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Of Trends and Technology: What Does BISG Mean to “The Rest of Us”?

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by Florrie Binford Kichler

Of Trends and Technology: What Does BISG Mean to “The Rest of Us”?

Next time you turn a book over and see “Science Fiction” on the cover, thank the Book Industry Study Group for establishing the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) Subject Heading code that prevents a new sci-fi thriller entitled From Another Planet from being shelved in the Astronomy section of the bookstore or library.

In 1999, a groundbreaking report entitled The Rest of Us pointed out for the first time the impact of independent publishing on the industry. Thank your association and the Book Industry Study Group, which partnered in shining the spotlight on the economic muscle of independent publishers.

Wish you had a crystal ball and could see into the industry’s future? Thank the Book Industry Study Group for producing a yearly edition of Book Industry TRENDS that provides projections for unit and dollar sales in various categories and sales channels.

What Is BISG?

The Book Industry Study Group was begun in the mid-1970s to address the need for book industry information and research. Some of the issues it has looked at—with published results over the past 30-plus years—include book distribution, nontraditional sales channels, and African-American book buyers.

BISG partnered once again with PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, and others to produce the recent study Used Book Sales, which presented the startling fact that, in 2004, sales of used books represented 8.4 percent of total consumer spending on books—a whopping $2.2 billion, including $609 million in online sales. I leave you to predict how that spending has grown in the last three years.

One of the most significant BISG publications for the independent publisher was Under the Radar, the groundbreaking industry study that quantified the sales of thousands of smaller and midsize publishers that had never been counted in previous industry sales figures. Lest you ever doubt the power of the independent publisher, read Under the Radar, and you will learn that, of a total of approximately $27 billion in revenue for all book publishers in 2004, smaller and independent book publishers accounted for approximately $14.2 billion. Today, sales figures for books from small and midsize publishers are an integral part of Book Industry TRENDS totals.

Jan Nathan, as executive director of PMA, was elected to a seat on the BISG board of directors in 1997 and became its treasurer in 2002. We owe Jan and Judith Appelbaum, PMA Independent editor and BISG Publications Committee chair, our thanks for working diligently as BISG board members to bring the independent publisher within radar range in the arena of book industry research.

Of Codes—Bar and Subject

No bar code, no sale. For more than three decades, BISG has been at the technological forefront where bar codes are concerned. The efficient movement of books through all sales channels is enabled by the bar code, which has become as critical to the one-book publisher as to the huge conglomerate. Due to BISG’s efforts, those little lines and numbers at the bottom of our back covers are a book industry standard and the grease that keeps the wheels of distribution and sales channels humming.

From Antiques and Collectibles to True Crime, the more than 40 BISAC Major Subject Headings and hundreds and hundreds of subheadings help make your book unique. The appropriate category listed on your books’ back covers helps bookstores and online databases know where to shelve (and list) each title, eliminating guesswork that might doom your adult fiction novel to languish in the self-help section. Visit www.bisg.org and you will find a complete list of subject headings ready for your use at no charge.

Coming Up

As president of your association, I will be your representative at BISG meetings and will keep you informed of future activities. Following are just two of the many initiatives the BISG board is working on now—and what they mean to you:

Developing digital standards. A hot topic indeed, and one that affects all of us, is management of the online sale and delivery of content. A variety of rules and proprietary systems hamper the cost-efficiency and effective distribution of online book content. The Digital Standards Committee is charged with finding solutions and developing standards that will help publishers, retailers, and wholesalers alike by “improving the process by which online book content reaches consumers.”

Going green. Preserves the planet for future generations. Working with the Green Press Initiative and a number of industry sponsors, BISG is producing a pioneering survey that will measure the environmental impact of the U.S. book industry by “establishing a baseline for tracking climate impacts and progress by the U.S. book industry in environmental improvements.” You can learn more by visiting www.bisg.org and clicking on “Publications.”

Incidentally, your association has signed the Green Press Initiative’s Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use along with hundreds of publishers, printers, and associations. I invite you to consider adding your company to the list at www.greenpressinitiative.com.

Your association represents the voice of independent publishers, and it’s important that that voice resonate beyond the boundaries of our organization. Sitting at the table with the best and brightest (and biggest) in our industry is where we belong—helping create benchmarks that benefit our industry as a whole, and advance our organization’s mission to “improve the standards of independent publishing.”

My virtual door is always open. Please share your comments, thoughts, and ideas by emailing me at fkichler@patriapress.com.



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