Dirty Little Secrets of the Book Publishing Industry…Or Why You Shouldn’t Invest In Book Publishers Who Waste Your Investment Dollars By Avoiding Change

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

by Scott Abel, Content Strategist, The Content Wrangler

If you’re an investor, you should know this dirty little secret. Most book publishers are wasting your investment dollars. That’s right. They’re burning through your cash at record pace, in a desperate attempt to keep pace with changing user expectations they didn’t have the foresight to plan for. They are throwing your money at problems that can be solved by making some changes to the way publishing companies work, something many seem unwilling or unable to do. And, they’re happy you don’t seem to be aware that they could be doing things better, faster, cheaper. They hope you’ll continue to funnel money into their coffers without really knowing whether or not they are giving you the most bang for your investment buck. They won’t be happy I’m writing this article.

That’s because book publishers don’t want you to know that they rely on inefficient and outdated processes designed to support the creation and distribution of printed books. In many cases, these processes aren’t much different than they were 100 years ago.

Print processes are not appropriate for creating enhanced eBooks

In the digital age, as you might imagine, these methods are no longer sufficient. You can’t expect a process designed for generating books printed on paper to adequately support the efficient creation of digital interactive mobile content. Print processes are not appropriate for creating enhanced eBooks for use on the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle. They are equally inappropriate for creating mobile device content, iPhone/iPodTouch/Android apps, and companion website content.

Most book publishers have been missing huge revenue-generating opportunities made possible by early adopters of eBooks and mobile device apps. It’s not like it was a secret. Publishers, just like everyone else in the technology arena, saw the opportunity coming and most did nothing to prepare for it. Now they are playing a losing game of catch up trying to crank out as many eBooks as possible in hopes of catching the competition.

Unfortunately, these publishers are going about it the wrong way. They mistakenly think the best approach to creating eBooks, mobile device apps, and other new content types, is to tweak the traditional print publishing process. They make books, then they hire someone to convert them to PDF (ha!) or eReader-friendly formats. That’s the wrong — most error-prone and expensive — approach. [Read: “Reality Check: What to Expect From Automated Conversion To eBook”] Their poor planning has boxed them into a never-ending trap in which they will always be struggling to keep up. Each and every new book will be a completely new project. And, each and every time a new device or innovation is introduced, publishers will jury rig the print process, tossing more of your money out the door on one-off efforts.

"EBOOKS 101" spells out what's needed: an efficient, repeatable digital content production process

What’s needed is for investors to understand that there is a much better way and to demand publishing companies that want your investment dollars to develop efficient, repeatable digital content production processes, adopt relevant content standards [1] [2] [3] [4] [5], and deploy software tools (XML authoring tool like this one from Quark and a component content management system like this one from SDL) that are designed to assist in the creation of multiple types of content simultaneously, efficiently, and effectively. By ditching the print paradigm and developing a content strategy that supports modern content production processes, publishers could provide their shareholders with opportunity for much better return on investment.

Content strategist Ann Rockley says what’s needed is a ‘unified content strategy’ — a repeatable method of identifying all content requirements up-front, creating consistently structured content for reuse, managing that content in a definitive source, and assembling that content on demand to satisfy customers needs. By utilizing a unified content strategy, Rockley says, publishers could produce eBooks, mobile device apps, web content, and printed books, at the same time, with little rework or repackaging effort. And, she ought to know. She’s been helping companies accomplish similar goals for at least a dozen years.

While Rockley notes that trimming waste and improving efficiency is important, a unified content strategy also opens new channels for revenue generation for publishers.

“By eliminating manual tasks and removing process bottlenecks, publishers can react quicker to market changes (and threats from competitors) and have more time to dedicate to designing innovative products that meet — even exceed — customer expectations,” she says. “And, by pairing a unified content strategy with appropriate tools and technologies, book publishers can adopt new ways of working; ways that support their goal of getting the right content, to the right customers, at the right time, in the right format and language, on the device of the readers choice.”

It's not magic. eBook production can be efficient and effective. Publishers who understand this will be the winners in the long-run.

Adopting a unified digital content strategy that supports the efficient creation of enhanced eBooks and mobile content apps isn’t magic. It’s being done right now by forward-thinking, content heavy organizations in other industries without the help of witches, warlocks, or incantations.

Digital content strategies aren’t new. Forward-thinking companies have been tackling these types of challenges for over a decade with great success. These organizations are well-positioned, as a result of their strategic thinking early on, to create new products whenever the market demands it. And, digital content strategies aren’t hard to implement. With proper planning and guidance from an expert, marketing departments are adopting XML multi-channel publishing to solve their content production challenges.

Ironically, some of the very same book publishers you invest in today, have successfully adopted a unified digital content strategy and moved away from the printed book publishing paradigm, but only in one department or division of the company. Unfortunately, this is an all too common byproduct of the way publishing companies are organized and managed.

Rockley calls this the ‘content silo trap’, a situation in which content is created using one set of methods, standards and tools in one part of a publishing house, while folks in another department do things a totally different way.

Silos, Rockley says, “prevent publishers from collaborating and working together to solve common challenges that impact the entire organization and damage profits. Silos stifle innovation, prevent sharing of lessons learned and best practices, and waste financial and human resources. Most book publishers are still organized in this way and have failed to see the benefits of breaking down silo walls and opening up communication across the entire publishing enterprise.”


I think investors need to take a closer look at which book publishers they give their investment dollars to. In fact, I argue that investors should stop funneling money into publishing companies that are poor stewards of shareholder funds and start providing financial support to those publishing houses that understand that maintaining the status quo is no longer ‘good enough’.

Book publishing companies need to optimize their workflows, future-proof their organizations, and become super lean, publishing machines. Their efforts should be focused on maximizing return on investment, not protecting the ‘we’ve always done it here mentality’.

When publishers who value their content as a business asset get serious about creating, managing and delivering content, shareholders will find a goldmine of returns.


[Webinar] eBooks 101: The Digital Content Strategy for Reaching Customers Anywhere, Anytime on Any Device, September 22 at 10:00am PDT/ 1:00pm EDT. Scott Abel interviews content strategy gurus Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper. These two content experts are the authors of “eBooks 101: The Digital Content Strategy for Reaching Customers Anywhere, Anytime on Any Device”. They will discuss how to create a content strategy that supports the creation of eBooks and apps. The webinar (sponsored by Acrolinx) will help you understand the difference between eBooks, enhanced eBooks, and apps, as well as standards for eBook readers including the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad.Register today! A recorded version will be available shortly after the webinar is over.]

About the author

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, is a content strategist who helps organizations deliver device-independent information to the right people at the right time in the right format and in the right language.

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