Challenges Remain in Digital Content Development

Developing digital solutions for non-narrative content is still a challenge for publishers, according to experts taking part in a discussion of those issues at Digital Book World 2014 in New York this afternoon.

That’s true despite significant technological advances. Nathan Myhrvold’s The Modernist Cuisine was one of Inkling Habitat’s big successes for the interactive publishing platform in 2013. But according to Gus Gostyla, vice president of partnerships at Inkling, at the time Myhrvold came forward with the project, “there was no platform that could possibly do that piece of work justice–in his mind.”

Traditional publishers are making investments alongside start-ups and others in enhanced digital content, but few agree on the rate of rising demand. According to Bill Kasdorff, vice president of content solutions at Apex CoVergence, “people are getting used to getting rich content on the web, so that puts pressure on publishers” to bring more of it to market more quickly.

Pavan Arora, chief innovation officer of Aptara, disagreed. “The convergence of the web and the book hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “We haven’t realized enough of it to excite the market to say [to consumers], you’ve got to buy the digital version.”

In the meantime, publishers are still figuring out how to scale production of digital content. As Nick Ruffilo, chief technology officer of Aerbook, another Web-based publishing platform, put it, “if you have designers thinking about all of the targets from the beginning,” publishers will produce better products in all formats–digital as well as physical–across the board.

So far, that hasn’t been easy to achieve. Arora predicted greater complexity in the years ahead, partly due to the ever increasing capabilities of devices and platforms. “The more you invest in this today, the more value you’ll get tomorrow. That’s where a third party may be helpful,” he added. “I don’t know if a publisher can become a technology company.”

Related: Jellybooks founder and CEO Andrew Rhomberg on why publishers should consider partnering with start-ups.

An added quandary: what do publishers do when licenses for multimedia intended for complex ebooks are unavailable? David Wilk, owner of Booktrix, who moderated the discussion, cited the wealth of freely available open web content publishers can integrate and link to.

But, Ruffilo conceded, “that’s sadly a business problem. I don’t think tech will ever solve that.”

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