Thursday, May 26, 2011


We have been saddened by the recent unexpected news that Scott Lubeck, Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, has resigned after just eighteen months in the position. Scott has been a valuable ally and friend of BIC's; and although the US and UK book trades do not always see eye to eye - certainly operate in very different ways - he has always shown respect for our views and helped to interpret them for BISG members (as we have always tried to so for theirs). We shall miss him and wish him well for the future.

What is certain is that a close relationship between BIC and BISG is a top priority for us. As trading becomes increasingly global in nature and heavily dominated by North American companies, what happens in the US directly impacts on us and the way we work. Where we can collaborate we do; and where we can share expertise, standards and processes we must. It is our hope that Scott's successor will share this vision.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It was as if e-books didn't exist. All the talk at the Book Industry Conference this week was of collaboration between publishers and booksellers in promoting the extraordinary creativity of our business and the possibility of a glorious future for independent booksellers. In an impressive presentation, Oren Teicher of the American Booksellers Association showed clearly that he believes there is. But there was scarcely a mention of Amazon, let alone Google or Apple, not an app in sight; no hint that our last remaining high street chain bookseller was reaching a pivotal point in its history even as the conference took place.

No doubt it was deliberate that this was a digital no-go zone - and maybe none the worse for that - but it's hard to think that delegates leaving the warm cocoon of the conference hall didn't feel a chill wind blowing when they got outside.


It has taken the industry a long time to wake up to the problems it has caused for itself by not standardising subject categories much earlier. It has certainly woken up now!

Our industry here in the UK has benefited tremendously from work done by BIC in the 90s in persuading the data aggregators of the day (Book Data and Whitaker) to adopt a single national scheme to replace their own. The BIC standard subject categories have become one of BIC's greatest success stories (to the extent that for many people in the trade BIC is a synonym for its classification scheme). A number of European countries have come to view this success with envy; and there have been a several variant schemes based on BIC introduced locally around Europe.

It is now clear that the time has come for further consolidation in Europe. Urged on by the Spanish Publishers Association, which decided last year to adopt the BIC scheme, we held a meeting at the LBF of representatives from Italy, Germany and Portugal as well as Spain which will lead later this year to the first publication of a multilingual version of BIC. Since then we have heard that there will be participation from Sweden too.

All this activity reflects the new globalism of the book trade and to some extent the likely impact of e-books on search, discovery and content acquisition. The more standard the tools for discovery are, the better will be the trading opportunities.

So far so good. But the bigger obstacle for English-language publishers lies in the standardised use of BIC here, in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and of the parallel BISAC scheme in North America. Not only are the two schemes deeply entrenched in their home territories but they are also very different in structure, so that mapping from one to the other is next to impossible without losing the clarity and level of detail which give the schemes their purpose.

BIC has been advising UK publishers to assign BISAC as well as BIC codes to their titles; but this is a cumbersome solution and one which is in the long run unsustainable. There is now some light at the end of the tunnel, however - even if the tunnel may still be quite long! The Book Industry Study Group's Governing Council has last week endorsed a proposal to work with BIC to address the standardisation of subject classifications and explore the future needs of the worldwide industry for search and discovery taxonomies. On this agreement we pin our hopes for a global multilingual subject classification scheme.

There will be much to do...