At The Gilbane Group’s Content Technologies and Strategies service, we’re wrestling with what we think is one of the biggest challenges facing publishers moving to greater and greater involvement in the digital marketplace: How much impediment is found in publishers’ having insular line-of-business systems throughout their publishing processes?

Digital publishing’s revenues have been growing—a common marker is the statistics in ebook sales growth—and more publishers of all sorts are strengthening their digital publishing efforts. For many, the problem comes down to whether the publisher can make publishing in various ebook formats (or online aggregation, or other models) pay.  It all comes down to how easy (read: cheap) it is to determine conditions like the rights associated with a publication, or part thereof, and how easy (read: cheap) it is to get the actual content into the right form. 

Here’s a simplified example, assuming an existing print textbook.  The textbook’s publisher will have to ascertain the status of and details for all seven publishing processes, from planning through to fulfillment, as follows:

  • Market for and P&L of digital versions
  • Form(s) and features of the digital textbooks
  • State of rights and royalties for the textbooks, including, in all likelihood, various contributors and components, and quite possibly licensing or subsidiary rights constraints
  • Location, condition, and availability of print edition production and/or manufacturing files
  • Design, conversion, and format output requirements of digital versions
  • Promotion and sales of digital versions
  • Distribution and/or fulfillment of digital textbooks

There is need for planning and editorial to work together to figure out if the digital publications make sense; planning, royalties, and licensing to work together to provide planning with these costs and to work with sales and accounting to meet contractual obligations; editorial, production, and quite likely manufacturing to work together on the specific forms of and source material for the digital versions; production and manufacturing to work together with sales, distribution, and fulfillment, along with marketing and promotion, to get actual digital textbooks out to the end-user or aggregator.

The publishing processes most often have a lot of separate systems and platforms in play, of course. Which means when it comes to extracting money out of print titles by publishing digital editions, there are plenty of places for expenses to become significant. 

Our upcoming report, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing, looks at, among other things, how these systems can work together, and already we are seeing a number of different strategies that make a lot of sense (read: cents).

We’ll be launching a Web-based survey for mid- and high-level book publishing professionals in about two weeks to gain a more detailed picture of the current state of digital publishing in fact, not theory.  As more and more content technology is applied to book publishing, we think that it is important to ask how well or poorly the different publishing processes can interoperate, and for that answer we need to hear from those doing the real work of publishing.