"Making the industry’s life easier"

Posted By: Phil Madans Announcements, Committees,

On April 28, BISG presented Phil Madans with its Industry Champion Award, given annually to an individual whose efforts have advanced the publishing industry as a whole. Phil's remarks on receiving the award captured both why people volunteer to work at BISG, as well as how critical their contributions are in moving the industry forward. He was introduced by Angela Bole, who in the early 2000s became BISG's first staff member. Phil agreed to share his thoughts, offered in this post.

Thank you Angela for that lovely introduction.  I am very touched and very embarrassed. Working with you and getting to know you during your time here at BISG was a joy. The work you led at BISG and the work we did together are a big reason why I am standing here today. So thank you and congrats on your new gig at Firebrand. The best part is that we will be working together again.

And thank you to Brian and the BISG Board for this recognition. I am thrilled and honored to be included in the roster of BISG Industry Champions. Thank you to my Hachette Book Group colleagues for their support here today, and every day, and to all my colleagues who give their time and energy to BISG committee work. Hachette’s long-standing commitment to BISG and many, many other industry organizations is a source of great pride to all of us.  And of course, thank you to all of the incredible people I have met and worked with at BISG over the years, who helped me and taught me so much. I always say that whatever I have contributed to BISG pales in comparison to what I have taken away.  

I also want to thank my family – my lovely wife, Laura, who is here today and our children GiIlian and Michael, and our future daughter-in-law Nicole.  Laura is my soulmate, best friend–and chief acceptance speech editor,  and has valiantly listened to my rants about this business during our 34 years together.  I don’t know how many times she has heard me say,” That’s it. I’m done!”  But she’s always patiently talked me down. And I’m grateful for that.

In truth, I haven’t stuck around publishing for 40 years because I enjoy aggravation. I’ve done so because I love helping to bring new books into the world. I am a life-long reader and book lover.  And I can think of no better way to spend my professional life. I love this industry and am proud to be part of it. And proud that this industry always stands up, as it is doing today, to any and all who threaten to take our books away from us and our children, our bookstores, our libraries, and our schools. More power to it.

When Brian let me know I would be getting this award and that I would be making this speech, he suggested I reflect back on why I got so involved in BISG and what it means to me. In order to do that I have to go back into some of my history in publishing. 

When I was younger, I only thought about getting into this business as a published author. That was my goal. I had just gotten an MFA in creative writing, and since I could go no further academically with that, I had to get a real job to support myself and my writing. The MFA qualified me for two options: teaching college English or going into publishing. It was a tough teaching market that year and, frankly, in publishing I could get more free books. Laurie Stark, whom many of you know from her many contributions to BISG, was the Managing Editor of Crown at the time, and she hired me as her editorial assistant. Laurie, if you are listening out there, thank you for giving me my start. Without you, I wouldn’t be standing here today. 

It was at Crown that I first got interested in technology and really started down what would become my career path. Part of my job, back in 1983 was to create, update and maintain Crown’s publication schedule. I did this work on an IBM Selectric typewriter along with a pair of scissors, scotch tape and white out. When books moved pub months or list positions, I would literally cut them out of one section of the list and paste them into another section. 

Pub schedules were considered the bible within the company. They held the information that was entered into the mainframe systems, that went into catalogs, title cards, jacket, advertisements, and other sales and marketing materials. Keeping this schedule up to date was painstaking work. It had to be right. 

By the way, this was my first experience with metadata management, although I wouldn’t use that term for many years afterward. And it also struck me much later on that this pub schedule was in actuality a title management system. An analog system to be sure but a title management system nonetheless. My first of many.

And then Crown crawled into the digital age. One day a brand-new word-processing system was delivered to Crown. It was about the size of an ice cream freezer, had dual 8” floppies, 16k of ram and a tiny monochrome character-based monitor. The attached printer sounded like a car with major transmission problems. It changed my life.

That word processor got my work done in a fraction of the time.  It was a revelation. It was like the discovery of fire and the wheel all rolled into one. Technology had freed me from that dreaded arts and crafts project.  It made my life easier. I saw the promise. I was hooked and never looked back. From then on, in whatever position I’ve held, I’ve looked for opportunities for technology to make my life easier still, and to help others do the same.  

The most important lesson I learned along the way: It takes a whole lot of very hard work to make your life easier. But it is worth it. 

After I was volunteered to join BISG by the company– a story in itself – it didn’t take long for me to realize that BISG was a kindred spirit. BISG is in the business of making life easier. Whether we’re talking EDI, or bar codes, or ISBN-13, or metadata, ONIX, or identifying digital products, BISAC and other subject categories, work identifiers, name identifiers, rights, manufacturing, shipping label standards, strict on sale policies, ePub, fixed layout format ebooks, accessibility, workflow, and more–I’m sure I’m leaving things out. BISG is dedicated to making the industry’s life easier–and better. It is a lot of very hard work by a lot of very smart and dedicated people, but it is SO worth it. 

BISG can do that work because all sectors of this industry are represented.  In an industry of this size and scope you can only solve problems if you can understand them from all viewpoints. Otherwise, you end up with partial solutions, and that doesn’t work. At BISG, not only can we learn what each sector does and how each sector works, but, and I think, more importantly, why each sector operates the way it does. You must know the why before you can come up with any solution that will work and last, a solution that will keep all of the links on the supply chain connected and working together. 

It is this industry-wide perspective that has kept me working in this organization all of these years. It is the way.

As you heard this morning, there is work to be done. We have the foundation to be sure. We have robust standards. The supply chain chugs along. Communication happens. And thank goodness for that. Can you imagine what would have happened to this industry during the pandemic if we did not have that framework in place? Would we even have an industry? 

Thanks to the work of organizations like BISG, EDItEUR, ISO, NISO, the W3C, libraries and others, we survived, even thrived.  We thought up creative new ways to market our books digitally and keep the supply chain moving, and we gained new skills in doing so.  We set off in new directions, which we continue to explore. And which we need to continue to support and improve.

We were also made very aware of the flaws that need to be addressed.  We know what needs improvement.  That is what this morning was about. How we can become less wasteful, faster, more effective. How we can get more books into the hands of more readers.

How do we get there?  We start right here at BISG. What you heard this morning was how interdependent all aspects of this business have become. We are all in this together now and we need to work together. All of us: IT, operations, “the business.” We are all in the same “business”. We can’t separate IT and the supply chain from Publishing and Editorial as we did in the days of mainframes and paper pub schedules.  Where we are siloed, we need to tear those silos down.  Yes, I say tear them down Mr. O’Leary! Tear them down!

As someone who has been involved in metadata my entire career, it won’t be surprising when I say it all comes back to the data–that same metadata I typed onto those pub schedules 40 years ago, plus a lot more added since. We must treat data as the essential business asset that it is. Data is how every link in the supply chain is connected, right down to the end consumer. The data, first of all, must exist, it must be there, and it must be accurate. That’s why we have standards, and that’s what standards are for: for clear unencumbered communication. But standards must be used and respected, so that everyone is speaking the same language. 

If you are wondering why I am carrying on like this, well, I’m trying to champion the industry here. Because it is going to take more than one industry champion to get this work done.  We need everyone to be industry champions. Now to me, everyone in this room is already an industry champion, because you are here today.  We need you.  We need everyone on board. 

If you ask how you can get started with any of the topics covered today or any BISG work, join the committees, take advantage of BISG’s extensive educational events and webinars, reach out to the committee chairs and members, reach out to Brian or me. One thing you’ll notice about a lot of us, we really like to talk about this stuff.

I once read a definition of a standards organization as being a group of smart people sitting around arguing. That’s true. But, you know, an  argument now and then can be very good for the soul. 

So thank you again for this award and being here today as fellow industry champions. And thanks again to Angela, and her co-conspirator, Nick Rourke and everyone who contributed those lovely thoughts. I will never forget it. And one more thanks to our industry champion in chief, Brian O’Leary, thank you.

Phil's remarks, as well as those of other honorees, can be heard directly at this link, which offers a recording of the award presentations and acceptances.