Adopting a Device-Neutral Approach to Electronic Publishing: A Q&A With Springer's Timothy Griswold
Digital publishing was, of course, top of mind for many of the attendees at last week's Publishing Business Conference & Expo, as the event kicked off with a panel of book industry leaders in print-digital integration. Moderated by THA Consulting President Ted Hill, the session, entitled "The Cross-Platform Book Publisher: Reinvent Your Company," featured panelists Timothy Griswold, vice president, sales, trade and special licensing, Springer; Adam Lerner, president/publisher, Lerner Publishing Group; Deborah Forte, president, Scholastic Media; and Mike Rosiak, lead content architect, Wolters Kluwer Health—all of whom shared their experiences and insights into successfully bringing products to market in multiple formats.
Book Business Extra spoke with Griswold after the conference to expand on some of the themes discussed amongst the panel. Here, he advises book publishers on publishing electronically across multiple devices and discusses the next big opportunity Springer is exploring.
Book Business Extra: During the panel, you stressed Springer's device-neutral approach in regard to publishing content electronically—the company publishes across as many devices as possible. How has Springer adapted to so many different devices and formats, and what advice would you give to other publishers that want to adopt a device-neutral approach?
Timothy Griswold: ... There is a learning curve involved. You take a risk, and some of them are good and some of them may not be so good. ... When you're any publisher, whether small, medium or large, during the negotiation with [online retailers, such as] the Apple iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, Blio, etc., you need to really do that trial run-through at the beginning during the contract negotiation [before the contract is signed]. ... What we found is that, in some cases, the content and the format [in which] we delivered the content ... the actual appearance on the e-reader, the quality was not good. And so, because of that, with the contract already signed, there were conversion costs, and, in some cases, considerable conversion costs that had to be incurred. There was a discussion back and forth as far as who was responsible for those conversion costs, so that's probably the most important thing. ... I learned that I need to have the people in production that I can rely on and who are knowledgeable regarding the different formats of e-files and delivery and what has to be done, and I need that knowledge while I'm out there negotiating with Blio or whoever it happens to be in order to deliver the content and make it that seemless transition.
... The other thing that I alluded to in [my Publishing Business Conference] presentation [is that] as you start going down this road, the structure of your organization changes, meaning that different people have different responsibilities ... . For example, the continued delivery of the content, the continued delivery of the pricing—who is going to handle that? Most companies have a division that handles the delivery to ... online bookstores, but it becomes a whole different kettle of fish when you have to do it on a weekly or even a monthly basis. ... What I'm doing now is developing a whole strategy plan across all of the different e-readers that we're going at. For any given publisher, I think one of the things you need to do is look at your type of products ... and then decide what's the best strategy given the various e-readers you're working with.
Extra: Because many STM books and textbooks are heavily formatted with tables, illustrations, etc., do you find that they are not as well-received on more traditional e-readers such as the Kindle because those devices aren't optimal for that type of content compared to, say, the iPad?
Griswold: ... The forecasting of the revenue that's coming in from ... a Kindle standpoint, I can't forecast high enough. ...
Extra: You mentioned in the conference session that custom publishing is a new opportunity. Has Springer gotten involved in custom publishing yet?
Griswold: They haven't. I consider it an opportunity both from the print and the electronic side, but from Springer's standpoint, I'm sure if we were to approach it, we would do it from an electronic standpoint. ... That's going to be part of my strategic plan going forward. ... It's a nightmare from a production standpoint, from a warehousing standpoint, from a delivery standpoint, when you're talking about [custom publishing in] print. ... There are fewer issues when you do it electronically. So yes, it's on the list of things we want to explore in the near future.
Editor's Note: Check out the May/June issue of Book Business for additional coverage of the 2011 Publishing Business Conference & Expo.