Meeting the demand of modern book publishing

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Opinion - Publishing Tuesday, 12th June 2018

Publishers need systems that suit a rapidly changing marketplace, Virtusales writes

As the evolution of digital and associated consumer behaviour continues to unfold, the potential challenges and opportunities facing book publishers are many and varied. With the increase in adoption of digital media, publishers have an opportunity to increase their share of a new content-led market and take advantage of economies of scale and scope by adapting their traditional manuscript-driven and licensing businesses.

While the book publishing industry is very much in transition, the age-old values of quality content, effectively packaged, promoted and delivered remain the same. In order to facilitate innovation and stay ahead of changes in the industry, publishers will benefit from evaluating their current systems' landscapes to ensure that they are being supported by the most adaptive and flexible technologies.

So much change in such a short time
Only 10 years ago, publishing was just warming up to the world of digital. The term referred mainly to the production process - sending digital files between artists, designers, production teams and printers - because almost no one was reading digital books.

The landscape for book consumption looks very different today. The rapid rise of the ebook market over the past decade has been quite staggering, and has certainly triggered much of the digital innovation seen in the market.

However, latest trends show that already the trajectory of ebook sales appears to have peaked, with sales in the US dropping 3.2% from $279.0 million in January to March 2017 to $270.2 million in January to March 2018. Despite predictions that print sales would suffer at the hands of the ebook, the print market has increased 6.8% from $1,036.8 million in January to March 2017 to $1,107.6 million in January to March 2018. The industry is seeing significant changes in consumer demand and buyer behaviour, with a preference for multimedia formats over traditional paper products, and changes to how readers choose to consume information.

Reading styles are evolving, with readers being less inclined to read texts straight through from start to finish and instead preferring to move from area to area and medium to medium. Older generations might complain about shorter attention spans, but a new literacy has emerged among younger readers, who are adept at multi-tasking.

The hybrid experience is no longer about sitting and reading simply from beginning to end, and a new generation of authors is thinking in more multi-linear ways about the way they can structure content.

The variety of formats has exploded over the past decade, from traditional print formats to multimedia products including audio, video, mobile apps and even virtual reality, often combining multiple formats in a single product. This new landscape has created an urgent need for publishers to shift from a traditional, manuscript-driven approach and licensing business to a content-centric approach. Publishers are having to review their publishing processes and supporting systems landscapes in order to compete in these emerging markets and guide their content through an avalanche of products into the hands of their consumers.

Understanding the new business model
Social media, mobile devices and multimedia technologies are present in daily life for all of us, but younger generations have lived with them all their lives. At the same time, media is merging and book publishers are experiencing increased competition for leisure time, against other types of media such as TV, games and film. Publishers are competing with the likes of Netflix for consumers' time as well as with Google and Amazon, whose key objective is to provide as much content as possible, and often free of charge.

While there has been some improvement in recent years, the publishing value chain remains highly inefficient, and logistical issues such as the "sale or return" basis under which publishers operate are major challenges to cost and efficiency. As a result, successful new media businesses will have an opportunity to thrive, free from such encumbrances.

Good publishing systems will offer a wide range of automation tools, improving internal workflows and efficiencies, and enabling publishers to reduce costs. Digital workflows and centralised, integrated systems will free up enormous amounts of staff time and can provide publishers with a streamlined file management system and quick distribution between all collaborators, as well as batch updating tools to aid price updates, with automated stock management including automatic stock replenishment and one-click reprints. Built-in workflows can trigger alerts, autocomplete schedules, prompt validations and signoffs, and maintain a clear audit trail of changes.

To the surprise of many, the latest digital format to disrupt the industry has been the audiobook; expanding the reach of the publishing industry by appealing to new audiences and buyers outside the traditional book buyer's profile. Audiobook sales have doubled in the last five years and make up 5% of consumer book spending in the UK.

Video is the fastest growing content type, with YouTube, Netflix, HBO and Amazon being only a tiny selection of online video or video-on-demand providers. Billions of smartphones and tablets produce billions of minutes of video for Facebook, Periscope, Snapchat, and other platforms. Live broadcasts via the internet are growing as well (at the expense of broadcast TV). Despite book publishing remaining the one, if not the only, media industry that has managed to avoid video so far, this is changing, with publishers beginning to consider video, although still primarily for marketing purposes. Klaava Media is an example that is bucking the trend by including video clips as part of its travel guidebooks.

Understanding contracts and rights
In today's complex world of multiple formats and so many more opportunities to re-use content, publishing contracts can be more difficult to negotiate. Many authors and agents aim to retain some of these rights, leading to greater complexity of negotiation, more manual overrides to rights and royalties systems and increasing challenges over rights clearance.

In terms of content-centric publishing, many of those currently creating books from components of other books do so, in the main, from content where all rights are categorically held by the publisher and where the content is predominantly royalty-free, or where royalties are simple and easy to manage and calculate. However, when royalties are payable, these tend to have to be fudged into the royalties systems, increasing the administration overhead. This has an effect on profitability, and will limit the creativity and opportunities available. Controlling rights and royalties is obviously key to removing limitations, enabling publishers to change their mindsets, recognise new opportunities and build new boilerplates.

Going forward with the latest technology
The book publishing industry has a legacy of using a number of ageing, ISBN-centric, heavily customised systems to run essential back-office functions, which have proven difficult to adapt or replace. The roadmap for change to a more content-led model, involving a migration away from ISBNs as the primary identifier and outdated pricing structures, will be heavily influenced by this legacy. Any new solutions will either have to fully replace these systems, while providing support and functionality for the existing important intricacies of modern day publishing, or be very closely integrated with them, so as not to create additional overheads and workarounds.

With new formats and granular content gaining traction across the industry, publishers now need systems that are flexible enough to manage this data at content level, and recording permissions, rights and sales data for content is another critical facet to this. With an increase in formats and a decrease in sales, publishers must also streamline their processes, to handle ever more data and more products. Finally, emerging new models can prompt changes to business processes. Without systems that can adapt quickly and fluidly to change, publishers risk being left behind and missing out on vital income.

There is a clear benefit in investing in a publishing system that is centralized, flexible and improves workflows. A good publishing system that helps users manage multiple formats and products in high volumes, centralises workflows and increases product visibility will provide the agility and streamlining that today's publishers need.

Read the full paper, "An Industry in Transition: How On-Demand Content Is Driving Change in Publishing Software", written by Virtusales Publishing Solutions.