Monday, July 20, 2020

Focus on a Resilient and Timely Supply Chain for the Future

During these strange times many people in the book industry have one earnest desire, and that is to return to normality or something akin to daily life before COVID19. Although the government is taking steps to lift restrictions on business and leisure activities, we should be honest enough to recognise that normality as we knew it is gone forever. 

For the book industry, the watch words include consolidation, cost control, client retention, revenue, routes to market, new clients and adaptability. 

COVID19 is not the first time the book industry has encountered disruption. It is not the first time that change has been forced upon us. What is different is the extent and impact of the disruption and the sense of anticipation that this has created. We should avoid being too harsh on ourselves, take heed of past disruption in the sector and remember that the book industry is highly skilled, adaptable and positive in outlook.    

So, is this the time for innovation or retrenchment, where businesses either spend money or cut costs? Neither. Now is the time to focus on a resilient and timely book supply chain. Let’s take the best book industry practices of the pre COVID19 world and combine them with some of the ideas, initiatives and projects that we never applied in our own businesses before March 2020. These needn’t be all our own. Again, the book industry is very adept at sharing knowledge for the benefit of the trade as a whole. 

Having spent my professional career in the book industry, I understand how important an efficient supply chain is. 

Let’s start with a few questions: Is your organisation focused on completing tasks or adding value? Are you aware of how (in)efficient your business is? Is every current process and procedure required? Is your data updated in real time? Can your clients self-serve? Could current work practices impact your ability to respond to business ideas and client needs post COVID19? 

Look to maximise efficiency, automation and integration opportunities. Let’s not employ colleagues to carry out repetitive tasks that can be readily automated. Let’s not create new ways for computer to talk to computer, when there are enough established methods of communicating already. Let’s not see current systems, processes and ways of working as a constraint. These all represent opportunities. 

The supply chain is a big topic. No organisation is so self-sufficient that it does not need the additional support provided by professional trade bodies such as Book Industry Communication (BIC). Specifically, BIC brands itself as:

an independent organisation set up and sponsored by the Publishers Association, the Booksellers Association, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the British Library to promote supply chain efficiency in all sectors of the book world through e-commerce and the application of standard processes and procedures.

BIC comprises a number of member organisations that reflect the diverse nature of the trade: booksellers, retailers, publishers, printers, shippers, distributors, wholesalers, libraries, library suppliers and systems vendors. 

The chances are though that your organisation may not actively or regularly participate in or contribute to BIC projects or events. And whilst BIC is by no means the only professional body in our industry, it is there for the trade as a whole and can positively contribute to a range of initiatives that your business needs to consider post COVID19. These include:

  • Supply chain efficiency 
  • Product information and the promotion of discoverability
  • E-commerce and the promotion of tradability
  • Development and promotion of standards for digital and physical publications
  • Accreditation

These are all areas of BIC expertise ably supported by the BIC membership, but they do not wholly demonstrate the extent of what BIC offers or the impact that it can have on your organisation. I have direct experience of the following in my roles at Waterstones and Nielsen Book Services:  


  • STRATEGY. Each year BIC will consult with its members to review strategy and confirm key priorities. Members have an opportunity to influence future direction, actively participate and ensure the long-term success of BIC and its members. Metadata Map, physical supply chain and digital are all represented:
  • EVENTS. There is a wide variety of events throughout the year. These range from BIC Breakfasts, Supply Chain Seminars, Task and Finish Work Groups to social events. These can focus on a single topic, or range of supply chain activities. Price and availability, new trends, digital audio and green issues immediately spring to mind. The key point here is that contributions from the diverse BIC membership are critical to ensuring that the breadth of business types and supply chain needs are represented and accommodated, rather than just those of the more influential and active organisations. 
  • GREEN AGENDA. Some organisations were promoting supply chain efficiency before the arrival of BIC in 1991. The evolution of TeleOrdering in the nineteen eighties is one example where the book ordering process was automated and sped up. Another example… early adopters of EDI included Macmillan and WH Smith. To the fore at the moment are green issues and although this year’s London Book Fair Building a Better Business Seminar didn’t take place, a successful BIC online event focused on green issues and initiatives, followed by a panel discussion:
  • NETWORKING. The range of events means that there are many opportunities for the exchange of knowledge and ideas with key industry stakeholders. A different perspective may help you deal with your own supply chain challenge. Returns, environmental concerns and the impact of the pandemic are all hot topics. 
  • STANDARDS. Technical standards are there to make life easier for everyone. A single set of rules to which everyone adheres ensures timeliness, efficiency and accuracy. That said, there are a variety of standards and permutations in use in the book industry, dependent on business type and client need. Some are static, others continue to evolve. BIC can help you navigate these standards and establish best practice by giving you access to the experts. You will learn from others’ experience and mistakes. BIC also maintains close links with other standards organisations such as the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), EDItEUR, BookNet Canada, the International Standard Name Identifier Agency (ISNI), the British Standards Institution (BSI) and the International ISBN Agency. 
  • RECOGNITION. It is all too easy to focus on our own individual organisation’s supply chain needs and lose sight of how we measure up against other book businesses. Informally, BIC offers you the opportunity to regain that sense of perspective, better appreciate how your organisation compares to others and clarify where improvements can be made. You can apply for formal metadata, supply chain or libraries accreditation too. 
  • NEXT GENERATION. Future industry experts, leaders and influencers should know that they can count on the BIC membership’s years of insight, knowledge and experience. This already happens formally via BIC’s training programme, but it doesn’t always need to be in such a structured way. BIC has brought likeminded organisations together to create a well-known and well-respected professional body that is consulted on a wide variety of issues.


Much like a utility, BIC and other professional bodies risk being taken for granted in normal times. Like water, gas and electricity, as long as everything is working as it should, we don’t think about why the lights come on at the flick of a switch or why water comes out of the tap. These aren’t normal times. Now is the time to be an active supporter of BIC and the book supply chain. If we’re to bounce back after COVID19 we need to be even more aware that the health of our industry depends on a wide range of businesses interacting in as efficient a way as possible. BIC has a key role to play and so do you.


Stephen Long is a senior manager in the book industry with a background in retailing, metadata and business to business e-commerce. 

#bicgreenhub #bicsupplychain #joinbic 

Posted by Stephen Long

Friday, May 29, 2020

Industry Award Winners Again!

We have been the proud holders of an ‘Excellence Plus’ Product Data Excellence Award from the Book Industry Communication (BIC) for a few years now (and there are a few previous posts about our journey elsewhere on our blog!). While they may not be the most glamorous of awards to win, and are marked by a certificate arriving in the post, rather than an Oscar’s style ceremony, they are still very important. In short, they are the book industry’s way of certifying that we provide all the ‘behind the scenes’ information about our books to everyone in the industry, in a complete and timely manner.

This year, BIC extended their award scheme to include the new Supply Chain Excellence Award, alongside the Product Data Excellence Award. We are absolutely thrilled to have been awarded an Excellence award, one of only seven publishers in the UK to receive this award (seating ourselves alongside the likes of HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Sage) and to be one of only two UK publishers using a third-party distributor to get this award. What an achievement for a small independent publisher!

The Supply Chain Award differs from the Product Excellence Award in that it focuses more on working processes, rather than on the books themselves. BIC describe winners of the award as ‘modern, technically-capable, efficient to do business with, and compliant with industry standards and practices…the best in their class for business efficiency, customer service, environmental concern and innovation.’

The questionnaire application itself was surprisingly easy, and future applicants shouldn’t be daunted by the 22-page form(!) nor the technical terms. It’s certainly simpler than it looks! For me, the tricky bit was getting the hang of the lingo…the publishing industry is full of its own wonderful list of acronyms and systems, so while most of the questions related to things that we already do, they often happen behind the scenes (and seamlessly) and I had to write to some of our partners to check how the systems work. In happy news, our distributor, NBN International, and the database company we use, Stison, were also among the tiny list of award winners in their categories. We are happy to be working together with such great partners, and it goes to show that sometimes in order to succeed, you need the support of top teams too.

We don’t like to blow our own trumpet, but we think that achieving this award demonstrates that not only are our books among the most exciting in our field, but that we too as a company rank among the best in the industry.

See this blog on the Channel View website, here.

Posted by Laura Longworth, Commissioning Editor & Head of Sales, Channel View Publications Ltd / Multilingual Matters

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Building a Greener Business – BIC’s Webinar held 12th March 2020

BIC’s Director of Marketing Strategy provides an overview of this seminar-turned-webinar

The cancellation of LBF 20 did not deter BIC who were due to run a seminar on Building a Greener Business on March 12. Upon receiving the sad news of the cancellation, the BIC team leapt into action to reschedule the already popular event as a webinar. This resulted in 121 delegates registering for the event from 66 organisations and 12 countries making it a truly diverse and international affair. 

It was a fascinating two and half hours: 10 speakers from 10 organisations covering the environmental journey of a book, discussing the carbon footprint of the book industry and the impact of plastics and hearing from leading organisations in the industry as to what they are doing to help combat these pressing issues. Finally, there was an illuminating panel discussion from some of the leading lights in publishing on what the future holds for the book industry in becoming greener and guidance on what organisations can be doing to achieve this. It was a great overview on where we are as an industry and what we need to be doing.  

The starting point was to see what the environmental health of the planet currently is and to look at key global business and personal trends. This was laid out very well by Jo Shaw, Sales Director Book Discovery and Commerce Solutions, Nielsen Book. She outlined how there was no doubt about the scale of the challenge facing us, with recent global events such as the Australian bushfires highlighting this. The impact of plastic was also brought up with the staggering statistic that in 2015 there was more plastic by weight than there are humans in the entire planet! Online shopping is also a threat with the UK sending 1.9 billion parcels in 2019. The good news is that consumers are waking up to this and looking for organisations to be more sustainable and 81% will pay more for this. The maxim of ‘Healthy for Me, Healthy for We’ is gaining traction. Future sustainability is here to stay and businesses that can respond to, and deliver, against this will grow.

Next, we heard from Lisa Farrato, Customer Service Director & Director of Environment and Sustainability, CPI Books and Fiona McIntosh, Orion Group Production Director, Orion Books who told us about the impact of the manufacture of books on the environment. 190 million books were sold in the UK in 2019 with 2.7-4kg of CO2 per book. That is the equivalent of 190,000 African Forest Elephants! A staggering statistic but when viewed as part of the UK economy as a whole, book sales only contribute 0.09% of carbon. Still, we need to do better as an industry and there were some great suggestions from CPI and Orion and the other speakers on how to impact this. CPI work on the basis of four key principles – use green energy where possible, try and have zero waste going to landfill, reduce carbon footprint and always look to promote the circular economy. They work to the four ‘R’s – Remove, Reduce, Recycle and Re-Use where possible and have found this to be effective. Examples include looking at paper suppliers to ensure they are as sustainable as possible, trying to eliminate where possible animal products from production materials - such as glues, inks and cover mounts - and eliminating where possible non-recyclable materials. They are aspiring to produce books vegans can embrace – exciting times indeed!

We then worked our way further through the supply chain hearing from Stephen Day, formerly Senior Vice President, Supply Chain, Global Operations at Pearson PLC who talked about the environmental challenges of maintaining inventory as 80% of sales on average come from a small percentage of inventory. Holding large amounts of stock, and ultimately pulping, are serious challenges to lowering carbon costs; operational changes to manage this are essential. Stephen believes we are in an environmental revolution with the far-reaching impact of the industrial revolution arriving at the speed of the information revolution. Neil Springall, Head of Operations, Penguin Random House Services UK (PRH) gave us an inspirational presentation with practical examples of what they are doing to reduce waste and plastic use. PRH are using a multi-use pallet lid to eliminate the plastic wrapping of pallets that can be tracked using RFID codes. So far, this has reduced their inbound plastic waste by a massive 85%. They are also using new shredding equipment to turn waste cardboard into recyclable packing and will be carbon neutral by 2030. Finally, we heard from Kate McHale, Campaign Manager, Waterstones on the myriad measures booksellers are taking with paper bags, recyclable gift cards and a reduction in till receipts.

Having looked at the environmental journey of a printed book and some of the great initiatives industry leaders are employing to tackle their carbon footprints we turned to the future via a panel discussion with leading lights from the industry namely: Victoria Bostock, Sales Director, Leo Paper Products UK Ltd; Meryl Halls, Managing Director, The Booksellers Association of the UK & Ireland Ltd; Brian O’Leary, Executive Director, Book Industry Study Group (BISG) , mediated by Karina Urquhart, Executive Director, Book Industry Communication (BIC) Ltd. The general feeling was that in order to share and demonstrate progress, it was important to create a baseline, however basic, against which we might measure progress. It is very important to recognise that green consumers want to know (often in detail) how the industry is dealing with environmental issues. The book industry’s supply chain underpins how green the book industry is now, and how green it can be in the future. Particularly with printed books, it is in the supply chain that the most impactful changes are possible. Minimising plastic use is a key part of this as is joined up thinking and co-operation globally. ‘It’s a good time to be a supply chain organisation’, was how Brian O’Leary put it during the session and BIC is providing global leadership in this key area. The rise of the eco consumer is very important to this journey and they expect organisations to lead and make the necessary changes to reduce their environmental impact. The final word was had by Victoria Bostock who wryly observed that ‘Books are not a single use item’!

Nick Poole, Chief Executive, The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) summarised the learnings from the webinar reminding us that every part of the supply chain needs to be scrutinised. Sustainability and eco consumers are here to stay and the book industry needs to reduce waste, use more green energy and promote the circular economy. Involving staff is very important to maximise green efficiencies and we need to be able to monitor our position and not only measure our progress and successes but shout about and share them. International collaboration and sharing best practices are vital as this needs to be a concerted effort. BIC and BISG as already dedicated supply chain organisations for the book industry are at the heart of leading this issue. Nick encouraged delegates to sign up to BIC’s green mailing list and highlighted that the green agenda is woven through all of BIC’s activities and committee work.  It was evident from this session that BIC is focussed on continuing its great work in bringing the industry together to find the best supply chain solutions, prioritising its green agenda both at home and internationally,  and making all findings available to a wider audience.

To watch the Webinar in full for free, please click here

To access more information on the Webinar including presentations and speaker bios, please click here.

To join the Green Mailing List, please click here

To learn more about BIC and becoming a BIC member, please click here.

Posted by Angus Urquhart, Director of Marketing Strategy, BIC

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Building a Greener Publishing Business

On Thursday 12th March 2020, I listened in to the Building a Greener Business webinar. Organised by Book Industry Communication (BIC), it was reorganised online at the last moment due to the cancellation of the London Book Fair. 

Although the situation with the Coronavirus has evolved so rapidly in the last ten days that what felt important then has paled in comparison to what is happening today, I wanted to share a few key points that might be useful when we come out of the other side of this crisis. 

The two main areas the UK publishing industry has been focusing on to become greener are paper sourcing and single-use plastic. 

In the last few years, huge steps have been made to use FSC paper wherever possible. For Penguin Random House, the UK’s largest book publishers, currently 99.9% of their paper is from FSC sources and they have pledged to move to 100% by 2020. 

In terms of single-use plastics, Jo Shaw, Sales Director at Nielsen Book, shared the staggering statistic that we produce more plastic every year than the total weight of human beings in the world. 

Neil Springall, Head of Operations at PRH shared two initiatives they have taken to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in their distribution process:

  • Investing in multi-use pallet lids to replace shrink-wrapping
  • Shredding transit cardboard packaging to fill cartons instead of plastic

This has resulted in at least an 85% reduction in single-use plastic coming into the warehouse and a 50% reduction in the plastic leaving the warehouse.

These are great concrete steps in the right direction, but there is still so much more to do. 

Lisa Faratro, Director of Environment and Sustainability at CPI, explained that approximately 190 million books were sold last year in the UK and the estimated carbon footprint of each book was between 2.71 and 4 kg. However, what we’re not measuring is the carbon cost of unsold books. 

Stephen Day, formerly SVP of Supply Chain, Global Operations at Pearson, shared some shocking estimates of the cost of pulping unsold books. 

For one publisher, the resources needed to pulp $100 million worth of books included:

  • 524,554 trees
  • Energy to power 9,888 homes for a year
  • CO2 emissions equal to those from 12,217 cars for a year
  • Water to fill 656 swimming pools
  • 1,930 rubbish trucks to waste
  • Enough aluminium plates to build 51 F-18 fighter jets

Whilst the publishing industry is taking measures to reduce the environmental impact in each of these areas, if we were able to better forecast the demand, and print just what was needed when it was needed, we would be able to reduce this further. 

There was also a recognition amongst participants that all of the green steps described in the webinar will not be enough to meet the UK government’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions target of 2050, and they are certainly not radical enough to ensure a safe ecological future for our children and the generations after that. 

So, what else can be done? 

Stephen Day recommended the following changes:

  1. Move from holding large amounts of inventory to printing on demand. The aim is to satisfy the customer’s needs with the right product at the right time, and not overproduce.
  2. Simplify designs and formats. CPI are already looking at using less environmentally harmful chemicals and materials in the printing process, but we should also be simplifying formats and designs as much as possible. 
  3. Store files and data centrally. At the moment, files are often stored around the world, some with printers, some with editorial teams. Instead, these should be held in central repositories to enable easy access and encourage more agile, on-demand ways of working. 
  4. Clean up the data. There is an environmental cost for storing and processing data. We need to better manage it, keeping only what is most valuable to the business. 
  5. Decentralize printing operations. Having simplified and clear data stewardship and workflows would allow us to print closer to customers and reduce the miles a book travels from printing to customer. 

Once we come through the current crisis, I hope we will have the opportunity to step back and explore different ways of creating and publishing beautiful, cool books people need, using simple, effective workflows that protect and enhance employee well-being, printing only what’s needed a few miles from the customer, whilst ensuring a fair financial return for employees, contributors, suppliers and investors, as well as actively contributing to an ecologically safe and fairer future for everyone.

See this article on LinkedIn, here.

Posted by Jo Woods, Freelancer

Monday, March 16, 2020

BIC Webinar - How the Trade is getting Greener

PRH, Hachette, Waterstones and others contribute to LBF event, transferred online

The Book Industry Communication (BIC) seminar Building a Greener Business, due to have taken place at the London Book Fair on the morning of Thursday 12th March 2020, was quickly and successfully convened as an online seminar instead, with the same speakers and programme.

Sponsored by HP and Nielsen Book, the session traced the environmental journey of a book from printer to consumer. Jo Shaw, sales director at Nielsen Book Discover & Commerce, set the scene with a snapshot of the environmental health of the planet. Even though the EU now has a range of directives to reduce the use of single use plastics (SUPs), plastic production, which in 2015 produced the equivalent of more than the total combined weight of everybody on the planet, is due to quadruple by 2050. Only 45% of all plastic packaging is recycled, and the rise in online sales means that the UK may well miss its current recycling target by more than a decade. While the vast majority of consumers - 81% - say the environment is of high importance, many do not recycle consistently, although plastic is now top of the green agenda, and less packaging is a key issue that everyone needs to address over the next few years.

Cut the glitter
Lisa Faratro, customer service director at printers CPI, said that the company was now sending nothing to landfill and that, taking the mantra "Remove, Reduce, Recycle and Reuse", CPI was even recycling the plastic used to wrap books. Efforts are also being made to recycle and/or reuse material such as foil, laminates and embossing, but glitter remains a problem - it is a material that Hachette is no longer using, said Fiona McIntosh, Orion production director.

Stephen Day, ex svp of supply chain at Pearson, noted that the amount of book miles travelled was an unrecognised environmental cost, with the industry incentivised towards over-production. Possible solutions include moving towards zero inventory and on-demand printing; simplifying and standardising product types; moving production nearer to where the customers are rather than centralising it; and improved management of work flows and data (the collection and dissemination of which takes huge amounts of energy).

Neil Springall, head of operations at Penguin Random House Services, said that PRH had set out to achieve a 75% reduction in SUPs and aimed to be carbon neutral by 2030. So far, there has been a reduction of 85% in the use of inbound SUPs, but outbound SUPs had only seen a 50% reduction. One solution had been the purchase of specially designed caps for use on book pallets instead of shrinkwrapping, an effective though expensive option; PRH was trialling reusable shipping cartons for indie bookshops. Springall extended an open invitation to anyone who would like to visit the Colchester site to learn more about the green initiatives PRH is putting in place.

Waste not at the Hub
At the bookshop end of the supply chain Waterstones has already addressed many customer-facing sustainability issues, said Kate McHale, Waterstones campaign manager. This included replacing all plastic carrier bags with paper bags that could be re-used up to four times before being recycled, and no automatic till receipts, with many other initiatives also in hand and with the amount of plastic waste at Waterstones' Hub now being looked at - 9 tonnes had been eliminated from the supply chain so far this year.

Meryl Halls, MD of the Booksellers Association, said that the BA's Green Bookselling Manifesto, launched last summer, had drawn a positive response from the trade. The manifesto included recommendations to stop sending out unsolicited book proofs and marketing materials to booksellers, and had contributed to a trade-wide conversation on how best to affect change. The conversation is international, with both the American and Australian Booksellers Associations working with the BA on the initiative.

Nick Poole, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), urged everyone to join in this industry-wide initiative to measure the current situation, to share best practice, and to affect change collectively, recommending signing up to the BIC Green Supply Chain mailing list and the BIC Green breakfasts.

Useful links from BIC
Building a Greener Business webinar recording
BIC's Green Supply Chain mailing list
Seminar presentations
Seminar programme
Seminar speakers

See this article on the Bookbrunch website, here or read a PDF copy, here.

Posted by Jo Henry, Managing Director, BookBrunch

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