Questions for: Karina Urquhart

News - Interviews Tuesday, 11th June 2019

The director of BIC contributes to our Q&A series

Describe your current job
Executive director at Book Industry Communication Ltd (BIC). BIC is a members' organisation charged with making the UK book supply chain more efficient by developing standards and encouraging their adoption. We define best practice and connect experts and stakeholders to enable innovation. Find out more:

What was your first job in the book industry?
My first job (way back in 1993) was international rights assistant at Dorling Kindersley.

How has the industry changed since your first job?
Where to start? Back in 1993 things on many level things were very different - for example, the every-day tools and technology at our disposal weren't the same. This was the time before the transformational technological innovations in printing and digital formats, digital workflows and communications. I very clearly remember working on co-editions at DK and liaising on a regular basis with production teams about 4-colour physical films, how certain changes (translations, edits etc) to co-edition versions could (in order to be cost-effective) only be made to the black film etc.

We didn't have email back in 1993, and so we operated using a combination of faxes, internal memos (on paper), landline phones (there were no mobile phones - imagine!) old-school regular post, and couriers for the urgent items. There were no ebooks, but a certain amount of research was going on with regards other potential formats. I do for example recall DK experimenting with CD-ROMs. Audiobooks were largely on tape, followed by a gradual move to CD.

"Good metadata is now more than ever of prime importance for discovery and sales"

I remember print runs being larger (to keep costs down) and having longer turn-around times than today. Great advances in printing process over recent years, including print-on-demand, have given rise to much shorter, faster print runs, and quicker delivery to store/customer. This in turn has helped contribute to a gradual reduction in returns.

The industry today is far more agile than when I started my first job. There is a greater awareness today of the environmental impact of the book industry, and social and corporate responsibility. While there is more to be done, it's encouraging to see the steps the industry has been taking in recent years to address diversity and inclusivity, in terms of both content and people.

The tools at the reading/writing public's disposal weren't the same either. Self-publishing is an area that wasn't an option for many writers in 1993. The digital era has opened this up, so that now we see many talented authors being discovered in new ways that were unheard of before. Social media and online discovery are tools/concepts that were on no one's radars in 1993, yet today they are key areas for marketing and aiding the sales of books. These tools also allow authors and readers to connect directly, and for book industry organisations to have a direct connection with their customers.

Given that the vast majority of the reading population is able to explore on-line today, the role of good metadata is, as everybody knows, now more than ever of prime importance for discovery and sales. Good and efficient information exchange (including system to system transactional data) is critical to a successful business operation.

For me, the most regrettable change to note about the industry today is the loss of so many bookstores and public libraries.

In many ways, however, things have stayed the same. In simple terms, people still love books (print, digital and audio), they love to read stories, and to learn new things. Authors still want to create and write, and the fascination that the book industry holds for many (industry professionals, authors, and readers alike) will, in my opinion, never diminish.

"Without cross-industry collaboration, often between competitors, we wouldn't be able to deliver our services and benefits to our members or the book industry at large"

What's the biggest challenge in your job?
BIC is a neutral body, specialising in bringing diverse, often competing stakeholders from across the book industry together to collaborate and resolve both physical and digital supply chain issues. The ongoing challenge here is for BIC to consistently and reliably be able to provide a neutral, balanced environment to engender and facilitate this collaboration. This collaboration can't simply be a one-off event, it needs to be a constant thread through all areas of our work as it feeds into everything we do and achieve. Without this cross-industry collaboration, often between competitors (which I have been told is unique to BIC, and something we do well) we wouldn't be able to deliver our services and benefits to our members or the book industry at large.

As a membership organisation, we also need to ensure that we are addressing the needs of all constituents in membership and focusing equally on the different areas of the supply chain. We have four strategic supply chain committees to help us with this: physical, digital, metadata and libraries. Overseeing these four committees is our operational board.

We also need to ensure that supply chain knowledge and expertise is not lost over time, but consistently shared throughout the industry - passed on to the next generation of professionals. To this end in 2019/20 BIC will prioritise the socialising of the work we have done to date, and the resources we have, all of which are freely available for the industry on our website. For more information about BIC's 2019/20 strategy, please check our website here.

What's the best piece of publishing-related advice you've ever been given?
It's not publishing-specific, but it was deceptively simple: "You can only change yourself, you can't change other people."

What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
I'm keeping an eye on the impact of AI, VR, voice recognition search technology and also the ever-increasing impact of the art/science of data (and associated technologies) on the industry.

What do you most like doing when you're not working?
In February I took up Nordic Walking. Being an exercise-phobe, combined with hitting 50 in January this year, I knew I should at some point probably think again about finding an exercise that I enjoyed and that I could incorporate easily into my life. I moved to Devon four years ago, and so I now spend most Saturday mornings walking on beautiful Dartmoor.

I also love reading (of course!), cooking, trying new recipes and entertaining. When the weather is warmer, I try to squeeze in a bit of body boarding at Woolacombe, Croyde or Saunton beaches in North Devon.

What is the best book you've read in the last year?
It has to be The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne.

What are you reading now?
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi.

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audiobooks?
I tend to vary how I read, depending on what I'm doing/where I am. My first love will always be the printed book format. However, I find reading on screen particularly convenient when commuting/going on holiday.