Trendspotting 2013: Don Linn

DON LINN
DIRECTOR
CHICAGO DISTRIBUTION CENTER
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS 

In late 2011, I was asked to peer into my crystal ball and make a few predictions for 2012. Most of them were fairly obvious (“Tablets will outpace the growth of dedicated e-readers”) but one was a little off the beaten path. The prediction was that 2012 would be the “Year of the Plumbers”, meaning publishers would spend more of their time working on the less-glamorous parts of their businesses that provide the backbone and infrastructure of the enterprise. Without the business’s ‘plumbing’ being upgraded and working properly, it’ll hard to move forward, I wrote. Lo and behold, the prediction has come true as a real trend among (most) publishers during the year. Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed:

  • Most publishers are bearing down hard to get metadata right and to expand the quantity and quality of the metadata they present beyond the basics. This has been driven in large part by the recognition (finally) that metadata is not just something for the catalog but is an important discovery and marketing tool.
  • Print and digital workflows are increasingly being merged, moving publishers toward the goal of more agile content (“Produce once, read many”, as Brian O’Leary describes it). Implementing new workflows is hard but necessary work and it’s encouraging to see progress being made.
  • As evidenced by the high levels of activity at companies like Firebrand Technologies and VirtuSales, more and more publishers are installing and upgrading sophisticated Title Management and Content Management systems, allowing them to track titles from acquisition to end customers and manage processes and products more effectively.
  • While most publishers continue to be a long way from a first-rate, direct-to-consumer experience, we’re seeing more and more collection of consumer data and more and more interaction with readers than ever before. As Sales and Marketing departments aggregate this information and integrate it into CRM tools, capabilities for publishers to be closer to end customers, and presumably to make better data-driven decisions, are being enhanced.
  • And finally (for this list, at least) we see publishers heavily focused on inventory management and using tools to shrink inventories while maintaining adequate stock. Most have realized that slightly higher unit costs for POD or Short Run Digital Printing are more than offset by savings in working capital tied up in someone’s warehouse and the storage fees associated with it. Presses like O’Reilly and Macmillan have gone so far as to turn their entire inventory/fulfillment management operations over to vendors such as Ingram. This trend can only continue and accelerate as the traditional supply chain continues to require reinvention.

So I end 2012 with optimism. The Plumbers have, in fact made progress over the course of the year, the value of systems and infrastructure beyond the traditional is being recognized, and trends such as those above will hasten the changes the business must make to survive and prosper.

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