Transformation Expert Discusses What Publishers Need to Do to Thrive
Here at Book Business we speak to a lot of book publishers to get the inside view of how they're adapting their organizations to the changes imposed by the digital revolution. To get another take, we spoke with Mary Rhodes of Tata Consultancy Services. Rhodes is a senior partner for Tata's Transformation Practice and has helped lead business transformation initiatives for some of the top publishers in the U.S., including McGraw-Hill Education and Nature Education.
Rhodes' experience serving publishers has given her an outsider's view of the inside of the publishing industry's ongoing realignment. Rhodes sees an industry rich with tradition being forced to evolve and reinvent outdated ways of doing business. Here she shares her thoughts on what publishers must do in order to thrive today.
Why have publishers struggled to transform in the face of digital disruption?
That's a great question. I think fundamentally it starts with the fact that many publishing companies have been around for years and years and years. So there is a very strong embedded culture in these companies. Most employees have been there for years. So just like anybody else, they get used to doing what they know how to do and the idea of something new coming in and disrupting that is a little bit of a foreign concept.
Is finding the right mix of talent a challenge for publishers?
I always say it's a little bit of a perfect storm. Publishers are lacking the skills for the new kinds of technology and where they need to go to, but they can't really eliminate many of the skills they currently have because they still have an embedded set of customers and revenue that is attached to them.
In a recent survey I read, 365 publishing executives came up with their key concerns, and most of them happened to be around digital content and products and ways to bring them to market. But when they were asked, "Are you intending to hire people?" and the answer was "no." What this said to me is that they were intending to rely heavily on partners to drive them in the digital industry. I think it's a good move. If you've got people that have been there for 20-30 years and trying to reorient them to a technology that is extremely foreign to them, then the learning curve would be prohibitive. It would take a long time and this is moving so quickly that they could potentially miss the market.
How is digital changing the fundamentals of the business?
Much of our clients' content is primarily print-driven, meaning print first. And as the digital age came up they were redirecting print content into digital. The reality is it has to be digital first so it can be easily adapted to whatever device the consumer is going to read it on. This is a significant change-it changes the entire way of looking at the content development process.
It also changes the rights and royalties aspect. With digital content the idea is that it can be supplied at multiple levels. Rights and royalties used to be about a book: "You have a right to sell so many of my books." Now you have to get those rights and royalties down to the actual content level and it could be a paragraph, it could be a picture, it could be video. Then if somebody wants to buy any of that content, you have to have the ability to actually sell it.
How important is it for publishers to use data wisely?
It's very, very important, the analytics aspect of it. Just look at how a publisher would use it if they wanted to go to direct to consumer. There's no reason they could not be acquiring information through their websites if they sell direct, similar to Amazon: People who read this also read this. They could use it for advertising or maybe excess inventory they might have. There are multiple ways to generate new revenue by using appropriate analytics, predictive analytics, whatever you want to call it. But also in terms of understanding social media, what's coming back off of that, capturing that, understanding how well a product is being received, what people like about it, what people don't like, certainly would reduce the product development lifecycle.
How important will mobile content be moving forward?
Quite honestly, digital makes everything easier, meaning if something is in digital format it's a lot easier to get it translated and move quicker to other markets than if you had to take print and have somebody translate it. Certainly digital allows you to penetrate the markets quicker. I think that's something publishers know, based on my experience.
I think everybody has their hands full right now. Publishers are going to have to find a way to come through this perfect storm and into clear waters. They're going to need partners to help them do that. They just don't have the skills internally and the ability to transform quickly and that's going to be critical to their long-term success.
Denis Wilson is editor-in-chief of Book Business and Publishing Executive. In this role, he analyzes and reports on the fundamental changes affecting the publishing industry and aims to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.