The Best Reason for Re-Engineering Book Publishing

Dev GanesanBy Dev Ganesan, President and CEO of Aptara

Today’s content consumers are voracious digital omnivores, desiring to feed on all types of electronic content — from Twitter tweets to YouTube videos, from iPhone apps to Facebook updates, from mp3s to eBooks. Yet traditional publishers, particularly trade book publishers, are not prepared to serve digitally savvy audiences the variety of electronic products they demand. That’s because their production processes are traditionally rooted in outdated print publishing practices that are severely inadequate for tackling today’s publishing challenges.

In order to profit – literally – from the new digital markets, publishers must rethink the way they create, manage, publish, and deliver content. They must re-engineer their processes to create more flexibility and guarantee a sustainable and certain future. They must re-imagine a production process that frees their content to be transformed — on-demand — into whatever new formats, devices, and uses consumers require, now and for the future.

Continuing to retrofit existing print-based content workflows is not only impractical, overly expensive, error-prone, and unnecessarily complicated, it’s also not an efficient, flexible, or sustainable business practice. Fred Ciporen, former publisher of Publishers Weekly, recently echoed similar sentiments to an industry group preparing for the American Library Association Mid-Winter Conference.

To become lean and robust, publishers have to recognize the shortcomings of undertaking each new publishing challenge from scratch. For example, considering eBook creation as a project at the end of the print publishing lifecycle artificially and exponentially increases production costs. Continuing such practices misses the essential benefits of digitalization. It condemns the company to the past, forgoing the future while ignoring consumer demand.

Freeing content from formatting and making it possible to easily deliver content to any device on any platform in any format—print, web, or mobile—is not a new idea. Organizations have been doing it for years through leveraging the power of XML.

It’s time for traditional publishers to follow suit − with a content-centered XML-first publishing approach. Getting there is not the difficult or disruptive process that many publishing executives have assumed. For instance, innovative new authoring tools enable content to be created in XML using interfaces indistinguishable from Microsoft Word. (XML is an open content standard that drastically reduces the effort required of publishing houses to create eBooks — and every other type of content. XML is designed to help publishers break the dependency of content on proprietary formats and specific devices. XML content can be easily repurposed, reused, shared, sorted, aggregated with other content, and automatically processed, published, and delivered, often on-demand.)

“Fortune 1000 companies have been adopting XML publishing not because it’s cool and trendy, but because doing so saves them millions of dollars and provides measurable benefits,” says content management guru Ann Rockley. “It’s seen as a competitive advantage; an approach designed to help publishers respond quickly to both new business opportunities and threats from competitors.”

Technical communications departments in the aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, life sciences, financial, and publishing industries use a content-first XML publishing approach to create, publish, and deliver their own version of books: product-specific user guides, product manuals, support Web sites, and online help systems from a single repository of content, thanks to XML. Corporate training departments and universities use the same methods to create role-specific XML-based training and eLearning content. Some publishers may be surprised to learn that their own organizations are already using this approach to create in-house documentation and training materials.

Though there are few examples of Trade publishers adopting XML-first workflows, below are two examples of Educational publishing houses that are thinking creatively and benefiting:

John Wiley & Sons has re-engineered their approach to publishing with the advent of Wiley Custom Select, an online portal that provides educators with the ability to create their own custom text books. Teachers select content they desire from any of the products in the Wiley library, arrange it in the order they desire, upload their own content (should they desire to do so), and, with a few clicks, automatically format, publish, and deliver the content into a custom eBook. All of this is made possible using XML.

O’Reilly Media and the Pearson Technology Group joined forces to create Safari Books Online. The premise was simple: compile the best technology books from the leading authors and publishers into an on-demand digital library that technology, digital media, and creative professionals could quickly and easily search for reliable, definitive answers to mission-critical questions. Content downloaded from Safari Books Online is optimized for mobile devices, computers, or other reading devices, and many titles are available as eBooks. All of this is also made possible through XML.

“It’s both surprising and ironic that trade publishers, in particular, have yet to adopt XML-first or XML-centric workflows,” said Fred Ciporen. “Surprising, because they have the most to gain from re-engineering their publishing approaches, and ironic because their titles and products are more ideally suited for such workflows than most other types of publications.” The benefits to the publisher — and the reader — are many, including:

  • Faster time-to-market
  • Indefinite extension of products’ shelf-life
  • Greater and more nimble responsiveness to competitive threats and new business opportunities
  • Cost savings through more efficient utilization of human and financial resources
  • Ability to automatically combine and deliver various types of content on-demand
  • Flexibility in preparing content in new formats (Web, mobile, social media, eBook) for inclusion in fast-growing third party eBook distribution networks like, iTunes, app stores
  • Ability to quickly develop enhanced and engaging interactive reading experiences that are not possible with print-based products

Regardless of publisher type, there’s no avoiding today’s bottom line: in order to compete in the digital age, publishers must design a process that allows them to sustainably profit from digital content distribution.

Although eBook challenges may be new, thankfully their solution already exists. The Trade industry is well armed with proven multi-channel, content-centered publishing approaches that deliver sizable, real cost savings and increased margins.

It’s time for Trade publishers to take a fresh look at XML-first workflows. It is the best and only content strategy designed for the present and the future – while establishing a solid foundation on which to profitably operate a publishing business in the digital economy.

[This article was originally published by TeleRead, and is reprinted with permission of the author.]

Dev Ganesan is the President and CEO of Aptara, a digital e-book conversion and digital publishing company headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia.

2 thoughts on “The Best Reason for Re-Engineering Book Publishing

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