Book publishers know that their business is changing, and quickly. Whether it’s online publishing through the Web, downloadable e-books, or app development, digital content and the technology that supports it is the newest path to sales growth and customer satisfaction. In today’s book content marketplace, publishers have to master an ever-growing number of exotic technologies, even while these same technologies are being continuously updated, morphing into new versions of themselves that are more efficient and in constant need of sophisticated management and technical support.
To meet the needs of this transition, there is a burgeoning collection of digital vendors looking to supply fundamental digital infrastructure as well as strategic consultation to a book publishing industry marching relentlessly, if not always competently, toward a technology-enhanced future. As traditional book publishers contemplate adding e-books and other digital products in a rapidly evolving book marketplace, the need to reorganize and rethink business practices—not to mention executing them—is a growing demand.
More than ever, publishers consult vendors who can supply everything from turnkey systems that can manage content from acquisition to distribution to an à la carte menu of services that they can tap as needed. Based on an annual survey, “Uncovering eBooks Real Impact,” conducted by Aptara, a multifaceted vender that combines digital conversion, production, and market analysis services, the firm says that the acceleration of the adoption of e-books, especially in the trade book segment, means publishers almost always need some form of outside technical and production know-how to make sure their houses can capture digital demand and the revenue it produces.
Demand is growing. E-book sales in 2010 were up 40% over the previous year, according to Aptara’s annual survey of the digital book marketplace that collected 1,350 responses from a range of publishers. (That growth figure is almost identical to the 39% growth rate reported by the Association of American Publishers/Book Industry Study Group BookStats sales survey that found e-books sales in 2010 across all publishing segments rose 39%, to $1.62 billion). One out of five publishers in the Aptara study reports at least 10% of its sales are generated by e-books, and the figures are growing. The report also points to the importance of both print and digital content, emphasizing that 85% of all publisher respondents publish across all market segments and “are producing print and eBook versions of their titles. For the time being, print publishing’s legacy cost structure and business and production models are living alongside newer eBook-inspired practices.”
According to the report, over the past two years the proportion of trade book publishers adding e-books to their lists grew from 50% to 76%, a faster rate of e-book adoption than any other publishing category (64% of STM publishers added e-books and 55% of college publishers). And no wonder, according to BookStats, trade e-book sales in 2010 were up 201% over 2009. Forty-two percent of publishers in the Aptara survey said that “increasing” e-book revenues and “increased customer demand”—one, of course, leads to the other—are driving their plans to add e-books, while also marking the general embrace of e-books by the mainstream book reading culture.
Bill McCoy, executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum, the digital publishing standards association, agrees. “IDPF no longer really needs to be an evangelist for e-books and digital reading—it’s happening across segments of publishing,” he says. McCoy emphasizes that EPub, the XML-based e-book standard IDPF developed to simplify e-book production, is attracting more publishers all the time. “While Amazon doesn’t presently use EPub as a distribution format, the majority of Kindle units sold are of titles sent to them as EPub by publishers,” he says. “So EPub really has become the lingua franca, which will only accelerate as EPub 3 gains adoption, with its HTML5-based support for fixed-layout, rich media, and interactivity.”
Trade book publishers are working with a range of partners, third-party providers that can introduce them to the intricacies of the category, train in-house personnel, or manage the technology for them outright in a cost-conscious and effective manner. “Different solutions work for different scenarios,” explains Chad Phelps, chief digital officer at F+W Media, a book and magazine publisher specializing in publications aimed at the hobbyist, self-help, crafts, and genre fiction categories; F+W has reorganized its publishing program with a focus on digital delivery.
According to the Aptara study, 66% of trade publisher respondents report using “external technology partners” for most of their e-book production. The report also claims that over the two years of the survey, the number of houses using in-house e-book production remains almost unchanged at 21%, down slightly to 20%.
Phelps ticks off a list of some of the software available and questions he has to consider, such as content management systems (“There are several considerations when choosing a CMS, including development costs, ongoing maintenance, and integration with other systems”), e-mail service providers (“integral to user engagement, revenue generation, and marketing”), analytics and reporting (to measure user engagement and success” and “create a robust analytics package that integrates with eCommerce and your Email Service Provider”) as well as digital content delivery, ad servers, online hosting, e-commerce, and social media tools. And as long as that list of considerations is, it will likely get longer.
That’s where companies like CodeMantra, Firebrand Technologies, and Aysling Digital Media Solutions come into sharp focus; these are digital vendors that can help a publisher manage print and digital publishing across the complete editorial/production/retail cycle. Walter Walker, director of publishing services at CodeMantra, a publishing services and software developer with a soup to nuts suite of digital services that, he explains, “makes digital publishing manageable.” CollectionPoint, a digital asset management and distribution platform, is the centerpiece of CodeMantra’s services and offers publishers everything from conversion services and title management to metadata and retail distribution. It’s a digital warehouse, Walker says, that supports print and digital output and allows a publisher to store “files so they can be easily discovered, retrieved, converted, and distributed.”
Walker agrees that publishers were adopting IDPF’s EPub standard in increasing numbers, although not XML, generally considered by new media professionals as ideal for outputting multiple kinds of documents. “We do see publishers progressively pushing for the adoption of XML as the source content at some stage in their production workflow,” Walker says. “The optimal situation is XML first, but that’s not always practical. Many are opting for an XML conversion just prior or just after pre-press. This can then lead to an expensive conversion to EPub or any other digital format, HTML5, for example. Subsequent editions of a title can then be efficiently published in all formats, print and digital.”
Founded in 1996 as a conversion house and based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., outside Philadelphia, CodeMantra has “gone through the e-publishing evolution,” and Walker says the company is 40% ahead of last year’s revenue. CollectionPoint 3.0 was designed in collaboration with Oxford University Press, and to OUP’s specifications. OUP uses the system to manage more than 27,000 titles. The CollectionPoint platform has 40 clients, among them Bloomsbury, Chronicle Books, McGraw-Hill Professional, and Yale University Press.components/article_pagination.html not found (No such file or directory)