By Ingrid Goldstein
During the past few years there has been much talk about the changes in publishing. There is now no doubt that publishers – especially specialist publishers – are being seen as, and seeing themselves as, content providers. In addition to traditional print books, publishers are increasingly offering digital products, either online, as e-books, or as apps; B2B operations are also becoming a larger part of their business.
These shifts put them in direct competition, not only with other publishers, but also with large technology companies such as Apple, Google, and Amazon. The boundaries are becoming blurry, with publishers offering high technology products, and technology providers acting as publishers. But technology providers also sell music, household goods, and act as travel agents and auction houses; there are no limits to their imagination of products, customer requirements, or access possibilities. Their business focus is the user experience (UX): individualised, personalised, and customised for the access device at hand this very moment.
In publishing this is still different. Even though the product portfolio of publishers has expanded to the digital world, the business model – revolving around products – is still strongly rooted in tradition. The book, in print or electronic form, is ONE product for everyone. ONE UX for all. But customers increasingly expect a UX tailored to their individual needs and even to be able to tailor the content and their interaction with it themselves. Against this background, this singular approach to what constitutes a book becomes redundant. Rather it can be seen as a network of content modules that reach users in many different forms and formats and through different distribution channels.
The traditional linear publishing process becomes instead a network of modularised processes that enable dynamic, personalised content creation. Publishers as content providers do not create more and more products, but design and maintain a content centre, from which they are able to feed into the growing diversity of business opportunities. These paradigm shifts require an extensive rethinking for publishers – and make a content strategy essential. They entail having a content strategy which recognises that books are not just information or data.
The concept of a content strategy is closely linked to the development of the Internet and its associated web content. Its origins lie in the 1990s, when the field of user experience developed. Content strategy is now increasingly used in the business environment and refers to the cross-media planning, development and management of information about products. This aspect is also valid for the publishing industry, and is relevant to all of the information publishers produce about their products. But it is more important to transfer the concept of content strategy to the actual product of publishers – the content itself.
Such a Content Strategy for Publishing (CSP) is a methodical and clearly documented procedure, ensuring the longevity of the entire content of a publishing house. It is an integral part of the overall strategy. An effective CSP aims for:
- A consistent and high quality content basis
- Semantic richness
- Compatibility with diverse uses of the content, today and in the future
These qualities enable the automation of workflows and processes and efficient content management and maintenance. The main advantages are reduced “time to market” for new products and services, and a drastic reduction in the creation, maintenance and production costs of the content.
A CSP is divided into five main phases that can be considered a road map:
The Audit documents the expectations and goals of the CS for the publisher and initiates an inventory, where the current state of content-types – e.g. their sizes, locations, lifespans, and lifecycles as well as their associated workflows and processes – are recorded and described.
This inventory forms the basis for the Analysis, an evaluation of the content with regard to its improvement and its potential for dynamic use. Target groups and their customer profiles, market potential, and changing natures are considered. This relies on an understanding of the changing situation of the industry in response to the overall trends in culture and society. The analysis also looks at the potential of current processes and technologies, including the skills of the personnel. The different options and their foreseeable impacts are shown and described. The analysis phase gives a comprehensive picture of the market potential as well as the costs for the necessary transformation steps.
A successful implementation, usage, and maintenance of the content requires Strategies. On the data side, strategies for structuring the content have to be developed. This results in standards-based structure and linking models – like XML or RDF – and comprehensive metadata concepts that are semantically aligned and aim towards intelligent content. The resulting changes in processes and workflows are identified, described and rescheduled. Special attention is given to possibilities for automation and in this context also to methods and approaches of language technology. These strategic considerations result in the modification and creation of new job roles and profiles for the employees. As part of the strategy development, new business and revenue models are planned and potential new service providers and software products are identified. This step often initiates major changes in a publishing company, requiring the implementation of a comprehensive change management strategy.
For the Implementation of the different strategies specific work plans will be created and executed. On the content level, for instance, the new data structures and metadata concepts are tested, evaluated and, where necessary, improved. The planned business models are implemented and tested specifically for market suitability. The strategies also have an impact on the Management of the long-lived content.
These five phases build on each other, but their results also can be used independently. Each of these phases is a completed module, whose results are documented as deliverables. The results of each phase represent a process of clarification for the publisher in terms of future media and technology development. The deliverables document this process of clarification and may in whole or in part be passed on to a third party, such as a service provider.
The main advantage of CSP is its clearly documented and methodical approach that is focused on repeatability and aimed at the longevity of the content. It provides clarity and consistency to all lines of action at different levels:
- when describing the approach
- when deciding the implementation steps o when planning the tasks ahead
- when assigning responsibilities
- when measuring the achievable results
- when mediating the associated changes
This clarity and consistency is essential for a transparent and comprehensible approach that can be clearly communicated to all employees, and for sending a positive signal which creates confidence in the change. Thus, a content strategy is an essential support for a publishing house when becoming a sustainable content provider.
Ingrid Goldstein is Head of Language Technology–Dictionaries, Global Academic Business, Oxford University Press. She will be presenting “A Content Strategy for Publishing,” along with Anna von Veh, Say Books, New Zealand as part of the Publishers’ Forum, April 23-24, in Berlin and hosted by Klopotek.