2008 Publishing Business Conference And Expo

I finally made it to a worthwhile publishing conference. I've written in the past about my ideal publishing conference, and I've attended a number of publishing industry shows that were a complete waste of time for me. I'm not in the market for a million dollar printer, offshore outsourcing or integrated inventory and contact management software. The only thing I want from a publishing event is information, and I'm always prepared to give in anticipation of receiving. That and I have a big mouth:-)

The 2008 Publishing Business Conference And Expo in New York City was a show I'd never been to before, put on by Publishing Executive and Book Business magazines. Thanks to a rare schedule conflict, I only made it in for a half a day, the second afternoon of the conference, but what I saw was enough to make me want to return. The mix of attendees was excellent, ranging from small publishers to large trade publishers, consultants, and people seriously involved in book production. The floor show was primarily taken up by printers and binders, many of whom catered to smaller publishers, or at least smaller print runs.

I only had time to sit in two sessions, but both were worthwhile. The first was titled "Digital Strategies: Getting the Most Bang for your Buck" with Laura Dawson presenting. Laura publishes The Big Picture newsletter, and showed an expertise in book industry systems. A good deal of the discussion turned on the practical application of ISBNs to ebooks, with the current industry position coming down on the side of assigning an ISBN to any text that a publisher wants cataloged for sale. I got involved in the discussion (from the floor) pointing out that Amazon offers a work around and reporting on some of my own ebook experiences. I didn't let slip that I know publishers who not only update books without changing the ISBN but actually change the copyright date as well, because I was afraid of giving her nightmares. It's clear that the traditional publishing industry bases their systems on the sanctity of ISBN numbers, while up-and-coming publishers just want to sell their books and ebooks, and the devil take the hindmost.

The second session I sat in was titled "Choosing and Implementing a New Content Management System" with Joeseph Bachana presiding. The panel discussion participants were Aiden Colie of Time Inc, Interactive and Larry Tunks of The Congressional Quarterly. I'd expected a hum-drum "why choose this platform" type lecture, like a dog-and-pony show for Joomla I'd attended a month or so ago. Instead, Joeseph led a very interesting discussion about the challenges and compromises involved in creating a large scale content management system, with Aiden and Larry offering real-life examples from their websites. In one case, the choices that the publisher made in adopting their content management system actually let them out-compete and acquire their chief competitor. None of the participants even hinted at the existence of a turn-key solution that could meet all the needs of a publisher, which may have come as a shock to some of the audience. These guys weren't selling dreams, they were talking turkey.

What I missed at the Publishing Business Conference was a chance to talk with people, because I literally ran in, walked the floor show, took the free lunch to eat in the first session and left from the second session directly to the train. However, I didn't come away empty handed, as you'll see in the video, shot on a fire escape for that New York City ambiance. I even arranged to have a loud truck drive by!


Laura said...

Hi, Morris - yes, I'm very aware of publishers re-using ISBNs for entirely different books, or changing copyright dates, or using the same ISBN for new editions of titles. Here's the thing: while a book may go in and out of print, data lives forever. People like Amazon and B&N want sales histories. And if publishers use the same ISBN more than once, it screws up sales tracking for those titles. Because everything in a book database is pegged to the ISBN.

It might not be efficient, but that's the reality of the book world. Amazon has their ASIN for all the items they sell, but Barnes & Noble is never going to use an ASIN, nor is Wal-Mart or a library website - and they're not interested in inventing a new identifier when an ISBN already exists. If you look at this from a supply-chain perspective and not just a publisher or retailer perspective, it's pretty clear that the ISBN is the hook on which everything hangs, just as the UPC/EAN is the hook on which everything hangs in general retail. In fact, with the new 13-digit ISBN, the UPC/EAN of a book IS the ISBN, so it all amounts to the same thing.

Morris Rosenthal said...


I hope you didn't think I was implying you didn't know what was going on, you struck me as very knowledgeable about the issues involved. When I wrote that I didn't want to give you nightmares, I really meant in the speaking before a conference sense, not in that waking in the night sense.

The question for small publishers, some of whom are 100% focused on Amazon for very practical reasons, is why they should care about the databases of the industry. The main argument I put forward against publishers who make major updates to their books without changing the ISBN number is that customers who buy the book used, especially through Amazon Marketplace, may end up with the old version. If the publisher is marketing the new version based on the updated content, reviews of the updated version, or the updated copyright, it places an unfair burden of risk on the consumer.

When you write that the ISBN is the hook on which everything hangs, that's true for the larger trade market. But it's not true for Amazon or for direct sales, or even sales through specialty outlets who may want a UPC rather than an ISBN, or who take books with no ID. In the context you were speaking at the conference, I think it's entirely fair to assume that everybody present would care about the larger trade market, but in the context of my blog for self publishers and small publishers, it's not always the case.

For what it's worth, I've decided to publish the ebook version of my next book before the paper version, and the sole outlet for it will be my website. I'll probably stick the ISBN that the eventual paper book will carry in it, and stick my own "E" on the end.

While it's a seperate discussion, there are two distinct ebook markets in the world, the trade ebook versions of published books, which are popular with libararies, universities and Kindle, and the independent ebook market, based entirely on direct and affiliate sales or licensing, or on subscription. I would guess that the independent ebook market is still larger than the trade ebook market, though there's no way to measure it since most of the independents don't belong to any publishing orgainizations, and many don't even own ISBN blocks.

In any case, I did enjoy your session, hope I sent a few people to subscribe to your newsletter.