Archives for November2010

What is Your Ebook Format?

Bill Trippe and I were speaking with someone at a mid-sized education publisher the other day, and we heard a well-informed and articulated series of complaints about the Kindle format. The frustration behind these comments was palpable: Kindle is where so much of the early and encouraging growth of the ebook market has happened, but the E-ink display and .AWZ format is really not good for any content beyond straight-forward text constrained within narrative paragraph structure.  While such constraint works fine for many titles, any publisher producing educational, professional, STM, or any other even moderately complex content has to compromise way too much.

Book publishers still not committing to the ebook market certainly like the news of the potential—Forrester’s James McQuivey, with the projection of the ebook market hitting $3 billion in sales sometime soon, is the latest word, perhaps—but these same book publishers, who after all, are the ones having to do the work, find themselves wondering if they can get there from here. Hannah Johnson, at PublishingPerspectives, posted a blog titled “Forrester’s James McQuivey Says Digital Publishing is About Economics, Not Format” The post is on the post by James McQuivey of Forrester Research about the projected growth of ebook sales and the emphasis on economics, not formats, when assessing ebooks’ future.

McQuivey’s point is right, of course, although it isn’t a startling conclusion, but one more on par with pointing out that, for print books, it matters very little whether the title comes out in hard cover or paperback, or in one trim size over another.  Still, in today’s ebook hysteria, it remains valuable to point out the sensible perspective.

In book publishing, the main consideration is producing a book that is of strong interest to readers, while also making sure that these readers can get their hands on the title in ways that produce sufficient monetary gain for the publisher. The only reasons why ebook formats are such a concern at the moment is that the question of ebook formats is a new one that book publishers are struggling to figure out how to implement, even while the marketplace for any and all such ebook formats remains nascent.

The Gilbane Group has been in the business of helping companies with all kinds of content—including publishers of many stripes—more effectively manage their content and get it to those who need it, at the right time, in the right form. Our recent 277-page study, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Systems to Re-Invent Publishing (which is free, for download, by the way), discusses the issue of ebook formats and makes the point that book publishers need to move toward digital workflow—and, preferably, XML-based—as early in the editorial and production process as possible, so that all desirable formats the publisher may want to produce now and in the years ahead can be realized much more efficiently and much less expensively. One section in our industry forecast chapter is titled, “Ebook Reader Devices in Flux, But so What?”

But good strategic planning in book publishing doesn’t necessarily resolve each and every particular requirement for market success, and given the confused state of ebook format s and their varying production demands, we’re developing our next study that drills down on this very issue.  Working title: Ebooks, Apps, and Formats: The Practical Issues.

Stay tuned.  Drop a line.

 

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Publishers are the Masters of Publishing

As absurd as the title of this entry sounds, there is a point to it, especially when you consider all the theories being bandied about the consequences of book publishing’s encounter with ebooks specifically, and digital publishing generally. The sheer range in such theories is impressive, from the “print is dead” silliness (unless, perhaps, you are casting well into the future) to much more reasonable suppositions that book publishers as they are today may be in danger of disintermediation tomorrow (or, rather, 5, 10, or more years down the road), as digital technologies may engender significant shifts in the supply and value chains presently in place. There’s plenty of compelling evidence that real alternatives will exist, and are found in our newest study on book publishing and ebooks, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-invent Publishing, now available for free download. One such statistic is from Bowker’s own analysis of the book industry, where it reports the number of new fiction titles being traditionally published dropped significantly from 2008 to 2009, while the overall number of book titles published, including fiction, exploded due to non-traditional publishing efforts such as “self-publishing” and ebooks. 

Don’t write off book publishers yet, however.  We see that book publishing across all segments—from trade, to educational, STM, and professional—have been making good progress, especially in approaching digital workflow as a necessary process improvement, and, even with the use of XML for content creation and management within such workflows. While the industry as a whole still can’t be thought of as all that fast moving (after all, many book publishers still take a year or two to get a signed book into the hands of readers), speculation that these “dinosaurs” are doomed is simply unsupportable.

Blueprint provides an in-depth look at publisher responses to digital mandates, identifies winning strategies for ebook technologies, processes, and systems. One of the sponsors of this multi-sponsor study is the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), and in a letter to its members about the recently published Blueprint, BISG’s Executive Director, Scott Lubeck writes:

We all hear a great deal about change in our industry, but very little on how to accomplish this in a constructive way. The key to managing change is not mastering technology—however important that may seem to be—but rather in mastering process.  If you don’t understand the processes that underlie and drive your businesses you can’t change them let alone improve them, you can only watch them collide, and in the worst cases implode, as new opportunities emerge or new competencies are required.

It is the very fact that book publishing entails many processes which places the industry in the captain’s chair, even as self-publishing has its role to play as more and more services are available to self-publishers that reflect the wide range of processes (e.g., think promotion and marketing, for one) involved in book publishing. Book publishers know their business processes, and there is little that is simple about most publishing processes. Lubeck writes of one element of publishing that key to improving many publishing processes:

Good process and process awareness produce enormous value in the book industry value chain. The most salient example to my mind is metadata. Metadata is not one thing: there are bibliographic metadata, production metadata, marketing metadata, product metadata, just for starters; and all metadata maps to the core publishing process that produce it. If you want to improve metadata—and you better had in order to succeed in the digital world—you have to understand and improve these processes. The technologies follow.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that book publishing as a whole—and more so in some segments than others—has no significant challenges. Book publishing carries, in many of the companies, high debt loads, and the overall margins can be modest. And long-established industries—think music recording—can all too easily be their own worst enemies, refusing to respond to changing market realities, and there’s no guarantee that book publishing won’t be equally stupid.

But it looks good so far, perhaps because publishing has long been struggling with debt and margins and has been desperate for reducing costs and increasing revenue. Digital technologies, when applied in service to publishing processes that are sound, serve these ends quite effectively. 

Let us know what you think. Leave a comment. Drop a line.

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The Gilbane Group’s Publishing Practice’s Blueprint Study is Now Out!

Our Blueprint study is the first in-depth look into ebook-related issues from the book publishers’ perspective, tying digital considerations to the everyday book publishing processes (A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing.) Book publishers across all segments are embracing ebooks, but they require guidance grounded in what they actually do, more than simply a focus on technology.

See my blog in Publishing Practices about some of our Blueprint findings.

And let us know what you think!

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Blueprint Study is OUT!

Our Blueprint study is the first in-depth look into ebook-related issues from the book publishers’ perspective, tying digital considerations to the everyday book publishing processes (A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing.) Book publishers across all segments are embracing ebooks, but they require guidance grounded in what they actually do, more than simply a focus on technology.

Here is the figure in the study reporting on the book publishing segment breakout participating in the Blueprint survey that has trade publishers showing very strongly, at nearly one-third of respondents. This was a somewhat surprising showing to us, with our long and in-depth experiences with STM and education publishing. It’s good to get confirmation on claims we—and many others—have been making about trade publishing finally getting into ebooks in a serious manner.

Blueprint Fig 1.jpgOur expectations were thrown in other ways, too, and again because of The Gilbane Group traditional market focus, we’re we’ve been following content management platform development and helping with implementation in the enterprise for two decades.  We’ve seen a lot of software and hardware go into companies to make their content creation, handling, and distribution more integrated.  When it comes to book publishing, however, planning still starts—and, for many—ends with Word docs and spreadsheets. We believe this will change in the years ahead, and we certainly see a number of strong efforts toward integration of publishing processes out among the vendor community’s offerings.  Process integration must and will happen in book publishing, but we con only guess at the timetable for this, presently.

Blueprint Fig 7.jpg

One reason for our faith in book publishing process integration is that almost half of the surveyed respondents claim that they’re routinely working on print and digital versions concurrently, and this number goes to about three-quarters if the concurrent development is not necessarily routine, but pursued nonetheless. These numbers tell us several things, but the best news form them may be that book publishing is, indeed, seriously engaged in ebooks.  Technology has a fierce and deserved reputation for being over-hyped (and, yes, despite my best efforts to get into Heaven, I’m guilty enough of this charge myself, in too many instances over the years); ebooks are in early days, but the inflection point is solidly behind us.

Blueprint Fig 9.jpg

One proof of “early days” is the high level of confusion about ebook formats.  This confusion on the part of book publishers isn’t about what these formats are, but rather how to produce the various desirable (or market-demanding) ebook formats. While some publishing platforms offer flexible format production, many book publishers are using outside partners—like Blueprint sponsor Aptara—to take on conversion and production.

 

Blueprint Fig 39.jpg

Speaking of ebook formats, our next study, now in planning stage, looks to describe the various practical approaches for book publishers wanting to master this often-confusing issue.  Working title: Ebooks, Apps, and Formats:  The Practical Issues of XML, ePub, PDF, ONIX, .AWZ, DRM, ETC.

Stay tuned. Drop a line.

 

 

 


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Mergers, Acquisitions, and the Publishing Processes Integration Challenge

From our new study, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing:

[Today’s] publishing processes are replete with spreadsheets and ad hoc databases (many built in FileMaker and Microsoft Access). These are used for tasks as various as tracking and calculating royalties, managing contracts, tracking digital assets, and managing editorial and production schedules.

Mergers, acquisitions, and divestments have an impact on both processes and their associated systems and tools. A large publisher that acquires a smaller one might move quickly to have the new group adopt processes and systems used by the larger company. Or, seeing that the new group has unique needs and requirements, the publisher might leave their processes and systems intact.

Of the process areas we looked at, planning is one where investments in technology range widely. In regard to editorial and production processes, some publishers have gone so far as to specifically redesign this process with an eye toward “digital first”—the idea being to have digital products ready first—or sometimes “media neutral”—with the idea being print and digital products are developed in concert. Aptara, one of the sponsors of Blueprint, sees a lot of their recent business with publishers helping the publishers do just this. (Blueprint is also available from the Aptara site.)

While the desktop war has largely seen QuarkXPress cede more ground to Adobe’s Creative Suite in a lopsided two-horse race, the broader market for editorial and production systems is wide open, with a long list of small- and medium-sized vendors carving out corners of the marketplace.

Despite these many editorial and production tools and systems, the Blueprint survey results does shed light on some trends we have seen in practice at publishing companies. These trends include:

  1. Even print books have digital workflow and digital underpinnings.
  2. XML is gaining in usage, and being seen further upstream in the editorial process.
  3. Book publishers are taking more control of their assets.
  4. Outsourcing is the rule and not the exception in editorial and production.

We see this penetration of XML as highly significant, especially in a survey where trade and educational publishers account for two-thirds of the respondents and STM, Professional, and Legal accounts for only 22%. These latter segments, after all, represent the early adopters for XML usage upstream in the workflow (and SGML before that), and trade and educational publishers have traditionally lagged. It suggests to us that market forces are driving publishers to work hard at creating the kind of multi-channel publishing XML is best at driving.

Another of Blueprint’s sponsors is Really Strategies (you can download Blueprint from them, too), which offers R/Suite, a publishing-focused content management system that incorporates Mark Logic’s XML repository platform. There is a lot more for publishers to do to integrate their various publishing processes, but getting control of source files is the best first step.

Let us know what you think of the Blueprint study, and stay tuned for news of upcoming studies from The Gilbane Group Publishing Practice.
 

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