Book Publishing: Changing, For the Better

Nov 16, 2010

Publishers of all types have been scrambling to stay ahead of-and in some cases, just keep up with-emerging digital content technologies and to position themselves as leaders in the changing content market. Now publishers are turning the page on a new chapter - most likely of an ebook - at least according to The Gilbane Group. A division of Outsell, Inc., Gilbane released its report "A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing" on November 2. The report investigates the challenges of publishing from the perspective of publishers to depict the current and upcoming state of the industry. Sponsored by Aptara, Book Industry Study Group (BISG), HP, LibreDigital, MarkLogic, North Plains System Corporation, Océ North America and Really Strategies, the report has had over 1,700 downloads, just from Aptara's website alone, in a week.

"Book publishers tend to share fundamental processes," according to David Guenette, a senior analyst for The Gilbane Group. "We wanted to approach the subject of what publishers need to do with ebooks, which means identifying those processes like planning, editorial production, and manufacturing."

Guenette wanted to find out how much effort had already been expended among book publishers in terms of digital workflows, and, more specifically, how XML was being used. "What we found across all of the publishing segments was that digital workflows are common, and the use of XML format for the production of workflow is pretty common," said Guenette.

Figures from Gilbane's survey show that just over half of publisher respondents are not yet using XML, but 35.4% of publishers said their companies are considering it. Most publishers use XML to enhance flexibility in the re-use and repurposing of content. According to Guenette, the advantage of XML is its ability to support the variety of ebook formats that are being sold.

"I think the next thing publishers are going to push for is ... a common baseline formatting, so if you create a file it works on your Nook, and your Sony, and your iPad, and you don't have to tweak it to make it work on all three of them," says Eric Freese, a solutions architect for Aptara, a provider of outsourced content production.

Gilbane looked into more than just XML use, though. Digital printing, often referred to as print-on-demand, also emerged as an important part of the industry. "Publishers, as often as not these days, actually deliver books to their printers in print-ready PDF, and that's allowed them to also then turn to digital printers as opposed to off-set printers over the last 10 years or so," said Guenette.

Over 21% of respondents use digital printing to maintain backlist and out-of-print title availability. Another 20.6 % use the process because traditional offset printing requires too high a print run to be economical. What the group did not find, that it had in fact been looking for, was a sense of integrated digital publishing processes. Only 16.3% of respondents said that there is a high degree of interoperability between the various systems at their company.

There are benefits to having processes, such as editorial and production, integrated according to Guenette. Content from earlier stages in the publishing process can be transferred and efficiently used in the later stages, such as book descriptions, and audience and marketing strategies. But, this concept is still one for the future. "There's enormous benefits to cost reduction in terms of new business models that can be supported," says Guenette. "It really may be as much as a decade away before that becomes a common element of book publishing."

Gilbane's findings suggest publishers would do well to better prepare for the digital future. The projection of ebook sales is impressive according to Bill Trippe, VP of content and technology strategies for Gilbane. The group's study showed that in five years 26.4% of respondents expect 25-50% of gross revenues to come from ebook publishing. "We've thought for a long time that some publishers will get smaller in terms of overall revenue, but more profitable, and I think you're going to see that in the not too distant future," says Trippe. Guenette adds, "Publishers need to stick to what they do right, which is find good content, improve the content, and do it in a way that gives them the flexibility to follow ebook formats as needed."