Digital Directions: Tear Down the Silo
While at times painful to acknowledge, digital media is highly disruptive to publishing. It forces us to rethink basic assumptions about the nature of our product offerings, and how to create and deliver them. Most now see that digital cannot be ignored and requires enormous change.
It's one thing to recognize the importance of digital; it's another to actually embrace it. In an effort to insulate core, legacy print-based operations, digital programs often get siloed—shut off in their own program domains—while traditional editorial and production processes continue undisturbed. While this may seem practical in the short-term, in the long-term it is a costly strategic blunder.
Digital and print must be united. Publishers need to see themselves as cross- media content organizations, bound to neither print nor digital, and able to exploit each medium based on its unique attributes, to achieve both product and marketing objectives. The silo must come down.
Here is an outline of ways to better integrate digital and print programs.
1. Publishing Programs. Publishing agendas are often serendipitous, with the decision to publish a title dictated by what comes in the door. This leads to a lack of coherence to the evolution of the list, and creates some challenges. Digital product development is much more efficient when templates, taxonomies and technology components can be reused over a range of related titles within a subject domain.
For example, if a publisher has an especially deep list of cookbooks, it has an opportunity to apply some of the same layout components and meaningful subject categories across the list; that's not the case if the titles are all over the map. One-offs are expensive.
Also, from a market-strategy perspective, digital success often depends upon content depth within subject-matter verticals. If you dominate a particular subject domain, the likelihood of creating a successful digital offering is much higher than if you are a new entrant. Two reasons this is so: First, customers already identify you with that domain. Second, you have the ability to create a digital offering based on a deep collection of content. Prune your list.
2. Product Clusters. When contemplating new products, try to develop an acquisition and development strategy based upon a cluster of print and digital offerings within one title or one series of titles that reinforce the value of one another. An interactive tablet application to support an educational print title would be one example of this. Make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Don't make the digital offerings just e-book versions of print titles. Think through what can be done in digital that cannot be done in print, and exploit the heck out of it.
3. Templates, Templates, Templates. Adhere to a template-based publishing approach. Create templates for manuscripts (in Microsoft Word or your application of choice), templates for output (e.g., InDesign), standardized cascading style sheet (CSS) for Web, and so on. And don't just think of templates as a starting point. Make sure that you conform to the structure of the template throughout the publishing process. Templates are the key to efficiency, automation, consistency, and—subsequently—quality. If manuscript editors work within a standard template—and do not go off and create ad hoc styles—then many downstream processes, such as composition or e-book conversion, can be automated. The savings can be enormous. An added bonus: product consistency.
4. A Repository of One's Own. Maintain a repository of your content—both production assets (manuscripts, illustrations) and final output (InDesign, ePub, etc.). Don't let your service providers be the only ones with authoritative archives of your products. 'Nuff said.
5. Manuscript Approvals. Get authors and editors to sign-off on content at the manuscript stage. Many publishers edit significantly after the work has been composed for print, which creates a host of production delays from revisions to e‑book conversions. If the only final, authoritative, approved content is in an output format (such as an InDesign file for print) then cross-media delivery is a challenge. A .docx manuscript is a far better place to house the authoritative text. Heavily illustrated titles notwithstanding, treat the manuscript with the reverence it deserves: the DNA of your product.
6. Disband Your Digital Media Group. Before it was generally acknowledged that the future of all publishing was digital, many organizations created a group for "All Things D." This was typically a group of firebrands dedicated to disruptive change. At this point, it is probably counterproductive to have a "digital group." Publishing is digital, and every department needs to have digital priorities of its own. Tear down your digital silo and reuse the parts. Fold the best and brightest of your digital teams into your core departments: marketing, editorial and production. Bye-bye, digital group. It was fun!
7. The Taxonomy Team. Taxonomy is a fancy word for subject labeling. I am not talking just about the rather broad BISAC (book industry subject and category) and LOC (Library of Congress) subject categories, but the granular terminology that is unique to each field and subject domain. Subject-matter tagging is a critical way to add value to content, to reuse the same content in different contexts, and to aid discovery and use. Subject tagging, such as those found in ONIX (Online Information Exchange), facilitates distribution, discovery and sales. More detailed subject tagging at the chapter and paragraph level allows for even more precise and detailed descriptions, supporting not only distribution, but integration of the content with software applications. Tagging is key to digital success.
Publishers need to understand the taxonomies relevant to their fields and apply these subject labels systematically. Every publisher needs to create or join a taxonomy group and participate in the standards' evolution. Both editorial and production folks need to be involved.
8. Learn From Partners. Service providers and product-development partners are critical to digital success. One of the great ways that service providers can drive a publisher forward is in the learning process that occurs when staff and partners interact. Good vendors are like good coaches, eager to help publishers learn more about digital media and the services they provide. But often they're left without players; there is no one to catch the ball. … It's time to catch the ball. BB
Andrew Brenneman is founder of Finitiv (finitiv.com) which provides publishers with digital strategy consulting, product development and cloud-based services.
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