Covid’s impact on publishing technology

Opinion - Publishing Thursday, 21st January 2021

MetaComet Systems president David Marlin reflects on publishing’s pandemic-driven shift to digital in 2020, sharing advice for making the most of technology in a business - and he has an offer for BookBrunch readers

Back in March last year when the UK entered its first lockdown I don't think any of us imagined we'd need to do the same at the start of 2021, but here we are. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges for us all and acted as an accelerator of change right across our industry.

Perhaps the most notable of these dynamics has been the adoption of new technology. From ebook sales picking up again to the use of video conferencing, we have seen a rapid take-up of digital business tools. The innovation of some forward-thinking publishers has been hugely impressive, and their implementation of new processes will make them even stronger businesses when the pandemic is over.

With so many people working from home, publishers have been focused on the need to make their operations as efficient, streamlined and cost effective as possible. Remote workforces need technology that provides quick and easy access to collaborative projects, and cloud-based systems like content, rights and royalty management platforms have become more crucial than ever.

When publishers adopt or upgrade systems to better manage their teams and schedules, they have a wide variety of options to select from. With so much choice, it is important to be sure that the solutions meet the specific needs of the business, and that they can support growth and change. The people behind technology solutions are crucial too, because you are investing not just in a short-term solution but in a long-term business partnership.

Before you choose anything, it is well worth casting around for recommendations from other publishers, especially those of similar size. You can soon learn which products and people are to be trusted, and which should be approached with caution.

In some ways, choosing new technology is the easy part: the real challenges arise when you implement it in your everyday business activities. Frustrations can soon arise if a new system fails to integrate well with others, or if there is insufficient time or expertise within a business to make the most of it. Many publishers will have horror stories of implementations that have led to massive disruption of processes, leading to additional stress and expense in putting things right.

These headaches can be eased with proper planning and clear-sighted leadership from the start. I shared a relevant case study at the Independent Publishers Guild’s 2020 Virtual Autumn Conference, when I had the pleasure of talking to Sarah Boyd, head of digital experience at Emerald Publishing, the current IPG Independent Publisher of the Year. Sarah made the excellent point that all technology should be focused on end-goals and how it is going to make people’s lives easier. "What is the problem it’s going to solve, and how will it actually solve it?" she asked. "You need to have that as the north-star focus throughout."

As she also said, this focus needs to be shared not just by project leaders but whole publishing teams. It also pays to keep things simple: strip out any non-essential elements and follow the acronym and principle of minimum viable product (MVP), building in enough technology to meet the immediate business purpose while creating capacity to add in more if feedback suggests it is needed. As Sarah put it: "Wherever you can, reduce the complexities of a project—because they’re complex enough anyway." A second acronym, YAGNI ('You Ain’t Gonna Need It'), is a useful reminder that many of the new features that are proposed during software development may never actually be required.

Technology implementation goes wrong when it is over-engineered, badly managed or diverted from its ultimate purpose. Handled well, however, it frees publishers up to focus on what they excel at: producing and selling great content. It is worth noting that technology has sustainability benefits too. Online management of projects, royalties and other activities can substantially reduce the volume of paper that businesses use as well as making them more energy efficient.

With the pandemic continuing and the uncertainty of post-Brexit arrangements adding extra difficulties on top, 2021 will bring more challenges. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and publishing is a resilient and resourceful industry. With good strategic planning and robust, future-proofed infrastructures, publishers can be well placed to thrive in the long run.

David Marlin is president of MetaComet Systems, a royalty management specialist that provides a range of tech products to help publishers save time, reduce risk and grow sales. To learn more about its solutions, got to 


We are pleased to be able to provide a special offer for BookBrunch readers who connect with MetaComet by end of February 2021: 10% discount for monthly licensing fees and 20% discount for set up fees. Please contact Simon Pollard, Metacomet’s director of UK Strategic Partnerships, at