know, thank you, Nicole. I really appreciate the work that you and Westchester publishing services have put into this series. And I, I think it helps keep us connected at a time when we've all felt more than a little isolated.
Nicole Tomassi (00:44):
Yes, I think we are definitely all feeling the strains of the isolation, but it seems as if the world is beginning to emerge from what I'm calling a zoom cocoon. Last week, some of our staff were at an ed tech conference that took place in London, and there was a lot of articles in the trade last week about the Bologna children's book fair, which was live in Italy for the first time in three years. And right around the time this episode will go live, the London book fair will also have returned live for the first time since 2019. But the BSG annual meeting is also gonna be taking place for the first time in person since 2019 on April's 22nd. So how does it feel to get back out of the computer as it were?
Brian O'Leary (01:25):
Pretty darn good. You know, BSG has a stand at the London book fair, and we're also really excited to be hosting an in-person meeting later this month, but I have to admit at the same time that getting ready for London the biggest question in my head was how do I do this? I think the pandemic has kind of reframed things like traveling with people that I'm not already related to. And even the basics like shaking hands or embracing old friends. So I had to work a bit to remember even how to pack. So our annual meeting also has lots of moving parts. We've been talking with the staff at the Harvard club in New York about how we're gonna deliver a program that leaves people both comfortable in a public setting and at the same time energized by the content we've communicated to all of our attendees, that they need proof of vaccination. That's a mandate in New York settings where food is served. And we're gonna go over all the details with the proverbial fine tooth comb. I'm sure it's gonna be a great day, but I also have my own jitters about putting on a party that everyone enjoys.
Nicole Tomassi (02:25):
I think that's the dilemma of every good host, how to put an event on that makes everyone feel comfortable and also keeps everything safe. Right. So it's certainly something I think everybody's examining, you know, whether it's the London book fair or the BISG annual meeting, finding balance and just kind of learning how to people again, as it were.
Brian O'Leary (02:48):
Right. That's exactly right.
Nicole Tomassi (02:50):
I'm sure it'll go up very well, especially with all the measures that you're putting in place to ensure a safe setting and also a really information filled event. And the title that you've accorded to this annual meeting is build books better, which I'm interpreting as how the industry can strengthen the infrastructure around book production, distribution, and marketing. Am I on the right track with that?
Brian O'Leary (03:14):
Well, not surprisingly you're exactly on track. BISG represents the book industry supply chain and our work solves problems that affect two or more parts of that supply chain. So much of what we do is right in front of us, it's developing and explaining standards and best practices as an example, but at the same time, the pandemic has both changed how we work where we work, and in some instances what we do. Uh our five committees, metadata, rights, subject codes, which is the BISAC committee supply chain and workflow have all been working on ideas on how to strengthen how we make books. And this meeting will shine a light on that work. And some other ideas that we think of that are important.
Nicole Tomassi (03:54):
And I mean the, the committees are all drawn from people who are working in the publishing and just history and different roles. How have the last two years impacted them and informed what they bring into committee?
Brian O'Leary (04:06):
We have about 400 volunteers in our membership. I mean, it's kind of an astounding number. We have 180 plus comp corporate memberships, but people staff from those companies are what make our committees go. We have a fortunate break because we're national in scope. So we, shortly after I started since early 2017, we've conducted all of our committee meetings with a virtual option. And in fact, since 2017, all but one of our committees, the subject code committee was entirely virtual. So we've been using zoom for five as five plus years. We've actually developed a pretty good rhythm for how to conduct a meeting where people are not all in the same room. And, and it's not that the pandemic didn't have an effect. We had to give people a lot of space to just reconnect, to talk about what was going on in their work lives to, you know, kind of grieve in some cases just the loss of, of personal interaction. But we've come out of it, I think stronger. And I'm, I'm really proud of the work that we've accomplished both in 2020 and 21, but also the plans we have for this coming year.
Nicole Tomassi (05:13):
I didn't realize you guys were such zoom experts. I should have been like leaning on you guys when we hopped onto zoom towards the end of 2019.
Brian O'Leary (05:20):
You might be the only person who would learn from us. This is the only instance in which you, you generally are ahead of the curve for, uh, technology. And, um, this is that one area.
Brian O'Leary (05:25):
Nicole Tomassi (05:34):
Well, I, I thank you. But if you've ever seen me work a computer, you might take that back. So to get things back on track here, we'll what can you share with listeners about the sessions that'll take place during the annual meeting?
Brian O'Leary (05:46):
Sure. So our, our, our keynote is actually Michael Pietsch, who's well known as the CEO of the Hachette book group. One of the big five publishers in the trade space in the United States. They most recently acquired Workman last year. We know he's gonna offer an important perspective on the challenges facing the book industry over the next few years. And we're gonna follow that with the panel that I described a minute ago. We're gonna hear firsthand from our committee volunteers about how we build books better that will be followed by a conversation among three Associations about their efforts to make book publishing more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. This is a continuing challenge and opportunity for our industry. And we'll hear from the organizations that currently include AU Presses, the association of university presses and the Association of American publishers about their work. Just before lunch, we'll talk about future proofing, your work to a talent of firebrand technologies, who's a BSG board member and an active committee member is gonna look at change it as the what we described the new black, you know, with the idea that being willing and ready to adapt is the coin of the realm. And we'll try to answer three questions where do you start? How do you know what the future might look like? And will this environment ever end? So maybe we don't answer the third question.
Nicole Tomassi (07:01):
That's a lot of ground to cover.
Brian O'Leary (07:02):
He's got a half hour.
Nicole Tomassi (07:04):
He'll cover it well, I'm sure.
Brian O'Leary (07:06):
Yeah, we're efficient lunch at our meetings is really fun. We give highlights for the year or in this case, we'll probably cover some of the past three years cuz we haven't met since 2019. We'll vote for new directors in approve the budget for the coming fiscal year. And as exciting as that is, we also get to honor two people. Joe Gonella most recently with Barnes and noble with the Sally Dedecker award for lifetime service and ProQuest's Pat Payton one of BGS really most steadfast committee members will be recognized with our industry champion award. We're also planning to welcome a company as an industry innovator and stay tuned for an announcement on that. We, we wrap it up with a closing session that brings together two people who made last year's virtual meeting, a lot of fun, one your own Westchester, publishings, Tyler Carey, and kind world publishings, Patricia Stockland. And they're gonna be looking back across the day to offer a short list of ideas and initiatives that the industry can implement to improve how supply chains work. They get the last word. I mean, I think Tyler, you always wanna give him the last word. But we're also hosting a reception after the program to give old friends and new friends a chance to catch up in a somewhat less formal session.
Nicole Tomassi (08:18):
Ah, that that'll all I'm sure be very welcomed. All of it. The sessions sound very informative and I think people will come away with the great appreciation of how much ground we've actually covered in the last few years. And while there's still a lot of ground to go, it seems like we've learned some of the tools and strategies that we need to put in place to make that process go more smoothly. At least that's my hope.
Brian O'Leary (08:42):
I think so. I think so. And I I'm proud of the work that we've done, but I'm also proud of the industry as a whole and this will be a chance to celebrate both.
Nicole Tomassi (08:51):
Yeah. it should be a really great day. And to anyone who's listening who wants to register, you can click on the events tab, that's at the top of the B ISG homepage and click on annual meeting 2022. And what's really great about this, Brian is that you're opening it up to everybody. You don't necessarily need to be a member of B I S G to take part. So it's a great opportunity to see how being involved with B I S G can be a benefit for you or your company, Brian, the publishing industry, kind of like the larger society it documents has experienced so many shifts over the last few years, as we've both touched on and that can often serve as a catalyst for improvement and change. What positive changes are you seeing within the book industry?
Brian O'Leary (09:38):
It's a really great question. Nicole. You know, book publishing is the business of connecting content to markets. And I think the last few years have improved our understanding of the markets we need to reach and the communities who can create the content that those markets deserve. The pandemic has also opened our eyes to the possibilities of workflows that are not centrally maintained or, or necessarily staffed in a single location. I think we're also more aware of the areas where we fall short in serving various aspects of our community. And I feel like all of these things are both positive and I think motivating for the industry as a whole.
Nicole Tomassi (10:17):
Do you think that it's bringing in more people? I mean the trope out there, if you will, is that publishing is such a New York city and surrounding areas industry. And I think, at least I hope that people have seen over the last few years that while that's one hub, there are various areas throughout the country where publishing is very strong and maybe this remote aspect is allowing more people to come into publishing in regions that are far away from New York city. Are you seeing that?
Brian O'Leary (10:47):
We're seeing some of that. You know, I think that the hiring occurs only at the, when, when there's an opportunity, people were a little bit slow at the start of the pandemic to staff and as things have kind of become the new normal, I, I think you are seeing people more willing to, for example live with remote work or live with somebody who only comes into the office periodically for, for purposes that make sense for the, whatever the process or department is. But I think you'll see a greater expansion of that going forward. You know, there are good centers of publishing that are not in New York. You think of San Francisco, I think of Portland, Oregon, where Portland state university has a really strong master's program. You, you can also look at Canada. There, there are all these things that are really significant opportunities to engage people who otherwise see the would not be involved in book publishing or could not afford to or did just for lifestyle, do not want to live in the greater New York area. I think those are all good things and I think it will help us, particularly with respect to diversity equity and inclusion because it's, it's one of the things I think that's a roadblock if it's, if you're geographically centered.
Nicole Tomassi (11:57):
Yeah. And let's not leave out the Chicago region too. I mean, we've got source books out there and university of Chicago, there's just so much great publishing coming out of that region of the country, too.
Brian O'Leary (12:07):
Thanks for saving me. You can put in Minneapolis and and even do so it's, you're you're right. That there are just many good centers and there could be more, I don't think publishing needs to be a New York business.
Nicole Tomassi (12:21):
And, you know, with things being more remote, I guess, in a way that kind of makes things a bit sustainable too, because there's less travel involved. And it seems kind of auspicious to me, that the date chosen for the B I S G annual meeting is April 22nd, which also happens to be earth day. So I'm guessing there might have been a little intentionality around scheduling that?
Brian O'Leary (12:43):
A little bit.
Nicole Tomassi (12:44):
Okay. I, I I'm onto you. Do you have any updates about the Green Book Alliance that we had discussed the last time you were here or any other sustainability initiatives?
Brian O'Leary (12:54):
Sure. So after since in the time, since you and I last talked about it we put up a website, green book alliance.org that includes resources, studies and links of interest that we add every week. We've started a new series. We call it green supply chain journeys that ask companies five questions about their sustainability efforts. In fact, I'm out in the field right now, trying to get more companies to contribute answers that we post. Now, we're meeting every other week with book net, Canada BIC, which is book, industry communication, our UK counterpart, as well as BIC's, sustainability project manager, somebody they've hired on a contract basis and we're mapping out other project initiatives. Uone of them in particular that you'll see this year, we're developing a checklist for publishers to use in talking about sustainability with their trading partners, so that, you know, effectively the trading partners understand the questions and can give more satisfactory and hopefully more consistent answers over time.
Nicole Tomassi (13:54):
That sounds great. And we'll include a link to that website when we post this podcast up on ours. So in addition to the regular committee sessions that BISG conducts, you've also been running periodic supply chain lunch and learn sessions, curious how that's going for you guys.
Brian O'Leary (14:13):
It's actually really well. Our supply chain committee came up with that idea last fall. They wanted to push past the kind of one way webinar model which has its value, particularly when you're relatively information dense, but we wanted to push past it to engage people in conversations where they could share their own experiences, their own challenges and any solutions that they may have put in place. Obviously in a non proprietary setting. So far, we've talked about building better printer relationships. We've talked about prospects for the paper market, which are probably not as good as people would like forecasting as a topic and sourcing. And on April 19th, we're planning a conversation around inventory. These sessions are actually open to B I S G members, and non-member alike at no charge because we're really committed to fostering a conversation across the industry. We've had a lot of engagement. We probably have seen something close to 300 unique individuals participating in, even in the first four sessions.
Nicole Tomassi (15:11):
That's nice. And you know, from the webinar that Westchester did about a week before we recorded this podcast, you know, the paper is very much on the minds of publishers everywhere. And we had Jim Fetherston from Worzalla on and there was just more questions than he could possib answer, but he leaned into those points that, you know, building better relationships with your printers and getting out into, and having those discussions far earlier than publishers are traditionally used to is going to be so key to making sure that the projects get to market when you want them to get to market.
Brian O'Leary (15:52):
Yeah, and we listened to that re session and couldn't agree with more with the, the, what your panelists are telling you. It's a, it's a tough story, but it's one that we solve by cooperating and collaborating rather than just insisting that our way is best.
Nicole Tomassi (16:08):
Well, luckily this is an industry that at least to me seems like one where there's a little bit more cooperation. You know, it's a friendly competition, but you know, when the chips are down, everybody pitches in and, and cooperates for the good of the larger whole, it seems like.
Brian O'Leary (16:23):
Yeah, I think printers will tell you it's really hard to print without paper.
Nicole Tomassi (16:26):
It is, no two ways about that. So in the spirit of cooperation, people are interested in becoming more involved with B I S G what are some ways that they can do that?
Brian O'Leary (16:38):
Well, you know, we're a membership organization. So a lot of the opportunities accrue to the people who are part of the companies that have joined B I S G, but that's not the majority of the folks who might be listening to you today. We're not monolithic in how we provide access to our work. The brown bag lunch series that I just described as an example of that. So too is the contact form for submitting proposed updates to the BI subject code list. That's available on our website and open to anyone who wants to use it. You know, sometimes companies are interested in our work, but they're not quite sure they're ready to join. And we often have them sample one or more of our five committees. They meet each month on a set schedule. Most of the committee meetings are just an hour.
Brian O'Leary (17:20):
Although subject codes meets for three hours. It's more of a commitment given it's responsibility for maintaining BI subject code lists. We sometimes need subject matter expertise that isn't immediately available in membership. And when that happens, we try to find and invite folks to join us when we're talking about things they understand better than we do. And we don't put a price tag on that. We just simply say, we're trying to solve this problem. You know, I think about it this way. You know, ultimately BISG serves the industry, not just our members. And so we're offering insight into standards and best practices that benefit the supply chain as a whole. Even if you're not sure about getting involved with B, I SG your company probably needs some help solving a problem that was either created or is happening elsewhere. And that's our sweet spot. So I would invite any company today, that's struggling with a metadata problem, rights, Supply chain, subject code, or workflow issue to bring it to us. We may have an answer already. And if we don't we're often well positioned to either find or create one.
Nicole Tomassi (18:21):
Well, that sounds like a very generous software and, you know, definitely in the spirit of cooperation and for the betterment of the industry as a whole. You know, and on the flip side, there's probably people who have solutions and if they wanna share them, then it seems like an ideal forum to do so.
Brian O'Leary (18:37):
That's exactly true too. You know, I think that the there's a, a value within B I S G when you participate, but there's also we learn you know, there, there isn't a day in this role and I've been doing it now for more than five and a half years. There isn't a day in this role when I haven't learned something new. And and I it's it's to the point where I'm not surprised anymore because it's a natural part of the, the role. But I think that that, that really underscores what you've just said, which is that everybody can contribute in this industry and they often do.
Nicole Tomassi (19:12):
Brian, thank you so much again for coming on and, and sharing an update. Always good connecting with you. And I hope the annual meeting will be a success.
Brian O'Leary (19:21):
Me too. Thanks.
Nicole Tomassi (19:28):
Thank you for listening to this episode of Westchester words. If you're looking for previous episodes or want to read additional content that has been shared by some of our guests, please visit our websites. Westchester publishing services.com and Westchester education services.com for an international perspective, check out our sister podcast, Westchester words, UK and international available on the Westchester education UK website, Westchester education.co.uk, or wherever you stream podcasts. We love hearing from our listeners and welcome your emails at Westchester words at Westchester ed SV, cs.com. Tell us what you enjoy hearing on our podcast or suggest topics that we can cover in future episodes. Speaking of future episodes, I look forward to having you join us for the next episode of Westchester words, when we'll be having another engaging conversation about a topic of interest to the education, ed tech and publishing communities until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.