In Search of Simpler Solutions

May 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

We’ve recently been working on consulting assignments involving evaluating vendors and solutions to publishers’ issues. In every case, the publisher is looking to solve or simplify a basic problem without using multiple vendors or software packages and the Requests for Proposals also included a specification for a ‘global solution’. We weren’t looking for a front-to-back publishing system…just a solution for a specific problem.

Know what? Complete single-vendor global solutions for many typical problems don’t exist. You can find all the components, but putting together a complete package (at reasonable pricing and with a good chance of success) typically involves combining pieces from two or more vendors. This raises the price (and the amount of brain damage) significantly. There are exceptions, of course, but if you want, for example, to sort out contracts, royalties, rights and permissions with one vendor you’re, as a practical matter, out of luck.

Now, this is not a reflection on those providing products and services to the industry. They’re smart and hard-working and many of their offerings are first-rate. What it reflects is the speed with which the ground is shifting under the industry’s feet and a notion we have of ourselves that publishing is a snowflake, unlike any other business category.

There’s a big opportunity here to serve small to medium-sized publishers with light, nimble solutions to problems like global digital distribution, workflow management, rights and permissions. We tend to think that each publisher’s issues are unique and require a bespoke solution when in fact if an off-the-shelf product could solve, say, 90% of these kinds of problems, it could be immensely useful and, I’d guess, profitable. Sometimes a Chevrolet works as well as a Bentley. (If you’re interested in an example, have a look at PressBooks [ ], which uses the lightweight WordPress platform to produce multiple format outputs…avoiding the conversion process entirely).

I’m not one of those who typically calls for publishing to “think more like Silicon Valley”, but in looking for answers to some of these knotty problems, rapid development of ‘good enough’ solutions would give many publishers a chance to move ahead without taking on major projects and the attendant costs. These aren’t easy problems, but they’re not as complex as we want to believe.

Go for it. There might not be an Easy Button, but there might be some “Easier” Buttons that could be low hanging fruit for vendors.

Note: This post was previously published at by Don Linn.

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