Sunday, February 22, 2009

Supply Chain Thoughts Part 1

As an industry the booktrade has worked hard to address the waste and inefficiencies in its supply chain. Standard practices have been adopted, transactional services such as PubEasy have been adopted by many and generally the exchange of information and transactions has improved. In essence the systems of the large players now talk directly to each other and remove the inefficient passing and deciphering of notes that previously took place. Many will point to standards as the main driver, but some would suggest that the consolidation throughout the industry and the agendas of the large players has been a far greater driver.

However, the route cause of much inefficiency remains. We still have over production not just in titles but more importantly volume and the abdication of real buying through the abuse of sale or return. Some would argue that returns should be abolished. However, we would suggest that firm sale would seriously change the dynamics of supply, what is sold and rather than addressing one issue, create many more. Today, it would be like throwing a non swimmer into the deep sea and expecting them to survive.

We have moved from bulk replenishment models to a more frequent and smaller volume replenishment model. This was great when the economics worked and demand was being meet but becomes a potential pain when demand slows down and flattens. POD is a valuable development but today is often only reducing not removing the inventory. Short cycle printing merely transfers print from large presses producing large print runs to large presses producing short print runs.

The polarisation of the trade is accelerating, with numbers shrinking at one end and exploding at the other. Those who are tethered to the old model and practices are under increasing threat, whilst those shifting position have to grapple with new risk and challenges. If the trade were just physical books then the market share of some would be seen by others as unhealthy, but because the overall landscape is undergoing such radical changes it is in fact the large who are at greater risk as their ability to manoeuvre is often restricted by their inability to react.

So who shows the way? How can develop best practice? Do we look to the industry bodies who have done such fine work in the past and expect the few just men who have sat consistently around those same tables to help interpret and steer the ship? Do we wish to be led by the media feeding frenzy that will predict change before it’s even out of the lab?

In a many to many and diverse sector such as publishing there is often no single solution, no silver supply chain bullets. The 80/20 rules still apply the 20% but what works for the large players is often impractical for the small and visa versa. As digital publishing becomes publishing then these differences become more marked. It’s no longer about transactions and basic information but content and rich information.

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