Thursday, January 15, 1998

The Power of Content Management For Publishers

January, 1998

If there was one message repeated most often at the Seybold conference in San Francisco in September 1997, it was that publishers must fundamentally change their editorial and production processes to separate content from format in order to best take advantage of all publishing mediums. Today's book and magazine publishers traditionally produce printed product, but they do not separate the content of what they produce from the format in which it appears. Hence, they do not derive the benefit of a catalogue of content which can easily be manipulated and produced in another format. In order to take advantage of all that the on-line publishing environment has to offer, this change in philosophy is of paramount importance.
The Philosophy

The new environment which electronic and on-line publishing has created demands that publishers change their focus from a production orientation to a customer service focus. At a recent industry conference, James Lichtenburg, past vice president of the Higher Education Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) commented: "Why force the purchase of a single commodity, instead of providing a range of value-laden services which is required by an increasingly diverse customer?" Currently, publishers see themselves as creators of fixed and static products produced via formula on specific dates for broadly defined markets. This 'formulaic' approach to publishing will not cut it in the on-line world. More aggressive, creative companies have already realized this, such as My Yahoo, Motley Fool and others who are allowing more flexibility and added value for their users.

Traditional publishers have so far been conservative in their approach to on-line publishing. Assembly of material has become a cost bottleneck within companies as two staffs have developed to support the print product and the on-line/electronic versions. As Walter Purvis of Banta commented, "There is a mismatch between the demands of the Web and current print production workflows -- print department workflows need to be integrated with the rest of the business but enabling software doesn't allow it." According to Purvis, "What exists is a hodgepodge of cobbled together systems for content management and repurposing."

The requirements for new systems and a new process approach to how material is produced is paramount if traditional publishers expect to take advantage of on-line publishing.
"Picking Strawberries" - A Costly Problem

Where are publishers in defining the extent of their problems (or opportunities)? One of the speakers at Seybold referred to publishing content as 'stranded assets' residing on individual hard drives, in file drawers, on film, in libraries, etc. These 'assets' have been estimated to understate the value of some companies by as much as 15% (Joe Casabianca, Media Management Association). At Nestle, Inc., an internal content management study found 1,500 images (slides) of a strawberry, an ever-increasing number of photos which had been commissioned at various worldwide offices to create marketing material for their cereal. Banta cites the example of a catalogue publisher whose staff would spend 30-40 minutes to find individual selections in their paper-based catalogue (for price changes, corrections, etc.). With the creation of a new content management database, these searches now take seconds.
Lost Intellectual Capital

If you look at the material produced for a book or magazine, it is clear that the final outcome is but a minute portion of the total work produced for that product. The final book represents the top of a 'pyramid of information' and is the only real identifiable representation of the effort that went into the production of this product. Clearly, there was significant other work not catalogued which was completed during this project but which is now essentially 'lost'. Workers may have good intentions of using this unused material, but generally the cost of finding it at the appropriate time outweighs the costs of recreating it. Additionally, e-mails, meeting notes, marketing plans, budgets and forecasts, etc. - the record of the creation of the product -- are either gone or are dispersed across the enterprise and of little collective use to anyone. Artists' proofs, manuscripts and edits, photos, etc., all become 'stranded assets.' The intellectual capital lost in these instances is unmeasured -- until someone has to find something or reproduce it.
The Task

Publishers, in general, have made little progress in changing the way they produce their products. In order to take true advantage of their content, publishers will be required to develop an asset cataloguing system and a project management approach to managing publishing projects. At the 1997 Frankfurt Book Fair, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced an initiative to attach a 'license plate' to publishing property. This Digital Object Identifier (DOI) will identify the publisher of the property (owner), catalogue products at whatever level the publisher determines and allow for transactions of the material with payments and royalties accounted for appropriately.

The AAP will recommend how this cataloguing process should work so that all publishers use the same 'meta data' terminology and methodology. Meta data constitutes the information about the product such as the owner, royalty terms, author, artist, etc., - a list which is defined by the publisher. What is assumed in the above is that a book or title will have only one DOI number attributed to that material -- in fact, each book may have hundreds of DOI numbers associated with it. Currently, every book created by a publisher carries an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and this is used by booksellers, publishers and others to identify the book. The DOI will allow material within that book to be identified down to the paragraph, sentence or word level. Currently, when a college professor requests permission to copy a chapter from a textbook, this becomes a nightmare for those that have to account for the transaction.

It is not always clear which of the often multiple contributors to the book wrote the chapter in question. Often, royalty rates per author differ depending on how the material was purchased, and generally the accounting for this exercise must be done manually (and often more than once). The DOI will automate this process. Publishers must think differently as to what constitutes a unit or product, moving beyond thinking of files and documents (finished books and magazines), which should be viewed as simply containers of information.

Of course, DOI and the establishment of meta data based cataloguing systems only help going forward. A big question surrounds legacy data -- how you economically use this content in a digital workflow. Digitizing legacy data is a huge expense consideration. Moreover, it is widely viewed that you will only ever need five percent of this data … unfortunately, you just don't know which five percent. Publishers are advised to consider carefully their approach to digitizing legacy data.
Reevaluation and Change

Established, traditional publishers need to augment their publishing product with service based products, unique customer driven products, database management and the ability to transact business. Product differentiation and the ability to leverage content through avenues not previously considered will be 'enabled' via new processes, making the development of new products across media and within the same media much easier. Many consumer products companies have proven that the key to brand growth is product differentiation, yet, to date, publishers have only had limited success in this area. This new content production process will have three components:

  • Single point of entry:
    A single point of access to, retrieval of, and contribution to the content database, best achieved via an Intranet solution. All material relevant to a 'project' would reside in a database including the content and work related material such as e-mails, contracts, drafts, budgets, royalty and rights information.

  • Uniform data entry:
    Data needs to be structured or catalogued in a format which is easily understood and largely automatic. While cataloguing data at the source will be the most effective 'capture' method, it will be difficult to convince some groups to do this (especially authors). As far as possible, meta data should be associated with content automatically at the source. This methodology must also be universal (i.e., DOI) so that commerce is not impeded by confusing and conflicting catalogue methods.

  • 'Extrapolation':
    The ability to build new products and services from the use of the content, thereby also refreshing the content. Publishers, as masters of their content, can significantly increase the value of their brand names and profit margins by facilitating product differentiation in multiple formats.

A significant by-product of this approach will also be the strengthening of publishers' brand names and images. By separating content from format, new material generated by an author or other source then resides catalogued in a database, ready to be re-purposed into a book, CD-ROM, on-line version, magazine, or produced to a printer. These changes require new project management and workflow management tools, an archiving methodology (new and legacy data), and the installation of wide area networking - Intranet solutions to allow universal access.

At the Seybold conference, Bill Gates of Microsoft stated that "not only is the cost of [technology] ownership going down, but the value [owners] are getting out of these systems is constantly rising." Publishing is a prime example of this in that the movement to a content management philosophy is the next step in the Desk Top Publishing (DTP) revolution which brought publishing companies from razor blades and mark-up pens to electronic workflows. Gates fully recognizes the competitive advantage to be gained by developing databases of digital content and says that "companies that move information around electronically will be more competitive than companies that do not." He believes that those traditional publishers who do not move in this direction now will not be around to discuss it later.

There needs to be a systematic approach to developing new processes within these companies to take advantage of new media opportunities. In the future, successful publishers will be those which view themselves as content developers and managers rather than (only) book or magazine publishers. Only with a production approach which separates the content from the format and which is supported by processes to enable the adaptation of that content into various formats as required by customers, will traditional publishers be able to take advantage of all future opportunities.

A speaker at the Seybold conference commented that "publishing currently fails to predictably satisfy customers and achieve businesses' objectives" because mass publishing is very hit or miss. Harry McQuillen, when at Macmillan Publishing Company, used to say (tongue-in-cheek) before every budget meeting that "you can never plan for bestsellers." Perhaps in the future, by building products to satisfy individual needs rather than producing products for the masses, publishing will grow more predictable. This, in turn, however, will only come from an ability to manipulate content libraries for specific purposes.