Looking at the Cloud (from Both Sides Now)

February 20, 2012 § 6 Comments

We were  recently reminded by several speakers at the If Book Then conference in Milan and again at Tools of Change, that there are new technologies now coming into broader use and applicability that allow for much richer data mining of reader behavior. Up until now, the ability to track when e-reading devices are being used, how much time is being spent on entire books and sections within the books, whether readers are finishing the book and other data has been limited to device manufacturers who typically have shared only very limited data with publishers. The benefits of mining this data could be very important for acquisition editors, marketing departments and to senior management in making decisions about what and how to publish.

For example (one provided by Mike Shatzkin at the Milan conference), knowing that readers are reading an author’s first novel straight through without breaks might suggest that further acquisitions from that author might be in order…even ahead of knowing sales figures for the book. Another example, and perhaps more compelling, is for non-fiction publishers (and particularly those in educational publishing) to know which chapters are garnering the most attention, suggesting areas of emphasis for future titles or perhaps ‘chunking’ out those sections for separate sales. If you let your imagination wander a little, you can think of a number of similar examples that could be valuable in planning and executing a publishing program.

With cloud-based reading rapidly becoming a reality, it will be possible for publishers to track this data themselves if they choose to operate (or outsource on the right terms) their own cloud readers. Obviously having one’s own data allows for richer mining to produce, presumably, better results. Such clouds could be ‘built’ by publishers but are more likely, in our opinion, to be licensed from third-party ‘white label’ providers. We are aware of at least one company, 24 Symbols, that is already beginning to license such a service.

We’ve long argued that data is critical in driving successful publishers and will be even more so in the future. The developments discussed in this post bear following. The reality isn’t that far away.

We’ll leave you with one open question: How will readers respond?

Take Control of your Operations

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Let’s face it.  Being a publisher today is a much different thing than it was even five years ago.  Virtually every aspect of the publishing process, from the time a work is selected for publication until a consumer is reading a finished version, has been affected by new technologies.

Just to name a few innovations from recent history that come to the front of mind when thinking about all this change:

  • Centralized distribution  – eliminating the warehouse freed financial and intellectual capital that could be put into content publication
  • Short Run Digital Printing – changed the way composition was done, and made us rethink print runs
  • Print On Demand – made us rethink inventory strategy
  • Title Management systems – have become almost as essential to publishers as order processing systems used to be.
  • Electronic metadata feeds – puts our marketing messages on ecommerce sites
  • Ecommerce web sites – radically changed the way books are sold
  • Electronic catalogs – made life easier for retail buyers
  • Electronic galleys – have helped expand the opportunities to create a buzz about individual titles
  • Social Media – has created unprecedented opportunities and challenges in how to market titles
  • Search Engine Optimization – changed the way customers discover your content
  • An explosion of new reading devices and content formats

The point is that in the face of all of this change, most companies have taken each innovation on, one at a time, and layered new processes on top of their old processes while waiting for things to “shake out”. Some things have shaken out, but others won’t ever.  Some of the changes are temporary and others permanent. Yet, most publishers still have all of the layered processes in place. This often leads to a redundancy of effort, and a frustrated work force.

The most progressive publishers we see are those that have an ongoing endeavor to constantly review their internal operational processes and eliminate the layers wherever possible.  The CEO or COO usually chairs internal review committees – a group that meets regularly to review the processes in place in individual departments – and holds them up to the new realities of the day.

These publishers understand that in order to compete in today’s market, the efficiency of which products move through the editorial, production, marketing, publicity, and sales departments is critical to their survival.  There is no longer the luxury of having artificial boundaries between these groups.  Everyone needs to be on board and work together.  In order for that to happen, each group needs to be constantly re-educated in what it means to be a publisher, and that can only come from the people at the top of the organization who own that overall vision.

So, join the vanguard! Publishing is much different than it was five years ago, and it will be much different five years from now. Constantly reviewing your internal approach is the only way to incorporate all of the challenges that lie ahead.


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