Phil Madans is the executive director of digital publishing technology at Hachette, where he applies his extensive publishing experience to evangelize and implement new solutions for content creation, workflow efficiency and metadata optimization.
A long-time member of the Book Industry Study Group, Phil chairs its Identification Committee, serves on its Coordinating Council and leads Hachette’s participation in the organization. He is also a member of the W3C Digital Publishing Interest Group.
Phil is also a speaker at DBW 2017, where he will lead a talk on the challenges surrounding creating and managing content across formats and platforms.
We spoke with Phil about his session at DBW, as well as why metadata workflows should be better valued at publishing houses, the explosion in digital audio, and more.
You are the executive director of digital publishing technology at Hachette. What does your role entail?
My job is to identify, pilot and implement new software solutions and workflows for content creation and optimizing metadata quality. So, I get to play with a lot of shiny new toys. But the real goal is to give our customers the best possible reading experience in any format, on any platform, print or digital, and to connect our authors to their readers, new and old, through optimized, high-quality metadata.
A good deal of this work is driven by our participation in standards organizations. We play key roles in BISG, the IDPF and the World Wide Web Consortium, among others. Providing the time and resources to maintain this level of support pays enormous dividends back to us as a company—and publishing as a whole. It is essential to have a seat at the table when the future of our industry is the main topic of conversation.
What do you see as some of the most urgent issues in book publishing right now?
For me, it is connecting with potential readers. The number of titles being published increases at a fantastic rate every year. Competition with other media—videos, music, games, social media, Pokémon—increases. How do you cut through all the noise and connect quickly and effectively with consumers? That’s where effective use of metadata comes in.
Also, there is the content component. The fact that downloadable digital audio continues to be the fastest growing segment of trade publishing is showing us the way forward. Downloadable audio is absolutely at home on the platforms consumers are spending more and more of their time. Long-form immersive reading doesn’t need to be left behind.
We have much to learn from other media businesses—those that have successfully embraced the opportunities of digital distribution and who have invested in and utilized standards that have enabled consumers to discover, purchase and consume their content more efficiently.
This is why standards work in the book industry is so essential. This is why we see great potential in the merger of the IDPF and the World Wide Web Consortium. The work that is being done on Portable Web Publishing, that will one day allow true portability of content within the Open Web Platform, is a crucial step in the evolution of publishing. We need to be everywhere our readers are.
What areas of workflows in publishing houses do publishers need to improve?
I would like to see the time when metadata 101 sessions at these industry gatherings are just a distant memory. Title metadata, for the most part, has still not found its rightful place in the publishing process. Metadata is how we connect directly with our readers, but it is still too often delegated to the those with the least seniority and, thus, the least experience.
I have seen the decision on exactly where a new reading line should appear on a jacket flap take weeks, and multiple designs and redesigns and approval cycles, to finally be approved. Why shouldn’t title metadata enjoy that same kind of scrutiny before it is sent out onto the Internet for all to see? Metadata needs to be formalized as an operational entity within publishing houses. It needs to be owned and managed in the same manner as the book’s interior, exterior and advertising and promotion materials.
We need to measure more effectively and meaningfully, too. We can collect enormous amounts of data, but are we using it effectually? Business intelligence is not an IT exercise—who has the slickest dashboards. The business needs to drive the analysis. For instance, the rule of thumb is that better metadata means better sales, but are we actually tracking the effectiveness of the metadata and using those metrics to adjust and improve?
Your session at DBW 2017 is titled “Embracing Complexity: Thriving in a Multi-product, Multi-format, Multi-platform World.” Can you give us an overview of what you’ll be discussing?
Over the years I have given individual presentations on content, identifiers and metadata. In this talk I want to bring those three components together into a more holistic discussion. In order to navigate this complex world of multi-formats and multi-platforms, you must understand the interdependencies of these three components. How you create your content, describe your content and identify your content becomes exponentially more important as product, formats and platforms proliferate.
We’ll talk about the benefits of creating formats from content, not formats from other formats, as has been the preferred method for creating digital products. We’ll talk about the exponential growth in book products and the strain that puts on metadata creation and transmission. And of course the need for identifiers to connect metadata to the content.
Originally I was thinking of calling this talk “The World Is No Longer Flat,” because I think we as an industry need to stop relying on accepted historical practices and start preparing for the realities of the future, so that we are ready to take advantage of them.
What made you want to be a part of DBW 2017?
It was a bold decision to do a major reboot of DBW this year—to bring it more in tune with current and future industry concerns. It made perfect sense to me and I wanted to be part of the conversation.
From a completely practical standpoint, I attend DBW simply because it helps me do my job better. It’s how I find new ideas to bring back to Hachette. I make new connections and meet new companies doing interesting things. It’s also important to pop out of your own bubble and get the perspectives of people in different sectors of publishing—and those outside the business as well. If you put yourself in a place where ideas and viewpoints are constantly whizzing about, some are going to resonate and reveal new, interesting opportunities.
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