by Deb Taylor, Director, Business Development & Marketing
A newcomer’s view from the BISG Annual Meeting
OOOH, I was going to see people without a Zoom frame! Did I remember how to do this? It’s been a minute.
It was Friday, April 22. 7:10AM and I was headed to The Harvard Club for the BISG Annual Meeting of Members, focused on how to Build Books Better. The world has changed quite a bit over the last 2 years, including the publishing industry, right? I was eager to hear what the BISG members had to say about all that and more.
“Is it ever going to end?”
I listened as attendees commiserated about how the publishing industry seemed to be in an endless state of transformation and change. As the BISG members know, and will likely be the first to tell you, the publishing industry is never static. It is always changing. Sometimes due to things outside of its control, or slower in areas than some would like, but as a whole, this industry is one that evolves to meet the changing demands of time.
One thing that does not change, though, is the focus of BISG members to develop better ways to do things, to help the industry move forward to face those new demands, whatever they may be.
I want to focus on the word “develop” for a minute. Develop is associated with change, improvement, and growth, such as developing green buildings, or in technology, developing new platforms, sustainable methodologies or automated processes. Innovation and developing often go together, but are typically not the first words that someone outside of publishing will use to describe the publishing industry. Well, the BISG committee chairs definitely had something to say about that misperception. Rachel Comerford (Macmillan Learning), BISG Workflow Committee Chair, shared that it’s time to start thinking about publishing as a technology industry.
I couldn’t agree more.
While digital workflows may seem like they’ve solved many of the biggest technology needs, there are still areas where many siloed, manual practices are still in play. I have to admit, I was surprised to hear about the challenges that Kris Kliemann (Kliemann & Company), the BISG Rights Committee Chair, discussed around researching and managing rights and permissions. There seems to be room for a bit of innovation there, and she definitely wants to see that the processes (so many people! so many steps!) for securing (and paying for) rights and permissions become more of a self-serve, web-based, intuitive experience.
There was a general consensus that publishers should be adopting a born accessible approach to their titles, too. This approach not only expands readership, but also lowers costs and reduces waste. It is, as most nodding heads appeared to agree, the right thing to do.
Which brings me to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). This is something that I am very passionate about and engaged in both personally and professionally. I am grateful and proud of the corporate commitment Westchester has made to DEI, and the work we do helping publishers produce content that is culturally responsive. As a white, middle-age professional woman who resides in the NYC suburbs (and also serves as a Board of Education trustee), I am starting to realize and address my biases, recognize my position of privilege and influence, and am learning how I can help elevate those who are marginalized. Key words here are “starting”, “recognizing” and “learning” as this is not easy, or comfortable. I was, literally, on the edge of my seat for the entire conversation led by Peter Berkery (Executive Director, Asoociation of University Presses), Shelley Husband (SVP, Government Affairs and Special Projects, Association of American Publishers) and Allison Hill (CEO, American Booksellers Association), as I was eager to hear how this historically and predominantly white industry was going to learn about DEI and facilitate change within the space.
The good news is that there is a lot of great work starting to take place, including bylaw changes requiring a diversified Board of Directors, publishers seeking out more BIPOC authors, DEI leadership positions being added, along with fellowship programs that enable BIPOC students to learn about the publishing profession and ideally land permanent positions in scholarly publishing houses.
What added to the authenticity of this conversation, was the recognition of the multiple failures and stumbles that have taken place. Peter Berkery talked about the low retention with the first round of fellows, and how the work with this program cannot end with placement. Supports and mentoring need to be established in order for these new fellows, who are landing in a company where they do not see colleagues or managers who look like them, to feel safe, confident and empowered to contribute and advance their careers. This includes training and resources for existing employees to learn about and manage their own biases and microaggressions too. Allison Hill made the point that mistakes will continue to happen, and that it is imperative to not only learn from them, but to keep on the journey. It is imperative for all of us, to be transparent, accept failure, build bridges, and most importantly, insist and persist, for a better publishing industry.
A Lifetime or Two
I expected that a publishing meeting would include a good story or two, and I wasn’t disappointed. By the looks of the attendees – they weren’t disappointed either. Tom Clarkson started off the award ceremony taking us with him as he shared his lifelong journey in the publishing space and how his career intersected with Joe Gonnella, who received the Sally Dedecker Award for Lifetime Service. Joe continued to hold our attention with his own experiences and lifetime of amazing accomplishments. Two additional awards were also presented, the Industry Champion Award to Pat Payton of ProQuest and the Industry Innovator Award to Wattpad. It was certainly a wonderful way to end a meaningful and valuable meeting of the BISG members.
One last word about BISG. All the committee chairs shared their continuing commitment to provide invaluable resources through webinars, best practice guides, brown bag (virtual) lunch roundtables, and more over this next year, to help break down siloes of knowledge and expand the capabilities for all publishers to build books better. The invites to participate in their virtual sessions were warm, authentic and encouraging, giving full permission to just “lurk”. I’m going to take them up on that.
Learn more about BISG’s programs, committees and other ways to become involved.