The Future of Book Publishing – New York Public Library Roundtable

Hosted by Kodak, this event was lively and informative.

As Kodak noted in their announcement:

"The future of book publishing is irrevocably changing. With the advent of e-books and other ongoing changes in the retail marketplace, the ability to print books as efficiently as possible becomes even more important. Book publishers, manufacturers, authors, distributors and other key stakeholders in the book value chain are all impacted by the industry’s fast-changing business environment, all seeking to improve efficiencies and develop new markets and revenue opportunities."

 

2010 Webinars You Might Have Missed

Gilbane’s webinar calendar was laden with at-your-desk educational opportunities during the final quarter of 2010. Here’s a quick round-up of the events on content globalization:

Cisco’s Localization Journey: Capitalizing on Global Opportunity. We talked with Tim Young, Senior Operations Manager at Cisco, about the company’s transition from localization and translation silos to a centralized shared services platform. Young’s presentation was chock full of great metrics. Gilbane will publish an in-depth case study in February.

The Holistic View: Connecting Global Product Content and Marketing Content. We examined the current state of practice for multilingual marketing content and the successes that global enterprises are realizing when they overlap their multilingual marketing, brand, and product capabilities, treating business content holistically rather than as separate practices.

Game-Changing Approaches to Engaging Global Audiences and Managing Brand. The online version of our presentation at Localization World in Seattle. We shared insights into how leading practitioners are improving and advancing their global content value chains for marketing content, drawing on the research for our upcoming report on multilingual marketing content:

And although this webinar on Delivering Compelling Customer Experiences with DITA and CCM wasn’t specifically about content globalization, it examined next-generation XML applications and how global companies are realizing new value with smart content. The case studies covered in the webinar and in Gilbane’s Smart Content report touch on XML for localization and translation.

 

June 2011 in Barcelona: Localization World Call for Papers

Our new year’s resolution is to get back to regular blogging. We’ll start with an easy but time-sensitive post.

After three years in Berlin, Localization World moves to Barcelona this year. The event takes place 14-16 June.

The theme of this year’s conference is innovation. Based on what we saw happening with content globalization practices throughout the second half of 2010, innovation is top-of-mind for all industry constituents. Services business models are evolving, driven by strategic collaboration among buyers and sellers of translation services. Technologies for automating the manual tasks associated with content globalization are maturing rapidly. Gilbane’s research shows steady progress towards overcoming language afterthought syndrome, as more and more companies realize that one or two key investments can stem the money drain caused by redundant processes. Innovation, indeed.

The call for papers closes 21 January 2011. 

“Extreme multi-channel publishing” and other trends for 2011

I hadn’t planned this post on trends but ended-up creating a list for a colleague who was helping a client, and I was definitely overdue to post something. These are in no particular order, and there is a lot more to say about each of them. There are other trends of course, but these are especially relevant to our coverage of content technologies and to Outsell/Gilbane clients.

  • Marketing and IT continue to learn how to work together as marketing assumes a bigger role in control of digital technology for all customer engagement.
  • Content strategy gets more respect.
  • Mobile confusion reigns – which platforms, which formats, apps vs. mobile web and which apps make sense, what workflows, etc. 
  • “Extreme multi-channel” publishing reality hits. You thought web plus print was a challenge?
  • Enterprise applications start including mobile and don’t look back.
  • “Apps” approach to software distribution expands beyond mobile.
  • The line between pads and notebooks blurs in both user interface and function.
  • Spending on digital channels continues to grow ahead of curve.
  • Enterprise social platform growth stagnates, consumer social platforms continue to grow, but with little direct application to enterprise beyond feature or UI ideas.
  • Business model experimentation accelerates in content businesses.

Apple, eBooks, and the Long Tail Publisher

David Guenette has some cautionary thoughts for the publisher who–quite naturally–will be intrigued by Apple’s new services for publishers being brought to market by Jouve and Innodata-Isogen.

eBook Publishers: Welcome to Apple Heaven, but Caveat Emptor

Vice President & Lead Analyst Ned May, our Outsell colleague, wrote an excellent Outsell Insights titled “Long Tail Publishers Now Have An Easy Route to Apple’s iBookstore.” The piece covers Apple’s selection of two conversion services for publishers to use to get book titles into the iBookstore. Here’s a key part:

Any publisher looking to get their books on the Apple platform now has an option to have their works converted to the appropriate format by one of two approved firms – Jouve and Innodata Isogen. Further, a publisher can initiate and complete the conversion in a relatively seamless fashion via the Apple iTunes Store site.

Whether these Apple-vetted companies will really offer a more rationalized conversion process than other such services remains to be seen, but May is right that in the controlled universe of the Apple platform, this sure won’t hurt. 

What remains unlikely, at least for the present, is that book content conversion—even under such optimal arrangements—will prove as easy and inexpensive as a publisher might hope. Standards-based ebook formats—ePub, primarily—are not fully standard in the real world, in that various ereader platforms manifest the content in different ways.  Not that this should be a surprise, given the history of technology standards being interpreted flexibly, not to mention the propensity of hardware makers to differentiate from other devices by other manufacturers by adding additional features or capabilities. Apple’s application of the ePub standard falls well within this tradition, although what differentiates the Apple approach from most other efforts is the monotheistic rigor applied: There is but one Apple, and thou shalt not have other platforms… well, you get the point.

And Apple works, it must be said.  The iPad is a nice ereader (among other things), and the Apps store offers the means to sell content of sorts that ePub can’t really handle (as yet, but ePub 3.0 is coming, with enhancements, as it were). Publishers seeking salvation within Apple World are, with the addition of Jouve and Innodata Isogen to the priesthood, one step closer to the promised land. But the reality is that even standard-based ePub format work—the aforementioned Apple-targeted conversion offerings—is hardly going to be simple, easy, or push-button. The $20 dollar conversion fee per title presupposes an existing digital content file so clean and consistently formatted as to be virtually faith-based, but not scientifically likely. There are a lot of quality assurance efforts and other sorts of tweaking any publisher should be budgeting, even in paradise.

There remain many other important issues for book publishers to consider, starting with whether Apple World is enough.  If not, then the Apple offer of easy iBookstore supply of iTunes-based ebook production simply helps ease only one part of a much larger market. Ned May astutely identifies Apple’s ebook conversion partners’ larger hopes, which is that publishers will seek wider ebook platform targets, and, therefore, turn to these same conversion services for help in implementing more basic digital workflow improvement, such as that based on an XML-Early model, which in turn helps the publisher output to a number of present ebook formats, not to mention being better prepared for new or updated and expanded ebook standard formats, across the larger range of ereader-specific display demands.

For Apple, making it easier for book publishers to pursue the Apple ebook devices makes sense, but book publishers need to think long term, and the Apple-controlled system of ebook production and sales is, at present, anyway, a nice short-term solution. Innodata and Jouve are thinking long-term, with their Apple-status providing a very good entrée for selling broader services to publishers.

But as apps and ebooks become more standardized through improvements in base-functionality of ePub and the settling out of ereader device differences, and distribution of both content files and associated marketing content become more rational, publishers may be attracted to more profitable sales channels, and find their Apple-centricity a barrier.  Currently, agency models—touted by Apple, early on—leave 30% of the ebook price with the channel, and this sounds a lot better that traditional publishing wholesale rates that leave 50% of gross revenues on the table. It is true that current channels such as Amazon offer the very important value of supporting the discovery, sale, and download of a title, but as ebook formats and associated bibliographic content work is taken up by the publishers, the real service of existing ebook channels—iBookstore, Amazon, Google eBook, etc.—will become simply transactional (purchase) and file management (download of titles and presentation of bibliographic content) in nature. Such transactional and file management services will be highly automatic, and hence, low-cost to provide, and it is very likely that 30% going to such services will become far too much to pay, with either Amazon and the other currently dominant ebook sales channels competing on margin, or getting beat. 

Sometime soon, as book publishers gain more control over their content workflows, use XML for multiple ebook format production, and better manage bibliographic and other channel-supporting metadata, even 30% margin going to online ebook retailers will be too much. There is an opportunity for content vending sites that gain sufficient revenue only from transactional fees, perhaps in the 5-10% range.

Apple is making iBookstore ebook and apps production easier for publishers, but sticking to the Apple way may make it harder for publishers to succeed more widely in the longer run.

 

Google eBooks Shows Up, with Amazon for the Web on Its Heels

Google eBooks made its awaited debut this past Monday, and the very next day Amazon presented its own related news.  The upshot, basically, is that ebook formats are now more widely applicable across more devices, be they ereaders, smartphones, or PCs (the Web).

While the news is probably more important in terms of expanding publishing channels for ebooks, the trend is a positive one for book publishers struggling with ebook formatting issues. Unfortunately, in some ways, Google and Amazon’s newest announcements will further confuse the already confusing state of ebook formatting.  See Ebook Formats are Starting to Make Sense… So be Prepared to Remain Confused during the Evolution, in the Gilbane Publishing Practice blog, for more.

Ebook Formats are Starting to Make More Sense… So be Prepared to Remain Confused during the Evolution

Google Editions, now Google eBooks, has finally shown up, and as was widely anticipated, really will be an ebook game-changer. Technically speaking, Google eBooks is not revolutionary, but the promised transparency of ebook formats across a variety of reading environments (Sony and Barnes and Noble ereaders, desktops and notebooks, and various smartphone devices) is a comfort for both publishers and readers. There have been a number of other efforts—some, perhaps, more vapor than real—that promise much the same thing. Baker & Taylor’s Blio, for example, offers many similar benefits.  PDF and ePub, too, claim a degree of trans-device applicability, and then there is the “apps” approach. 

And now, again, there is Amazon. Right on the heels of Google’s announcement of Google eBooks, Amazon has followed the tried-and-true marketing playbook maneuver—also of value to yacht racing, I’m told—of taking the wind out of an opponent’s sails. By expanding Kindle for the Web, Amazon now “…enable[s] anyone with access to a web browser to buy and read full Kindle books—no download or installation required,” according to their December 7, 2010 press release. Amazon’s proprietary .AZW format, with its new, wider platform use, is combating the Google eBook promise of making ebooks easier to use “from the cloud.” Most likely, what Amazon is really trying to do is maintain its position relative to the marketplace’s desire to make ebook buying easier. Here’s Amazon’s positioning, from the aforementioned press release, on the matter:

“Kindle for the Web makes it possible for bookstores, authors, retailers, bloggers or other website owners to offer Kindle books on their websites and earn affiliate fees for doing so,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. “Anyone with access to a web browser can discover the seamless and consistent experience that comes with Kindle books. Kindle books can be read on the $139 third-generation Kindle device with new high-contrast Pearl e-Ink, on iPads, iPod touches, iPhones, Macs, PCs, BlackBerrys and Android-based devices. And now, anywhere you have a web browser. Your reading library, last page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights are always available to you no matter where you bought your Kindle books or how you choose to read them.”

You could easily swap out Google for Amazon, plus one or two particular details, and be reading t from the Google press release from the day before.  Google’s challenge will be to make buying ebooks as easy as Amazon, and neither the history of Google’s clunky interfaces generally, nor the first iteration of Google eBooks’ own web site specifically, convinces me that this will be a slam-dunk for Google.

Still, it is easy to see why publishers are happy with Google’s entry into ebooks, since it helps further shift selling options for ebooks away from the Amazon-centric model.  As much as ebooks—especially for trade publishers—has happened in large part because Amazon got out in front and put real money up to make the market happen, more sales options, and less format-specific constraits for readers will help everyone.

You can rest assured that book publishers will continue to struggle to get ebook formats right for some time to come, despite the generous hype in these recent announcement. Kindle format limitations will still force publishers to balance quality and production costs, and ePub—heading for its 3.0 version sometime—will still hang up on the different features represented within different ereader devices capabilities.

That is just one reason why Outsell’s Gilbane Group’s Publishing Practice is developing a second study, following on the heels of A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Systems to Re-Invent Publishing. Ebooks, Apps, and Formats: The Practical Issues will looks at the topic of content format, because this remains a central concern for book publishers pursuing digital publishing programs, and involves a wide-ranging set of issues from editorial and production to distribution and ecommerce.

With Google eBooks and Amazon’s for the Web, ebook formats and their marketplace continue to evolve.  It sure ain’t “push-button” yet, however.

Stay tuned. Drop a note.