Monday, January 11, 2010

Why Scott Lubeck will be good for the future of the Book

In my opinion, one of the bigger pieces of news in the book industry last week, passed by very quickly and very quietly. The appointment of Scott Lubeck as the new Executive Director of BISG barely made a ripple in Twitter and the Blogosphere. But, I'll bet that two or three years from now, when we look back at this appointment, we'll all understand how important a date it was.

In this huge industry transition that we are all feeling, many of my colleagues in the industry have attempted to define what publishers are and why they are important. Most of these arguments center around editorial and marketing value added services. While I agree that these are hugely important, I have not yet read anything that talks about how publishers are the managers of the content supply chain.

The content supply chain is a dirty, ugly, frustrating, and expensive part of the business that facilitates the movement of money and product. Ordering, billing, shipping, status, returns, and product information movement, are things that publishers and readers simply take for granted. But without it, there is no business, and no money for anyone.

Until very recently, the content supply chain meant only the movement of physical product, and the processes involved were largely sorted out among the key industry players. For the last 25 years, publishers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers, and data aggregators have scratched and clawed at standardizing almost every piece of this complex operation. Much of the credit for this accomplishment belongs to BISG for facilitating standards and driving consensus among its members.

But now we are in a new era. The product being supplied is still physical, and it is also electronic. The number of partners involved in the content supply chain is exploding to include many who have never been involved in books before, and have no knowledge of standards used in the book industry. Many believe that the cost of doing business should be far cheaper as there are no "trucks" or "warehouses" or "printing" involved. True, BUT, there are now no standard processes for content delivery, or storage, or distribution, or security or display. It's a complete "wild west" again, and most of what's happening now is largely manual, very time consuming, and very expensive.

All of this means that the book industry needs to largely re-invent the content supply chain, and we don't have 25 years to do it. This means that we need to bring together people who are familiar with the old supply chain, with people that understand the issues involved with the new supply chain. This is where Scott Lubeck comes in.

There are many people in our industry that are regularly seen as pioneers. People who see the future run out ahead of the rest of us, and start clearing a path for the rest of us to follow. Often those pioneers get wounded or killed in the process, but the best of them keep on moving forward.

If there was ever a pioneer in the field of digital publishing, it is Scott Lubeck. Now, my guess is that many of you have never heard of him, but this is a man who has been working diligently in and among us for a very long time. A man who has held senior publishing and technology positions inside publishers and for publishing services companies. He's been an editor, a press director, a CIO and a General Manager.

One need only look down the list of his resume to see his legacy as leader and entrepreneur in a culture of change. He has been on the leading edge of digital publishing technology as far back as 16 years ago when he was the director of the National Academies Press - where they were the first press to put their full publications online for free.

Scott may not have a pedigree from the current locus of big publishers and big retailers that have determined the current supply chain best practices, but I think that this is a real advantage during this time of great change. There is no doubt that the locus of publishing is moving, and right into Scott's wheelhouse. BISG will need to bring in a whole new set of constituents, and once again hammer out the unglamourous details of how to make money and product move smoothly and efficiently, and to bring down costs.

I applaud the BISG board for recognizing this trend and recognizing that they need a leader who has a skill set that is different from prior directorates - one who will be able to build on what BISG has built and lead it into new directions that will better serve the entire industry.

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