Thriving on Chaos

Posted By: Brian F. O'Leary Announcements,

Last month, BISG announced "Transforming Supply Chain Communication" as the theme of its 2023 Annual Meeting, scheduled to take place in New York on April 28. Since that time, we've been working to develop the program, which will include Scholastic SVP Kevin Spall as its closing keynote. Spall's talk, "Thriving on Chaos (Just With Less Chaos)", will follow a morning of programming focused on ways the U.S. book industry can update its approach to sending information and tracking results across the supply chain.

"Thriving on chaos" is a good way to close a meeting dedicated to re-examining how we operate as an industry. When it comes to supply chains, the last three years have redefined "normal", and there aren't many signs that we're headed back to simpler times. Even qualifiers like "the new normal" don't quite capture where we are now. Maybe we can call it "the uncharted normal".

To make sense of the uncharted, we're planning a morning with four overlapping sessions. The day begins with a report out from BISG's Forecasting Project, started last fall and operating now as part of our brown-bag lunch series.

Forecasting market demand for books is a key challenge for publishers looking to lower costs and/or improve availability of books in the marketplace. Over the past year, BISG has worked to develop a forecasting model that helps publishers and their printers determine the quantity and timing of book printings. The model considers overall marketplace demand, the time required to supply printed books, as well as inventory management and returns. Project participants will review this effort, discuss the process of forecasting, and offer key insights that will guide the industry going forward.

We'll follow that up with an assessment of Changes Needed in the Data Stack. Supply chain efficiency is imperiled by many gaps in the book industry data that passes from publishers to manufacturers, distributors, retailers and libraries. Outgoing information isn’t updated or tied to results, and there is no single source of truth. Nor are there standards for workflow or rights. In cases where there is a standard – such as ONIX for metadata - different versions are created for different recipients. Trying to get everyone on one system hasn’t worked, so what’s the solution? This panel will explore potential changes in the data stack, from creating a role for metadata distributors of record to using more API-driven data across the supply chain.

After a break, we'll extend the discussion to look at Changes Needed in the Tech Stack. Publishers’ tools for providing, managing and retrieving supply chain data were created in the 1970s and 1980s. While they have been adapted many times over the last 35 years, it’s less clear that these tools still serve their purpose. Most communication runs in a single direction; retailers’ point of sales systems don’t aggregate data in a consistent way; sales reporting is done using spreadsheets that struggle to keep up with the business models used to sell physical and digital books; and rights communications vary across markets and partners. This panel will explore alternatives for improving timeliness, completeness, and transparency of communication across the supply chain, including two-way communication about publishers’ sales and inventory data models, and minimum standards for communicating about rights and royalties (including the elusive promise of no more faxes and PDFs!).

We'll close out the morning by asking How Do We Get There? Transforming communications across the supply chain can feel like a daunting task. The good news is that other markets can help us find a way. In Canada, the U.K., Germany and elsewhere, the supply chains put more information in everyone’s hands. How have they achieved things that we’re still struggling to do in the U.S.? What incremental changes have been most helpful to their efforts over the long term? This panel aims to offer a road map for IT investments within companies and across the book publishing industry.

At lunch, BISG will ask its members to approve the FY2024 budget and elect a new set of board members whose terms will start in July. We'll also recognize three honorees with the Sally Dedecker Award for Lifetime Service, BISG's Industry Champion Award, and BISG's Industry Innovator Award. Look for annoucements about each of those in the next few weeks.

Kevin Spall's talk will close out the annual meeting, offering a path forward for an industry that wants "the uncharted normal" to feel at least a little less chaotic. Spall's perspective is drawn from leadership roles across multiple parts of the industry. You can expect some of his talk to reassure - we've successfully dealt with change before, after all. He'll also talk about what we need to do now, next, and down the road to make sure that the uncharted normal becomes more manageably charted.

In 2022, we introduced a post-meeting reception to bring people together after the formal meeting wraps. It was a huge success, and we're bringing it back in 2023. At the reception, participants will have a chance to talk directly with speakers, connect with colleagues, and meet people who share an interest in transforming supply chain communication.

Registration is open now. We've also published the full agenda, which includes information on the several speakers we've confirmed for the meeting. More will be added shortly, but early-bird pricing is set to end on March 17. Anyone with questions is encouraged to reach out to us at