Digital Directions: 5 Affordable Digital Media Projects for 2013
When publishing teams wax enthusiastic about their vision for digital media and technology, directors of finance groan and reach for their wallets. And it is sometimes true that great things cost money, whether it is a smash hit in the consumer app world or a transformative enterprise technology platform. But there are many aspects to moving digital capabilities forward, and many of them cost little in terms of "hard dollars." The following is my highly subjective Top Five list for useful and affordable digital media projects for 2013. Subjective perhaps, but they are based on the last several years over which Finitiv has helped move publishing organizations forward in effective and pragmatic ways. All five will move your digital capabilities forward without breaking the bank. Many of you farther along the evolutionary curve may have tackled some of these topics already and, as Daniel Tosh would say, "for that we salute you." But before you dismiss with a "been there, done that," ask yourself if it isn't time to revisit some of these issues. Have you driven a Ford lately?
1. Defining Content Standards
The creation and adoption of content standards is one of the fundamental elements of effective cross-platform publishing. Content standards enable high levels of production efficiency and make it easier to support multiple formats. Content standards refer principally to:
- Manuscript standard styles, consisting of a pre-defined set of (typically MS Word) manuscript styles that define the structural elements of the document (chapter name, citation, A-head, etc.). Manuscript standards are encapsulated in the set of styles in a standard MS Word template.
- Output templates and stylesheets that define how the manuscript should look in a variety of delivery formats. You can create multiple output templates or style sheets: one for print composition (.INDT) and another for EPUB (CSS). When the output templates or stylesheets use the same naming convention as the manuscript standard styles, visual design and content can be very efficiently merged — sometimes in an automated fashion. This can radically reduce the time necessary to prepare a title for a specific delivery format.
2. Get CSS in the Production and Design Department
Dear Production and Design Team:
You noticed the reference to CSS in the section above, didn't you? Most design departments are quite skilled in print composition—use of InDesign, the intricacies of pre-press and so on. Less so with defining the look of an ebook via CSS. However, understanding how to design through the creation of CSS (for ebook or web) should be considered a core skill in the Design Department. CSS work can and sometimes should be outsourced to service providers, but it is critical that designers and art directors become conversant in CSS: in the details of the code.
CSS is new for some teams, but it should not be considered "too much like programming" or "something we don't do." Five to 10 years ago, marketing departments became conversant in HTML and CSS. And look at them now. Now it's time for you guys to ramp up.
I am rooting for you.
—Your friend, Andrew
3. Get to Know Your Metadata
Bibliographic and distribution metadata is the digital glue of efficient publishing organizations. It powers marketing and distribution channels. It keeps the print catalog in sync with the website. It's the master index to all the great stuff you create.
Some marketing departments are intimately familiar with their metadata because they create and maintain their own metadata with commercial title management applications such as those from Firebrand and VirtuSales. Other organizations, however, allow distribution partners to manage their bibliographic metadata for them. This can be an efficient path for some organizations, however it becomes problematic when the publisher is no longer in control of the metadata directly. They end up not being familiar with the structure and contents of their own metadata stores. Understanding how to enrich metadata helps power efficient and manageable multi-channel distribution programs. If a publisher is not at least steering the metadata approach, they lose a degree of strategic control in their distribution program. Even if the publisher is not taking primary ownership of metadata management, they should maintain an in-depth and current knowledge of the data in these systems.
4. Make Your Own "App"
Everybody loves apps, but who has the budget for it? Agita abounds: iOS software development continues to be a sellers market, no one wants the headache of getting the app cleared on the App Store, and even if you did, what about Android and other platforms?
Luckily there is one easy way around many of these headaches: create an app in the form of an adaptive website. An adaptive website is one that can detect the display device and modify its presentation to be optimized for that device. In other words, it will look good (and different) on each device: phone, tablet, what have you.
If you have web development skills in your organization, you can explore this. No "C#" programmers. No App Store headaches. Just do it.
It won't get you everything a native iOS (or Android) app will get you. It won't allow you to use GPS, accelerometer, camera or other device resources. And for the most part, it requires a persistent Internet connection. But for most publishers, who are primarily focusing on content delivery, it will do just fine.
You can even integrate your ebook content into adaptive web mobile apps, and leverage the power of your existing content resources. Your existing ebook content can be dynamically delivered from a server and flexibly integrated into browser-based applications.
5. Create Your Digital Media Roadmap
Digital media evolution has many facets. A "roadmap" is a useful tool for planning and managing them. It allows the organization to converge around a common set of goals and the means to get there. Here are some tips on creating an effective roadmap:
- Chart out your roadmap to either two or three years. One is too short. Four is too long.
- Define realistic goals for every three months.
- Include goals that cover the three Ps: Product (what you deliver to the marketplace), Platform (systems, tools, and services necessary to delivery the product) and People (roles, skills and business processes necessary to accomplish all of the above).
- Don't have too many goals to be delivered in any one 90-day period.
- Don't be too wordy. If it is more than about three pages, no one will read it.
- Include funding dependencies. Plan out when your budget requests need to be submitted.
- Revise your plan every 90 days. Hey, things change sometimes!
These Top Five digital media project suggestions have all been proven to be both effective and pragmatic and won't break the bank. Best of luck in 2013! BB
Andrew Brenneman is founder of Finitiv, which provides publishers with cloud-based services, mobile product development and digital strategy consulting.