Transcript: 2016 Book Business News In Review

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  • Grace Hong, Wolters Kluwer
  • Ashley Gordon, Mockingbird Publishing
  • Atty. Jonathan Kanter

For podcast release Monday, December 26, 2016

KENNEALLY: The word of the year for publishing in 2016 was data. It was such a big year for data, in fact, that it’s always called, “Big Data.”

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book. As publishers remake themselves into information providers for the digital age, they will likely need to abandon the old notion of content as their product.

Grace Hong, vice president of strategic markets and development and general manager of learning solutions for Wolters Kluwer’s tax and accounting division. urges her publishing colleagues to push boldly toward the marketplace that big data has opened up. We met last winter at the annual conference in Washington, DC, of the Professional/Scholarly Publishing (PSP) Division of the Association of American Publishers. Grace Hong told me that the most valuable data of all is information about the customer.

HONG: Big data really addresses, I think, more of – is a reflection of what’s been going on with the evolution of information and technology in the past 30 years. From the ’80s to now, we’ve seen information go from analog, from books, vinyl records, looseleafs, and tapes, to in the ’90s, the PC revolution, with digital information being produced by hard drives and CDs, moving into the age of the internet, where we have structured data, databases, traditional BI, and then more recently to the cloud, with datacenters, virtualization, new technologies.

I think we’re at a moment where the data itself and information has to be adapted and personalized to the user with the growth of information. I think big data represents the opportunity presented by the growth of data overall, and particularly the growth of unstructured data. In my space, which is tax and accounting publishing, as well as legal publishing, much of that data is captured not only byservers or by databases or our products themselves, but also through the text that we produce, through the tax code, and other sources of content.

KENNEALLY: It’s all very interesting, and I’m still learning myself. You mentioned a term, and I just want to be sure our listeners understand the difference – there is this notion of structured data and unstructured data. Can you give us a brief definition of the difference?

HONG: Absolutely. Structured data is really the purview of traditional data warehouses. You can imagine – there are software products and research products online in my world that may collect usage information that’s then connected to customer databases for order processing. Structured data means that there is an identifier that can easily collect and collate information across all these different sources and provide, let’s say, a single view of the customer, which is what we strive for, at least – in my role when I think about big data, it really is about value creation and about specifically understanding the customer better. Many of the data warehouses that we have within Wolters Kluwer and many other companies really strive towards not only processing those transactions, but really getting a clearer view of the customer across this landscape.

KENNEALLY: And I think you are fond of saying, Grace Hong, that it really doesn’t matter whether the data is big or little. In fact, the data itself is not valuable on its own. What’s really important? Where do we get the value as publishers from the data?

HONG: Yeah, I think the world has become a lot more complicated, especially when it comes to big data and especially when we think about organizations like traditional publishing organizations. Data in and of itself is not valuable. It’s really about the insights and the problems that you’re able to solve. That really varies depending on the context in which you’re thinking about data.

Today, much of the unstructured data that exists is produced via machine logs for operational intelligence. There is data that is – for example, I think of it as – I wouldn’t call it trapped in text, but you may think about journal publications in the tax area that seek to produce explanations and answers for professionals. This is text, but all of this text can be mined to provide greater actionable insights to our users.

For me, from a product standpoint and from a customer standpoint, it’s about asking the right questions and then really deeply understanding how this information can provide value to the customer, not only just mining the data that currently exists. It’s really about creating that meaning through asking the right questions.

KENNEALLY: What distinguishes publishing from many industries is how editors and executives actively look beyond making a profit to addressing the challenge of making a difference.

“Making Information Pay” is the annual springtime occasion for the Book Industry Study Group to explore the latest issues in publishing, and for attendees to learn how the latest technologies can drive success. In May 2016, Mockingbird Publishing founder Ashley Gordon led a panel that noted the long history among publishers to promoting literacy. The recent rise of cause marketing is turning the industry to expanding its do-gooder efforts in creative and often dramatic ways.

GORDON: The product we produce is something that contributes to the social good through literacy, through inspiring curiosity, through sharing of ideas. But it also is a product that is unique in people’s minds. It holds an emotional place for most people. And it isn’t one that people typically buy on price. It’s not I’ll buy this T-shirt that’s $5 instead of the one that’s $10. They buy the book that they want.

So when you’re looking at creating a cause marketing campaign around a product, we have both advantages because of the type of product that we produce and advantages in that it’s not so price-sensitive as many other commodities are. So we start from a very positive place.

KENNEALLY: It’s a fascinating point. Yet publishers are going to want to hear also about the benefits to their business. You’ve outlined in your discussion at the BISG conference – looked into the various aspects of this. They include sales and marketing, but there are other elements that are important, too.

GORDON: Yeah. One of the strongest arguments for it is establishing a positive brand for the publisher, which is something that they’re struggling with now. It establishes the author brand. It creates direct connections, as we said, with their consumers. And it can also drive revenue in some really creative ways. You’re able to look at what you already do in your social marketing campaigns, in your author events, and do those in a way that adds this additional component that drives sales for you directly and with your store partners.

And then it attracts talent. It’s something, as we said, that millennials are looking for. So it’s a means of attracting and retaining those vibrant young employees that we’re all looking for. There are very solid business reasons for doing this.

KENNEALLY: If you attended any publishing industry trade shows or conferences in 2016, you likely heard speakers delivering unnerving wake-up calls to anyone who’d listen. They’d describe a business in a state of revolution and even apocalypse. We even have heard about the four horsemen – Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook – all riding in to destroy our world.

Yet as we approach the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president, calls by publishers to pursue Amazon particularly as a monopoly will not likely move the Dept. of Justice to move against the e-commerce giant.

When I spoke with antitrust attorney Jonathan Kanter at DBW, I inquired about the wisdom of seeking government intervention where freedom of expression, creativity, and speech are concerned, as they lie at the heart of publishing.

KANTER: That’s a great question. Antitrust as the law tends to be somewhat clinical in nature and often is focused on the economic impact in terms of higher prices, the competitive process in general, and what it means for innovation. So generally speaking, the leading edge of the wedge for any case in the antitrust world on a monopolization matter is going to involve, really, what is the conduct doing the competitive process, and what is the effect on price – again, in a rather clinical way.

Now, having been said, there is room to factor in, depending on who you ask – I certainly believe it’s true – the importance of what people often call the marketplace of ideas. That goes to the notion of free expression. If we have a situation where conduct is resulting in less money, less innovation, less effort being put into activity that increases the output of expression, then that is certainly an effect that would seem to me, and I think to many others, appropriate to consider in the context of any antitrust analysis.

KENNEALLY: I happen to like particularly what you said this morning as the response to what we often hear from Silicon Valley folks, which is that this is about innovation. You don’t want to get in the way of innovation. And you said it’s a really important point to make that the kind of innovation that media and publishing are about is just as important. It’s the innovation of ideas, critical thinking, creative expression.

KANTER: Yeah, I wholeheartedly believe that, and I think that’s something the industry, whether it’s books, news, film, music, needs to do a better job, which is explaining that just because they’re not “new” or not Silicon Valley-based doesn’t mean that they’re not innovative and different and important. I think as an industry, it’s critical to, I think, refresh the messaging on that a little bit so that folks have a better appreciation of what it is and how hard it is and how much newness there is in terms of the type of stuff we do. The innovation isn’t just in the mechanisms and the methods for distribution, but it’s in the content itself. I think once you can establish that, then it’s much easier to take it the next step forward, which says, well, if someone’s harming that innovation – not in the distribution level, but in the content creation level – then that’s a cause for concern.

KENNEALLY: Publishing is all about innovation, even where it doesn’t realize it.
That’s a welcome observation for an industry often attacked as slow to change. As Kanter notes, every new title published can be thought of as a start-up looking to go public in a big way.

Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center. With subsidiaries RightsDirect in the Netherlands and Ixxus in the United Kingdom, CCC is a global leader in content workflow, document delivery, text and data mining and rights licensing technology.

Beyond the Book co-producer and recording engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing.

I’m Christopher Kenneally. Join us again soon on Beyond The Book.

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