Digital Reading: UX Publishing Outsider May Lead the Way for Publishing Insiders

Anne KostickHe’s called a publishing outsider, even though Louis Rosenfeld’s careers touch on key aspects of the business, from early training and a stint as a librarian to co-authorship of the seminal work Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (O’Reilly).  But since 2008, when Rosenfeld launched his own niche publishing company, he has made his own path by following his own user-focused principles and those of his authors.

Rosenfeld Media only publishes books on user experience design, and sells them mostly to other practitioners of user experience design, which more than qualifies it as an extreme vertical channel.

Rosenfeld describes himself as a serial entrepreneur; his other business was a consulting firm that specialized in information architecture. “But knowledge [soon] becomes commodified. I like being the person who helps other people get their knowledge out; I wanted my next business to be dependent on who I knew, not what I knew. I had consultants who didn’t want to worry about infrastructure, but I like it. And in publishing, you’re basically in the infrastructure business.”

UX Informs All Parts of the Business

The company’s first title, Mental Models, was released in February 2008. It was available in two formats: paperback and PDF.  Today, Rosenfeld Media supports five DRM-free formats for each title (paperback, print-optimized PDF, screen-optimized PDF, ePub, MOBI), which can be purchased in format packages to suit individual customers’ reading habits and devices.  Seven books are currently available, with 14-17 more in the pipeline.

When the first title was in development, the company engaged in usability testing on the book’s design, including ordering prototypes from  “Web design people are used to sharing ownership of presentation with the user,” noted Rosenfeld. So it felt natural to include interested parties—the future (expert) readers of the book—in testing its design and content. And although the page design may still appear traditional, the books and formats function with great attention to usability.

In general, though, “publishers don’t have the resources and the design thinking to really look at [digital] book design.”  That’s where Rosenfeld’s authors and their knowledge might step in, closing the loop by improving UX for other publishers’ digital products.

The Publishing Model Takes It Back to the User

How can an “extreme vertical” company keep up a flow of interest, products, and revenue? Rosenfeld’s answer is customer service, and his particular approach to it reflects a career steeped in UX:  “I look for ways of building engagement with the company and its products. I made a vow that I was going to talk with people every month about how they consume this kind of information. Most people suggest topics.  Sometimes they gripe about a typeface, and that’s useful. I try to continually engage with the people who purchase our products; I spend time talking and talking and talking to people.

One way he gets to talk to people is by pushing his library cart— ”the UX bookmobile”—around conferences and conventions, making sales on the spot, liberated from the exhibitors hall, and proving that you can take a UX guy out of the library, but …

Rosenfeld’s distribution network has expanded, as has his thinking about publishing formats, which now ranges from complete books to segments, extracts, webinars, and more.  More new ideas are on the way that will further draw on what he planned from the beginning: “I’m in the business of expertise.”

NOTE: DBW has launched an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group for editors and others working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser. Anne’s weekly column, Digital Reading, discusses the field of User Experience and explores what it offers to trade publishers.
Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.


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