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Digital Directions : Addressing The Human Element of Digital Change

People, not technology, will shape your publishing company's trajectory toward a bright digital future.

September 2012 By Andrew Brenneman
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Ironically enough, success in digital publishing has more to do with people than machines. Digital publishing requires publishing houses and their partners to work in materially different ways. Digital publishing is not merely delivering an EPUB file along with a print-ready PDF. Successful initiatives require the development of new skills, processes and business practices. Publishers that successfully execute these changes will be able to take advantage of the unique characteristics of digital, and bring new value to the marketplace.

What are some of the challenges that must be overcome by the intervention of the human element? A few that come to mind include:

The end of "print-first." "Print-first" is an approach to cross-platform publishing in which all digital delivery formats are derivatives of the print product. The book is first composed and optimized for the paper page, then digital outputs (such as e­books) are produced by wrestling the print product into a digital delivery format. This is hardly an optimized approach since "p-books" and e­books are distinct in some fundamental ways, such as their use and disuse of page numbers, internal and external hyperlinks and so on. Yet, since "print-first" introduces the least disruption to publishers and their service providers, it has become a standard, though strategically unattractive, practice.

Untangling digital rights. The issue of digital rights represents a significant hurdle for many publishers. The Holy Grail of magically "digitizing the backlist" is often impeded by a lack of digital rights clauses in contracts pertaining to older titles. A secondary issue is the inclusion in print titles of one-time-use artwork that has not been cleared for digital delivery. This issue is made even more challenging by the fact that modes of delivery that the publisher may use in the future may not even exist today.

Mastering digital design. Designers and art directors within publishing houses have a high-level of sophistication and expertise when it comes to the nuances of designing for the page. Many publishers feel that the visual experience of the product is a point of competitive differentiation. However, this level of design sophistication often does not extend to digital delivery models. In order to have the same competitive differentiation of their digital books as they enjoy in print, art directors and designers in publishing houses need to ramp up their knowledge and toolset in design for the digital domain.

 
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