knk recently interviewed Karina Urquhart, the Executive Director of Book Industry Communication as part of knk’s continuing series of interviews with thought leaders serving the book publishing industry and its supporting communities. Karina has worked in the book industry for over 25 years and has a wealth of operational and data experience in both the physical and digital supply chains.   

Many readers will be familiar with BIC, the UK equivalent of the US’ BISGalthough BIC is somewhat more focused on education and a bit less on research.  As the book industry becomes global, BIC tries to make the supply chain as efficient as possible, encouraging standards and best practices.  They put industry professionals together to do the things theyre good at. 

Karina takes a global view of the industry challenges.  The first major challenge she sees is environmental.  Balancing commercial sustainability while reducing environmental impact is the number one issue in her view.  Consumers are focused mostly on paper, but Ms. Urquhart says it’s much more than that.  We need to look at materials like inks and board, in addition to their suppliers and shippers  are they sustainable and environmentally friendly?  Karina quoted an April 8, 2019 Forbes magazine article on freight.  The shipping industry is one of the greatest contributors to pollution and carbon emissions on the planet”.  The publishing industry ships a lot of books! She takes it very seriously to the extent that BIC is starting a series called the Green BIC Breakfast.  Everybody’s all about getting everything NOW.  Maybe we should not expect everything we get to be delivered in 24 hrs.  More on this later. 

Karina cites the second big issue facing publishers is discoverability – more of a challenge especially with a retail landscape that is heavily online, especially in the pandemic.  It’s a noisy space for sure. How can retailers and publishers attract business when book sales are 30 times more than they were in 1990? How do we convert views into orders? Making on-line discovery work is the question, and metadata is somewhere in the answer.   

But it’s also about availability – speed of delivery is moot if the product is not available.  Reliable real-time data is essential between trading partners, and BIC’s Accreditation Scheme sets out to help here.  Of publishing organizations that are BICaccredited, 63% are using ONIX 3.  Availability includes accessibility – we need to make sure that books are published as bornaccessible meaning that digital and print are available simultaneously.  Many publishers are there but we need more publishers engaged she says.  Karina quotes a 2019 survey stating that 62% of UK publishers were adhering to epub accessibility specifications She supports the use of ONIX 3 and also Thema, a global book subject classification system.  A recent case study of Thema in action at a Dutch retailer showed an improvement of 5% in converting inquiries to sales when using Thema.   

And last but by no means least of the challenges facing publishers – and the elephant in the room, is the fallout from Brexit!  How closely will the UK market align to a digital single market, and will the UK observe the global Marakesh treaty, which seeks to improve access to content for visually impaired people.  The UK and 60 other countries signed up but it’s not at all clear what will happen since the UK left the EEC at the end of December 2020.  Those and a thousand other critical questions are looming and unanswered. 

We asked Ms. Urquhart why UK and US publishers should be members of BIC.  The big advantage is that by joining BIC’s network of members that create standards and best practices, they get to voice their issues on any supply chain issue  and work with their colleagues to improve or set new standards.  They can be seen and heard.   

Karina gave us her recommendations for how technology vendors can support BIC’s mission, especially on the global question of sustainability – the “Green” question.  On the specific issue of freight and distribution, she mentioned cloudbased technologies that enable distributed printing, that attempts to reduce book miles by printing locally, or printing as close to the customer as possibleand potentially reducing inventories to minimal levels.  The more we avoid shipping in huge containers the better the industry’s footprint.  She suggests that we ought to be thinking about how we can bring about smarter ordering that ends up with fewer returns, that would have a huge impact on the environment.  Can we reduce returns ?  Maybe not. Retailers won’t let that go easily.  Maybe as an industry we only allow returns on front list ?   Maybe we allow only returning books locally.  Good suggestions ! 

And while we’re talking environmental issues, consider the rise of the ethical environmental shopper. Can a carbon-neutral organization use that quality as a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).  Can publishers influence consumer behavior by being green – the notion that “You can have this book tomorrow or if you take it next week you can save x%The market for sustainable products is about to explode according to Nielsen – Karina tells us that they predict the market for such products will massively increase to 150b in 2021 in the US alone.   

Karina Urquhart is the Executive Director of BIC and has held this position since February 2012. She has been instrumental in the re-invigoration of BIC resulting in an agile members organisation focused on delivering meaningful change and education across all sectors of the UK book industry. Karina has worked in the book industry for over 25 years including 5 years with Dorling Kindersley followed by 12 years at Penguin UK where she held several supply chain and operational roles, latterly as the Digital & Data Supply Chain Manager.  

knk Software is a global software solutions provider focused solely on the publishing and media industry with over 450 customers on three continents. 


(Photo by Andras Malmos on Unsplash)