Thursday, June 06, 2013

Society of Scholarly Publishers Panel: Remixing Content

There are four or five sessions devoted to remixing and reusing content here at the SSP conference which speaks to how much publishers are starting to really think about how they produce content that can be used in a multitude of ways.  I am hosting a Panel and here are my opening comments and the slide deck.

Chart 2: This session will explore ways to rethink and remix content in numerous ways that can be searched, browsed, repackaged and sold to achieve the publisher’s strategic objectives.  In this session today we will try to cover fragmenting, bundling, collections, cross selling, flexible e-commerce, academic adoptions, community networks, SEO and the ability to provide the right content when, where and how users want it.  That’s ambitious and if you don’t think a then end of the panel discussion we’ve covered it then please ask about it during the q&a.

Chart 3: On our panel today are Brian Erwin from Slicebooks, Alan Noren from O’Reilly Media and Catherine Flack from Cambridge University Press.  I will introduce each speaker as they present their section in a few minutes.  What I thought I would do was provide an introduction of this topic and then have each panelist provide a brief 10-15 minute presentation which we will then follow up with questions at the end.

First my introduction, I am Chief Operating Officer for the Online division of Publishing Technology which is a publishing applications and software provider based in Oxford, UK.  We are a sponsor of this conference and we have a stand in the exhibit hall so please come by and say hello.   I only accepted by position a month ago and this panel was suggested by my predecessor Louise Russell, but don’t let that worry you because I’ve been working with publishers on their content strategy for most of my career both as a consultant and as an operations executive.  Since 2006 I’ve consulted with publishers such as Wolters Kluwer and start-up businesses such as CourseLoad which are looking to re-invent part or all of their businesses with respect to how they create, manage and distribute content.   Prior to 2006, I ran RR Bowker which is primarily a bibliographic database company; but then, metadata is just another form of ‘content’.

Before Bowker, I was with PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a consultant in their Entertainment, Media and Communication practice.  Back in the mid-nineties we frequently made presentations to prospective and existing clients about ‘non-format specific publishing’ meaning we could help them create content process that were not dependent on the output format of that content.  Of course in those days the primarily output was print but the fact is that even today most publishers are not much further along in creating flexible, modular, componentized – call it what you will – content than they were in the mid-nineties.  Our charts during those presentations looked great but in reality they were almost irrelevant given the capabilities of the audiences we were addressing. 

Chart 4: Over the past three or four years I’ve worked with a wide spectrum of publishers in the scholarly and academic market who are only now beginning to recognize that they need to make fundamental changes in the manner in which they manage their content workflows. 

In one initiative over 18mths, I created a very large library of publisher content from academic journal and book publishers which eventually comprised approximately 200 publishers and 7million items of content.  In that effort I worked with many of you in this room and maybe this is your chance to put a face to a name.

Chart 5: In the process of this exercise it was clear to me that many publishers were not thinking about their content processes in a strategic way.  Not only are publishers still oriented to the ‘document’ but they find it very difficult to get their constituencies – author, editor, production managers, owners, etc. to allocate time, money and effort to implement real change in how their businesses operate.

Chart 6: All companies producing content should develop a content strategy.  Your business may have a set of big picture strategic objectives but what I am recommending is a programmatic, strategic re-think about how you manage your content creation process.  If you were to stop thinking about the ‘format’ or ‘document’ and more about the content item; then what would this mean for your business?  Which processes and relationships would need to change?  What technology might you need, etc. etc?  Are you able to establish some strategic targets around the answers to these questions and define some tactical objectives for reaching your objectives?

So you should be asking, how might you approach this effort?  The process may begin with an evaluation of your content: how is it created and who does that work.  What happens internally with the content once it is submitted by authors?  Externally, how does the market want to use and work with your content?   In my example in building the content library, many of the book publishers I worked with did not have chapter level content.  No abstracts, key words or metadata for their chapters.  In some cases the chapters had no titles merely sequential numbers.  This is not the way to present content to support flexible use by customers and I don’t think any of those publishers would disagree with me.  At the AAUP meeting last year, I heard from many publishers that their permissions revenues were rising year on year and I see this as a reflection of the faculty and researcher’s need to be able to find, use and even pay for just the right part of your content.  If you are not facilitating that you are missing out.

Chart 7: In the academic market there are numerous start-up businesses that want to enable content delivery at the base unit level: journal articles via Deep Dyve, book chapters and business case content via Gingotree, Symtext or full textbook content via CourseLoad.  These companies struggle with your content to make it usable for their clients whether they are researchers, academics, students or consumers.  It shouldn’t be that way but even more importantly you – as the publisher - should be able to offer this level of content flexibility directly to your customers.

These struggles with content may all come to a head in the mobile space.  As consumers rush to mobile devices for their content consumption it will be impossible for a content producer to supply content across all these devices unless they can COPE. 

Chart 8: What is COPE:  Create Once Publish Everywhere and increasingly we are seeing publishing adopt this principle.  It’s another way of saying ‘non-format specific content’ which is where we were in 1997 at PriceWaterhouse.

Chart 9: At Publishing Technology we are at the center of this effort with our pub2web solution which is a built from the ground up content management solution supporting all manner of business models, distribution services and content administration tools.  Our publisher clients are traditional academic publishers, associations and government agencies around the world and if you come by our stand we can tell you more about what we are doing.

Chart 10: In summary, you as a publisher need to begin to think of your content as a strategic asset of the business and as such you should devise a strategic plan for that aspect of your business.  Managed appropriately assets should return capital invested and the content you invest in should be no different. 

Chart 11:  When you get back to the office next week think about the following:
  • What do we need to do with our content creation process (and our author relationships) to make the content less dependent on an output format?
    • Chunking content while maintaining a web of interrelationships across the content.
    •  Can we actively involve authors in the process: Maybe give them an office!
  • How can we establish templates that support flexible content: Book>Chapter>Image>Diagram; Description>Abstract>Key words> Concepts>Author bios;
  • Who is doing this well?  Can we deconstruct their activity and build our own way?
  • What do our customers want: Content everywhere – so how do we deliver it?

Chart 12: I hope that my comments form a good introduction to this topic and let me know hand it over to the panel for our discussion.

1.      How do publishers merge content separated by legacy systems?
2.      How can increased smaller offerings boost discoverability and find new markets?
3.      How to monetize backlists and granular content?
4.      How can publishers compete with free web models and go on the offensive again?
5.       How will it impact academic adoptions?
6.       How can this content organically find new markets?
7.       How can this tool keep backlist alive at no/low cost and with no accompanying inventory costs?
8.       How can this greatly increased amount of online content grow your company’s Search Engine Optimization and allow your company to compete with inferior content available on the Internet?

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