Season 3, Episode 6
Brian O'Leary, Executive Director, Book Industry Study Group (BISG)
Brian O'Leary returns to the Westchester Words podcast to tell us about all of the new projects BISG has been working on, how the organization provides information of value to companies and individuals throughout the publishing industry supply chain, and previews the topics and speakers for the Annual Meeting in April.
Read the transcript:
[00:06] Nicole Tomassi: Welcome to Westchester Words, Education, Ed. Tech and Publishing.
[00:10] Nicole Tomassi: I'm Nicole Tomassi and in this episode, I am pleased to welcome back Brian O'Leary of BISG, Book Industry Study Group to talk about all the things that are happening over at the organization. Brian, it's great to welcome you back again.
[00:24] Brian O'Leary: Nicole, it's great to see you again.
[00:26] Nicole Tomassi: I feel like this is becoming a bit of an annual ritual. We get together roughly sometime in February and we kind of have a catch up on everything that BISG is doing. I'm glad that we can do it once again this year. Do you want to give us the top level view of what has been happening over at BISG?
[00:43] Brian O'Leary: Sure. So we set goals for the year, typically in the fourth quarter of the prior year. Our fiscal year is a little bit different, but our planning year is the calendar. We have five standing committees and we spent much of the time in October and November kind of looking at what industry trends were really significant, what kinds of things we wanted to work on. So in metadata, supply chain workflow in particular, we've kind of got a game plan for tackling new issues in 2023 that are more or less integrated with one another, actually thinking about it for our annual meeting, it's going to come up in a couple of months as well. And BISAC, the Subject Codes Committee has already put together – it started in October – put together a game plan for an update that will be released later this year.
[01:33] Nicole Tomassi: Well, it sounds like you have a lot on your plate to do over the next 9-10 months of 2023, but I actually want to kind of reach back a little bit. towards the end of 2022. You guys launched a very refreshed, revamped website. Would you like to talk about that?
[01:50] Brian O'Leary: Sure. So, our membership system is driven by a software now called Novi AMS. We moved from its predecessor to Novi in mid-December and coincident with that, we used it as an opportunity to reconsider what our website was all about. In the last several years, it's been the case that BISG has really focused probably half of its resources on supporting and extending the reach of our committee work. Those five standing committees that I mentioned a moment ago and I think the thing that really stood out for us was that we weren't really showcasing on the website as much of that work as we could have. So, we revamped the website to include a refreshed BISAC subject code section, an entirely new approach to how we do committees. So, each committee gets its own landing page pointing out to a variety of different resources as well as summarizing the work that it does. We focused kind of on making a better argument for membership, both for organizations as well as for individuals. In many ways, we're an organization's best option for cost effective training in a variety of different subjects, things like rights, metadata and workflow. And then we we also revamped our research and product categories so that it's a lot easier, we feel now to find what you need that was coincident with a reconsideration of our brand. We had a logo in place for about 15 years and all of our most recent logos, probably dating back 25 years or more, had a physical book as a metaphor and we felt that that needed a rethink. Not because the physical book is not important, just the opposite. It still represents probably 75% to 80% of sales in the US market but because BISG does much more than just the things that are tied to a physical product. So, we have a new logo, new logo type and the website also has a consistent design throughout that we find is more readable and more accessible.
[03:51] Nicole Tomassi: I would have to agree with you because I went to all different areas of the site when it went live, and I just find it very easy to navigate, very user friendly, and I think it brings a lot of value to companies that are members as well as individuals within those companies or individuals who are just needing to access certain parts of the site. So job well done.
[04:12] Brian O'Leary: Well, thank you for that. And it is important for us to provide effective member service but it also is important for us to uplift the supply chain as a whole for book publishing. Certainly organizations that join BISG, they get a seat at the table and they have an opportunity to invest in their staff. Both of those things are really important these days. But the staff members, the individuals who are part of BISG, they get together every month. The thing about the committees is we have five of those meetings every month, so 60 across the year, plus about three dozen webinars and events. Those are close to 100 different opportunities to engage with colleagues and friends on topics and conversations that are important to how the industry operates and that gives folks a chance to stay on top of both industry changes and their own careers. Those are good things, I think.
[05:04] Nicole Tomassi: I think they're great things and they do add a lot of value to what I think is a pretty reasonable price for being a member, whether as an individual or as a company. Wondering if maybe you could give a preview of some of the webinars and some of the lunch and learns that might be coming up in the next several weeks that people can avail themselves of.
[05:24] Brian O'Leary: Sure. So kind of our premier every month thing right now is what we call the Supply Chain Brown Bag lunch and it's typically the first Tuesday of each month. We're currently focused on a forecasting project where we looked initially in February of the meeting that's already passed at opportunities to better model demand planning, meaning forecasting orders for publishers this coming month. In March, we're going to look at supply planning, how do you organize the information you have or how many orders you're going to have, and turn it into a production plan that printers and other manufacturers can support. And then in April, we'll wrap that series up, or that part of the series up with a kind of a combined thing and identify some takeaways for book publishers. We've been fortunate for that particular series to get participation from both Princeton University Press and Sourcebooks, who are contributing some of their real data so that we can identify some opportunities for them to both do things more efficiently and perhaps maybe to highlight some of their best practices that are helping them compete in the current environment. We've been doing a variety of things in workflow and metadata. Coming up on I think March 8 is essentially metadata best practices on use of ONIX. And we'll be doing on March 22 a webinar on indexing, probably a topic that's near and dear to folks at Westchester. Essentially what indexers wish publishers knew. We’re going to hear from a couple of indexers who are affiliated with the American Society of Indexing and have them talk us through not just the arguments for an index, but some best practices on how to work with those folks. So, you can sort of get the sense that we're in a lot of different places, and it's fun indeed.
[07:18] Nicole Tomassi: The session with Princeton and Sourcebooks, that sounds really interesting since it will be using real time data and walking people through it. So, the Brown Bag Lunch, those are available to anybody regardless of membership in BISG, right?
[07:33] Brian O'Leary: Yeah, actually all the webinars that I've mentioned are open right now to anyone without charge. We are giving some thought to charging maybe in the second half of the year if you're not a member, but probably not for the brown bag lunches. The reason is that we want to foster a conversation within the supply chain and across the industry over better practices for things like forecasting, paper management, inventory and the like. We don't want to put up a hurdle in front of that, at least not at this point. There's always a tension with a membership driven organization like the Book Industry Study Group to provide value for membership in a really clear way. But you also want to change how the industry works because that improves the situation for members as well as for the industry.
[08:19] Nicole Tomassi: Well, I guess one of the value props in a way of the Brown Bag lunch is that you don't record those sessions so that it will foster that necessary conversation about how, as an industry, we can improve and move things forward for the benefit of all.
[08:34] Brian O'Leary: Yeah, all the other sessions typically are recorded and then they're later posted on our YouTube channel. With the new website we're looking at bringing some of those in house or all of those in house, perhaps, but they're still currently used on YouTube. But we felt like the brown bag lunches themselves, people may be asking questions that they feel are a little bit out of bounds, or maybe they don't put them in the best possible light and we wanted to make sure that everybody felt comfortable doing that. So we haven't recorded them. We haven't generally done anything with attribution within them. That's what we do in committee. This is a conversation among colleagues and friends to just talk about issues and opportunities that are before us on a variety of different supply chain related topics.
[09:21] Nicole Tomassi: I think it strikes a really good balance between the stuff that is recorded and may eventually be behind a members-only access versus what's available to anybody. So kind of on the members only pathway. The BISG annual meeting is going to be coming up soon. If my calendar is right.
[09:40] Brian O'Leary: I can. It's scheduled for April 28 from about 830 in the morning till 230 in the afternoon, followed by a reception that was extremely popular last year. It's actually not members only. There is a higher price for nonmembers that's $100 more than the member price, but it's open to anyone who's interested in the topic, which is thematically it's going to be on transforming supply chain communication. Our interest is in talking about four things in the morning, followed by a closing keynote. The four things in the morning will be a report out on the forecasting project I just described. We think we're going to have some lessons to be learned and it will be a good way to kick off the day. The second and third sessions will be looking at opportunities to update what we call the data stack in book publishing, how data moves across the industry. And then the third session, updating the tech stack. What tools and resources do we use to get information both out to the balance of the industry and then back on things like sales reporting. And then the last session before we go to lunch and the annual meeting itself, where we elect officers and approve the budget, will be a conversation about how do we move forward from here, what can we, as an industry do, what can we learn from other countries that have done things in different ways? I think particularly about Canada, the UK, Germany, as well as some other smaller markets like Norway. So, there are good models there, they're good analogs. And I think that we'll have a lot of fun having that conversation on the morning. And then after lunch, we'll come back for a keynote from Kevin Spall, who's Senior Vice President of Global procurement at Scholastic. And Kevin is going to be giving a talk that we're currently calling Thriving on Chaos, just with Less Chaos. And I think Kevin is going to bring his own unique perspective. He served as a senior executive, as CEO of a major printer as well as his current role at Scholastic to talk about things that the industry can do, to recognize that the current environment is going to remain turbulent, but we don't have to necessarily be reacting in the same way.
[11:58] Nicole Tomassi: Oh, my goodness. He certainly has probably drawn a lot on his experience over the past couple of years from being at that printer with everything that the industry has gone through in terms of paper and sourcing and printing. So probably the perfect person to helm that keynote.
[12:16] Brian O'Leary: Yeah. I mean not everybody knows Kevin. He's certainly been a real supporter for BISG in general and for the industry. He's very active as well in the Book Manufacturers Institute BMI, both with his historical affiliation and his current interest as a publisher. But I think he'll bring a really fresh and clear-eyed perspective to the conversation and it'll be a great way to close up the day before we go have a cocktail.
[12:42] Nicole Tomassi: I like the way you think, Mr. O'Leary. No, it's funny because I had no idea that you had all these plans. But I guess it's something in the air, if you will, because we're doing a webinar with Publishers Weekly about a month before your annual meeting, and it's again addressing how to publish in a market that's changing with the shift to better forecasting of what you need in terms of paper and printing. Book distribution models are changing too, because formats that customers want, those are shifting around and the need for more digital products and in more accessible ways to meet changing guidelines. So, it seems like there's just something out there about you know, navigating through this turbulent time, hopefully with a little less chaos and being ready for what's on the horizon.
[13:32] Brian O'Leary: Well, I do think that there is an atmosphere that we need to rethink how the industry operates. One of the things that was clear coming out of the pandemic was that the old rules were at least being severely tested. In some cases, they were found wanting. That's what we'll talk about at the annual meeting. We won't solve the problems on April 28, but I think we can summarize the work that we've been doing over the course of the last year and a half, two years, certainly during and then coming out of the pandemic. Hopefully that will set the stage for continued conversations that I think will happen over the next two and a half to three and a half years. I mean, it's this is not a one time, have a meeting, get it done. This is really the beginning of a much longer and broader conversation about changing how we operate as an industry.
[14:24] Nicole Tomassi: Definitely. Kind of in line with that, you were sharing with me before we started recording that you're about to head overseas on what sounds to me like a really interesting trip. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
[14:38] Brian O'Leary: Sure. So every year we go to the book fairs in London and Frankfurt and represent the US market at international Steering committee meetings for standards like ONIX and Thema and one called Editext that we'll also be talking about at the annual meeting. And in the course of that we have met people like Andrew Joseph who is at Wits University Press in South Africa. The South African market is looking to implement ONIX in its supply chain. It currently is doing it in a variety of ad hoc ways that creates problems for them in a couple of different ways. One is the overall efficiency and accuracy of metadata within the South African market. But also, not being able to supply on its data out of the South African market means it makes it much harder for them to compete and offer products in global markets like the United States. So, they have a real interest in adopting that. And they've invited Graham Bell, who runs Editor, the organization responsible for ONIX and me. As a national body, we represent the US interests relative to ONIX, Thema, and other standards to talk about our experiences and to share what we think are at least, if not best practices, at least some learnings that we've had about things that work and stuff want to try to avoid, if you can, in implementing a national governing body for use and implementation of metadata.
[16:08] Nicole Tomassi: Well, that should be a very productive and fun trip, too. South Africa is definitely a place I want to check off on my bucket list, so I'll be waiting to hear how that went.
[16:17] Brian O'Leary: Thanks. I'll be sure to bring you some pictures and a full report, but a big chunk of it. It's a long way to go, but it's also a long way for South Africa to come to us. So their invitation was really kind and well received and I'm hoping that the week will be of high value for everybody who's participating. My sense is that there's something in the range of 50 different publishers that are going to be part of the conversations next week.
[16:47] Nicole Tomassi: Wow, that should be pretty exciting. I hope you have a great trip. Seriously.
[16:52] Brian O'Leary: Thank you, I appreciate it. Looking forward to it.
[16:56] Nicole Tomassi: And then will you be heading out to London Book Fair in April? Is that on the agenda too?
[17:02] Brian O'Leary: Yes, you will see us in London. Both Jonathan Fiedler, our operations manager, and I will be there. We'll be juggling responsibilities for attendance at the various Steering Committee meetings that address the international standards. But we also have a stand, a booth on the mezzanine level that it will be right next door to the ones for BIC, The Book Industry Communication, our Patriot organization based in the UK, as well as Editur, and on Tuesday and Wednesday of the book fair we also have a magician who will make appearances during the course of the day. So, if you're feeling like you need a little bit of a pick me up or a reason to just take a break from a series of meetings at the book fair. You're welcome to stop by our booth and the magician will at least entertain you for a few minutes.
[17:55] Nicole Tomassi: Is he going to conjure up better book sales for everybody?
[17:59] Brian O'Leary: That's our charge to him. We said unless he can deliver at least that amount in increased book sales, we're not going to have him back.
[18:07] Nicole Tomassi: Well, we'll see how good a magician he is, won’t we?
[18:09] Brian O'Leary: We did it for one day last year and it was quite popular and people came back on Wednesday and wanted to know why we didn't have him back. And we said, well, we weren't quite sure how many people would be interested in it. The answer is quite a bit. So it's a good way for us to reconnect with our friends and introduce BISG to some new folks as well.
[18:29] Nicole Tomassi: Sounds like it. Well, I guess at least he has a gig for one more year with you guys. And if he conjures up those book sales, who knows? Sky is the limit, right?
[18:39] Brian O'Leary: Fingers crossed.
[18:40] Nicole Tomassi: Yes, fingers crossed all the way around. Brian, anything else you'd like to share before we wrap things up?
[18:46] Brian O'Leary: No. I want to say thank you very much to Westchester, for both for having me and for being such a strong supporter of the work that BISG does. The website work that I talked a little bit about. You were kind enough, along with a colleague, to kind of give me your perspective on a similar update that Westchester went through before we did. And the advice was fantastic and it kept me sane at a time when we thought every detail seemed to have more meaning than the last. I appreciate that.
[19:17] Nicole Tomassi: Well, thank you very much, because as a marketing manager, I'm not generally known as providing sanity and calm. I'm happy I could be a beacon of common sanity for somebody.
[19:27] Brian O'Leary: You certainly were.
[19:28] Nicole Tomassi: Thank you. Well, I very much appreciate it, and we value all the information and knowledge that we gain from being a member of BISG, so I think it's a mutually beneficial relationship between the two companies. So, I want to thank you, Brian, once again, for coming on to Westchester Words and telling us what's been going on with BISG. Sounds like it's all good and onwards and upwards from here with South Africa, London and magicians and all kinds of good stuff.
[19:55] Brian O'Leary: Yes. Thank you. I appreciate it.
[20:04] Nicole Tomassi: 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 westchesterpublishingservices.com and westchestereducationservices.com. For an international perspective, check out our sister podcast, Westchester Words UK and International, available on the Westchester education UK website, westchestereducation.co.uk or wherever you stream podcasts. We love hearing from our listeners and welcome your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us what you enjoy hearing on.
[20:46] Nicole Tomassi: Our podcast or suggest topics that we.
[20:48] Nicole Tomassi: 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.