By Karina Mikhil
The publishing industry is not generally known for being agile or quick to change, yet it is facing one of its biggest times of change probably since the invention of the printing press. At the heart of this is the migration to digital.
Prior to this migration, a time-tested process and structure existed for getting books printed: from acquisition, copyediting and typesetting, to author reviews and proofreading, to print. Although hiccups occurred and no two companies had the exact same workflow, the foundations were the same and ensured quality products got released in expected time frames.
Whether publishers are dealing with online content or e-books, digital only or both print and digital, publishers are now faced with more questions than answers as to how to incorporate the new with the old. Below I provide a framework for those questions, using the traditional 6 Ws: why, who, what, when, which, and where.
Of the six questions, this is the easiest to answer. No publisher can afford to ignore the digital any longer: the tipping point has come and gone; more and more e-books and e-readers are being sold weekly; and authors will begin demanding this, if they haven’t already. And traditional publishers need to offer all things digital to compete with the emerging “digital publishers.”
Even prior to the migration to digital, publishers would do one of two things to keep costs down: outsource as much as possible, keeping headcount down, or the reverse, which is hire talent to keep all services and costs internal. With digital, publishers have to make this decision anew. Should they invest in new talent from other industries (e.g., technology) or in educating existing talent, those who are eager to learn and have a background in publishing? Or should they turn to one of the many conversion and content solutions providers that exist in the market?
What exactly is a digital product, or more specifically an e-book? Is it a replica of the print product or something that only starts from there and then adds interactive media? How much new content should be added to the digital product for consumers to choose that over the print product? Are they competing against each other and is there a way to bundle them? And what is actually a value-ad as opposed to bells-and-whistles that are more of a distraction and deterrent? Also, should publishers focus on frontlist alone or backlist too? How much of either or both?
And what should the price be for this digital product? If it’s a replica of the print, should it be cheaper given that there are no PPB (paper, printing, and binding) costs? Is this a reason to add new and/or interactive content to justify increased price points?
Whatever the ultimate digital product, when should it be prepared and released? Should the publisher work in an xml-first environment and then from there publish across platforms, either simultaneously or at whatever schedule decided on? Is there a reason to do print first and then digital next? How long can a publisher hold off on releasing an e-book so as not to affect print sales?
Part of this question, and also continuation of the “who” and “what” question, is quality control. In the current process, we have production editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders, all with defined skills and quality checks they are responsible for. In this new digital workflow, publishers need to decide who is responsible for digital QC (internal vs. external staff), what are they responsible for (proofreading the entire text to ensure conversion didn’t introduce errors or just flipping through pages on e-readers to ensure no major formatting problems were introduced), and when is this to be done (hopefully prior to release and not after complaints come in).
Which formats will e-books be made available in and which e-readers will they be targeting? Currently you can probably focus on a few (Kindle, Nook, and Sony) but many more are emerging. Which will you continue to focus on or will you try to be accessible to all?
First off, where should digital content and assets be stored? Hopefully a CMS (content management system) of some sort exists and can act as both an archive and an enabler of updates and reprints. If one does not exist, an archive of some sort — whether on a network drive, in the cloud, or via a third-party provider — is vital.
Through which channels are these digital products sole? Does the publisher have e-commerce on their website and the technical support needed to sell their own e-books? Do they not want to bother and instead use distributors? Someone will need to ensure that the proper formats, metadata, uploads and updates are prepared for each of these distributors.
As the above demonstrates, there is a lot for the publisher to consider before it can migrate to digital but to be done right, these questions and others need to be thought through before investments are made.
Karina Mikhli is a publishing executive with a Master’s in Publishing and over ten years of experience in different sectors of the industry. Her expertise is in managing editorial, production operations, and process management. She has worked with Kensington Publishing, The Princeton Review, and Oxford University Press among others.