Abu Dhabi Training, Day 3: Towards a Data-Driven Industry

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Several times a year KITAB, the organization behind the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, and the Center for Publishing at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, hold professional training courses for publishers on the campus of NYU Abu Dhabi.

Salwa Shakhshir of Al Salwa Books, a children’s book publisher from Amman, Jordan is documenting her experiences here throughout the week. Read last week’s posts on Day One and Day Two,  (or take a look at her coverage of last year’s event).

By Salwa Shakhshir

Listen up!

The first thing that jumped out at me in today’s session with Stephen Lathroum – Vice President, Digital Strategy & Business Development of eScholastic, a division of Scholastic Inc. –was when he pointed out that 18 months ago the iPad did not exist and Apple did not sell books. I felt like yelling: “That was ONLY 18 months ago! It feels like it’s been here forever already!” When put in that perspective, it struck me how much the technology industry crashed into the publishing industry and has literally shaken  it to its core. Who would’ve thought …

Stephan also pointed out that the publishing industry that has managed to operate unchanged for a lot of years no. He added that the predominant culture of publishing is working against itself by thinking of itself as disseminating, rather than licensing information.

But what really got me thinking was when Stephen said that the publishing industry is being driven like a non-profit organization, and less like a business: that book publishing is like a blockbuster business that relies on that one big hit that will end up financing and paying for the rest of the investments and costs- a highly inefficient model.

The publishing house should move from a gut- driven industry to a data driven industry, but this shift not only needs a change of culture within the publishing house, but requires organizational restructuring as well. Publishing houses that are used to a hierarchal organization structure are not going to survive in the age of digital.

One of the main reasons for this is bureaucracy: it simply takes too long to make decisions. Publishing houses need to push authority down and have more of a cross-management structure.

Stephen showed us a slide that looked like a cloud structure, which was taken from Hachette;  it was centered on the content management system and had the whole organization forming a cloud around it. The idea behind this is that because technology moves so fast, and as we established technology  as now the publishing industry, the idea is to have CMS centered and develop it to cater to all formats and technologies needed.  Companies that create a culture where employees are close to its’ strategy and vision will be successful everyday of the week.

Moving towards a more data-driven industry came a new term which was the “Learning organization.”  I really like the concept of this new age organization, which translated into leveraging data to come back into the organization and analyzing it, learning from it, experimenting with it, transferring it…etc.  such that the organization starts to make decisions that rely on facts as opposed to feelings. And this “learning organization” also suits the faster pace at which a publishing house should operate from in order to stay on top of its game.

Stephen noted that the life cycles in tech are far shorter than in publishing, which tends to work on content for a long time, perfect it, then release it to the world. I recalled our own experience at Al Salwa Publishing when we were producing our first iPhone Application and the company we were working with, MediaPlus Jordan, kept pushing us to release it. Their line of thinking was “let’s put it out there, test the market, get their feedback while continuing to work on it.” Our line of thinking as publishers was “let’s perfect the content before we release it to the world,” which would have taken us another couple of months…

When asked if we thought whether or not our jobs as publishers would still exist in 10 years, Stephen shocked me when he said “you should hope it doesn’t!” But when he explained that 10 years down the line we should have acquired a whole new skill set that will allow you to evolve in order to take on new opportunities in the next 10 years, that made sense.  I liked the positive spin that Stephen put on this question, as opposed to the end of the publishing industry as we know it, It’s more like a change of the publishing industry as we know it. Where to? None of us know I think, but it’s exciting… change is good.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.