Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Off The Cuff: What are the important issues facing publishing?

At a soiree the other day someone (not in the industry) asked me the above question, so with martini in hand I threw off the following:

Firstly, the transformation from print to digital (obvious) but in that transformation the impact on every aspect of how a business is run: From author relationships to product delivery.  It is this latter piece that most executives & managers don't immediately understand.  Looking back retrospectively on some of the transformations I have gone through I am often amazed that we (as a management team) didn’t see some of the problems we faced but thankfully we became very attuned, very quickly to the different signals that present themselves in a digital publishing environment versus the print world.  As people suggest, it is like running two companies at once but I’ve found it is more than that because in the new world you have no frame of reference and you must form that very quickly.

Second, the 'unit' of sale is beginning to change.  For example, we see this in increased permissions revenues where users are proactively looking for (just) an article or chapter or business case.  This trend will manifest itself most immediately in the education market where content is becoming disaggregated and faculty (and administrators) execute more control over content choice.  At the opposite end of the value chain in content creation, the 'unit' may not be a book (as in the old world) but it could be a set of services providing deeper engagement with the content or a set of public appearances and direct connections with the author.  In truth, it’s likely to be both types and many other similar variations and changes to the ‘unit’.   Closely related to this paradigm change is the issue(s) of discoverability which often manifests itself in the depth and relevance of metadata.  Increasingly metadata will define success for content owners (even more important that it is now) because the best, most complete and comprehensive metadata will drive revenues.  As content becomes more flexible (XML workflow) in composition and delivery the metadata that describes this content will determine success of failure if the content can’t be discovered by the user when they need it.

Third customers are becoming more amorphous; publishers will still work with a buyer who buys a category for an entire chain but they are increasingly working directly with 'the wo/man on the street' who not only wants a direct relationship with the author and/or the content but also wants the content on multiple devices, in different contexts and possibly with different applications built in depending on what their objectives are.

Fourth, there is also the challenge of content pricing and in particular journal pricing.  This is a real issue but oddly less so for Big Dutch Publisher (BDP) because a very large publisher will have the resources to provide value-add to replace/offset the revenue that may be lost as more content is provided via free resources.   What may worry BDP is whether a community or marketplace could evolve around some of these free access points (PubMed for example) that, via collective effort, are somehow able to support/provide a similar level of value-added service that BDP does but also make those additions as free as the content.  That might be hard to image but not impossible.

 Not bad for off the cuff and all in all, a very exciting time to be in publishing.

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