Back in 2018, blockchain technology was the hot topic around office watercoolers and at publishing events. The book community was then, and still is, grappling with getting the fundamentals right—that is, the metadata, which forms the backbone of the publishing industry—to aid content discoverability and optimization.

Soon after, the metaverse and blockchain-enabled virtual worlds dominated the conversation. Anyone remember Decentraland, Space Runners, and Vault Hill? Of course, the recent slump in the crypto market put a damper on the hype. And while the metaverse remains alive and well, its immediate applications revolve around AR, VR, and Mixed Reality (MR), as well as Extended Reality (XR), which combines AR, VR, MR, and everything in between.

Now, the most recent frenzied speculations are all about generative AI and chatbots, fueled by nightmarish scenarios involving human extinction and robot overlords. One thing is certain: adoptions of new technologies often come with equal parts buzz, skepticism, and trepidation.

For digital solutions vendors, in India and elsewhere, the quest for robust processes, innovative technologies and tools, and efficient workflows that improve their bottom lines and broaden their client base is never-ending. After all, the digital publishing market seems to be growing, segment after segment, by the minute.

Take the latest report from Allied Market Research, for instance: it expects the global digital educational publishing market to hit $41.5 billion by 2031, with the K–12 segment driving much of the growth. The scientific, technical, and medical (STM) publishing market as a whole, according to, exceeds $26 billion annually. The medical publishing market alone, the IMARC Group reports, reached $9.7 billion in 2022 and is forecast to hit $12 billion within the next five years. As for the scientific and technical publishing segment, Research and Markets puts its current value at $10.5 billion.

But it is the updated numbers from the Business Research Company that basically sum up the big lure for all content-related industry players: the global digital publishing market is set to grow from $41.3 billion in 2022 to $45.9 billion this year, with the projected 2027 figure standing at $67.8 billion.

Is it any wonder then that digital solutions providers and their publishing clients are forging ahead fast and furious in scaling up their operations, cutting down time-to-market, and finding ways to engage with end consumers?

Saying aye to AI and automation

Business intelligence, deep learning, expert systems, page-ranking algorithms, pattern recognition, you name it. These are just some of the AI applications that are already a part of our daily lives. Big tech companies such as Amazon, Anthropic, Google DeepMind, Microsoft, and OpenAI, meanwhile, are racing to build the next-generation AI technologies and tools.

Fears aside, generative AI-enabled chatbots, backed and trained on massive datasets of human language, can be boons in the classroom. Yes, ChatGPT is capable of writing an essay on or reviewing The Grapes of Wrath. But how about letting it write that essay and review that book, and then getting the class to evaluate and improve those results? That teaches critical analysis and thinking, which enhances student engagement. As for rampant cheating through the use of ChatGPT, which can only regurgitate the facts it was fed, the solution can be as simple as designing questions that require not rote answers but those that draw on personal experience and creative thinking. As for conversational chatbots, these can be advantageous in promoting self-directed learning and motivating students. Let’s think positive, shall we?

In the content and publishing sphere, AI-empowered machine translation and speech technology, as well as multilingual virtual assistants, are helping to make content and websites accessible to people with disabilities. Predictive algorithms are personalizing content while recommending authors and books to aid discoverability. Mundane and tedious copyediting tasks, indexing, and glossary-making, for instance, are now faster and more efficient due to AI and automation tools.

So there is no talk about the future without referencing AI for chief revenue officer Tyler Carey at Westchester Publishing Services. “Most publishing services firms—including us—are incorporating AI into their systems, whether to augment existing services or as the foundation for new ones,” Carey says. “Automation has always been a part of Westchester’s DNA in its operations and production teams. As the industry continues to discover ways to harness AI, we will identify opportunities to improve workflows and, more likely, to solve and improve the integration challenges within, and between, the various ecosystems that make up the entirety of the publishing industry.”

Figuring out where and how to harness AI to make automation even more effective is just a natural extension of what Westchester is already doing. “And while we are embedding AI into some of our tools, we are also ensuring that we continue with the right combination of technology and human subject matter expertise to ensure that our clients receive the highest quality outcomes from our services,” Carey says.

“We absolutely need to adopt some AI tools or else we will be irrelevant,” says V. Bharathram, president of Lapiz Digital, whose team is currently developing an internal AI tool based on customer feedback and requirements that will ease and strengthen the e-publishing workflow for various tasks, including copyediting and proofreading, content recommendation, language processing for searching, content distribution, and content creation and generation. Although there have been no specific AI or machine learning requests from clients, Bharathram says that “such tools can help to automate the process of producing content, such as news articles, reports, and product descriptions, which can save publishers valuable time and effort.”

With newer versions of regenerative AI tools being made available at little cost, a number of traditional services will become irrelevant sooner rather than later, Bharathram says. “As it is, work processes are becoming shorter due to the application of AI, machine learning, and natural language processing. And before we know it, imagination will be the limiting factor.”

The proliferation of large language models (LLMs) and the integration of AI technologies, says Tony Alves, senior v-p of product management at HighWire Press, have generated both concern and interest among clients, especially in the scientific community. “One of the specific challenges this community faces is the increase in false medical articles generated, within seconds, by LLMs. Such articles can appear plausible enough to be mistaken for real evidence-based research,” says Alves, whose team is actively working with the scientific community through webinars and working groups to address the issue. “We also participate in industry initiatives such as the STM Integrity Hub, which aims to combat bad actors, including those creating fake research papers for sale to researchers desperate to publish.”

At the same time, Alves recognizes the cost-saving opportunities and efficiency improvements that AI offers publishers. “MPS Labs is partnering with AI industry experts to integrate automation and intelligent analytics into our offerings and to reduce editorial efforts,” Alves says. “Our clients are already benefitting from our AI-driven features and tools while MPS Interactive Systems expects to unlock even more such benefits in the coming months.”

AI is currently utilized at MPS to assess language and determine the level of editing required, detect image manipulation and duplication, restructure content, assess accessibility, generate alt text and image descriptions, and create images and text as starting points for content creation.

The introduction of AI tools in writing and designing, says Sukhwant Singh, COO at MPS Limited, “has also transformed the skills landscape while requiring us to adapt and evolve. We are actively involved in upskilling existing employees, creating new job roles, revising traditional job descriptions to align with future business needs, as well as adopting a multifaceted approach—including career advancement paths, training programs, and a positive workplace environment, for instance—to boost employee engagement.”

Asking for more accessibility

About 1.3 billion people, or one in six of us, have a significant disability, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization. That is around 16% of the world’s population, and the number is set to grow because people are living longer. But only about 2% of websites worldwide are accessible. And this brings us back to the applications of technology and AI to close the disability divide and make the world more accessible and inclusive.

Big corporations are making strides in ensuring digital access for all. For instance, Google offers the Guided Frame feature for Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro for blind and low-vision users and opened its first accessibility research center in the U.K. Microsoft Windows 11 (2022 update) includes auto-generation of captions from any audio content, voice access allowing users to control their PCs and write text using only their voice, and natural voices for Narrator, which mirrors natural speech more closely.

And ensuring cognitive, vision, hearing, and mobility accessibility truly benefits everyone. Think high-contrast buttons, large-text labels, personalized synthetic voices, real-time captions, sound recognition, and voiceovers—all these features are great to have even if you do not have a disability.

At Lapiz Digital, accessibility-related services are expected to grow rapidly over the next 12 months. “The European Accessibility Act (EAA), which is scheduled to take effect by 2025, is set to bring in more enquiries and requests for accessibility-related services,” Bharathram says. “EAA aims to enhance the accessibility rights of individuals with disabilities and sets mandatory accessibility requirements for various products and services, including e-books, dedicated reading software, e-reading devices, and e-commerce. So, we do expect to see an increase in accessibility-focused services from our Europe-based clients, aligning with the requirements outlined in the EAA.”

As the EAA’s 2025 deadline approaches, more organizations are realizing that they need to continue to address their backlists and also adapt to a born-accessible workflow for their frontlists. “The most common workflow challenge is ownership for alt-text creation,” says business development director Deb Taylor of Westchester Publishing Services, a Benetech GCA-certified provider and now a DAISY member as well. “Some want the ownership to be with the authors while others see this as an editorial development responsibility. We can accommodate either and certainly be that editorial development arm for alt-text in addition to providing the accessible e-book files via our production services.”

Many publishers are still working on adjusting their workflow to the EAA requirements, Taylor says. “We expect to see more authors and internal editorial development teams take ownership of alt-text development versus outsourcing it. Going forward, there will be less of a delineation between requesting an e-book versus an accessible e-book, as creating an accessible e-book will become the default SOP for more conversion projects.”

The Lapiz team, Bharathram says, “has ongoing training in diverse global standards to keep abreast of the new developments in accessibility and is trained in advance accessibility services, such as audiobooks with synthesized voices, or text-to-speech, and embossed Braille.” One recent project saw the team using EPUB3 accessibility features to generate digital files and provide product descriptions for retailers.

Tinkering with EdTech

According to MarketsandMarkets Research, the global EdTech and smart classroom market, valued at $125.3 billion in 2022, is poised to surpass $232.9 billion by the end of 2027. Cloud computing and cloud-based platforms, which are needed to facilitate data analytics, deployment, software, and storage for EdTech, are set to grow in tandem.

As of now, AI is powering many of the new EdTech start-ups that focus on extracting data and key insights, identifying learning gaps, personalizing feedbacks, and producing tutorials. The global market for AI in education is expanding, with MarketsandMarkets Research estimating it to reach $3.68 billion this year.

The rapid growth of EdTech is transforming the digital solutions industry, says Singh, of MPS Limited. “Changing expectations of students and technological advancements are reshaping the future of digital content,” Singh says. “Take the shift toward delivering high-quality digital-first content: as students’ study habits and attention spans evolve, a preference for bite-sized learning experiences or microlearning is growing. Students seek personalized, easily accessible content that aligns with their learning needs and preferences. In response, some publishing companies are focused on developing mobile-first content apps that serve as centralized learning hubs. These apps enable students to access learning materials anytime, anywhere, and on any device, empowering them to take control of their learning journey.”

Moreover, these digital-first solutions facilitate the integration of multimedia elements, such as videos, interactive quizzes, and gamified learning experiences, to enhance student engagement and comprehension, Singh says. “The use of analytics and data-driven insights further allows for continuous improvement and personalization of the learning experience as companies gather valuable feedback on student progress, preferences, and areas for improvement.”

“We definitely see more interactive video and gaming requests through our education content development divisions both in the U.S. and the U.K.,” says Carey, of Westchester. “As EdTech demands continue to grow, the requests for engaging and interactive modules within the student lesson experience are increasing. With our subject matter, design, and editorial expertise, combined with our partner network, we can create comprehensive solutions for our education publisher and EdTech clients. Often clients will request that our team provide accompanying teacher guides—and as former educators ourselves, we can deliver content for the teachers that only former educators can effectively produce.”

With more medium and small publishers starting to create their own unique LMS platforms, which they are constantly enhancing, the Lapiz Digital team has also added the skills to verify course compatibility with various platforms and devices to guarantee a seamless learning environment for all users. “We continue to work on developing LMS courses and creating special features for each LMS platform, including quizzes, interactivities, movies, audio-enabled content, and math problem-solving tools,” says Bharathram, whose team is experiencing an increase in the demand for content writing and developing courses for LMS platforms.

The ever-changing technology landscape demands flexibility and ever-developing capabilities, Bharathram says. “As a player in that landscape, we are fully cognizant of the facts and needs. We now have dedicated teams for image processing and alt-text creation across disciplines and upgraded resources for new content management platforms while work continues to develop tools and implement automated processes to streamline content conversion and improve efficiencies.”

Taking a look at trends

Now that publishers can produce video and audio content quickly, there is a substantial increase in video and audio content on various platforms. “Discoverability of specific information within such content, however, remains challenging,” says Singh, of MPS. “So, publishers have made significant progress in improving metadata standards and implementing features such as fully indexed subtitles. In so doing, they are maximizing the value and accessibility of their video and audio content. It enables users to quickly access the relevant information within the video, enhancing their overall viewing experience and facilitating efficient knowledge retrieval.”

Within the trade and higher-ed sectors, Singh sees clients seeking innovative ways to streamline operations, enhance content accessibility, and achieve swift time-to-market. “One client, for instance, has been actively pursuing automation across their entire value chain to expedite processes and optimize costs,” Singh says. “Then there is a growing preference among our clients for a consolidated vendor model, where vendors work harmoniously with the client’s internal teams. We are committed to providing comprehensive solutions for MPS that address evolving client needs.”

Significant growth is expected from the K–12 education sector, with scheduled adoptions of MPS solutions driving the demand, according to Robin Blakely, COO of MPS North America. “The need for lifelong learning, course preparation, and certifications is rising,” Blakely says. “The adoption of AR and VR technologies is also gaining traction in the education sector, offering innovative and immersive learning experiences.”

Alves, of HighWire Press, says that “with scholarly publishers increasingly looking to make various types of content—journals, books, videos, e-learning modules, and events, for instance—more discoverable and monetizable, our HighWire content hosting solutions have substantial growth potential. HighWire, which MPS acquired in 2020, can support the dissemination of scholarly content while enhancing its accessibility and impact.”

Tackling challenges and seizing opportunities

If there is one constant in the business world, it is that labor costs will eventually go up regardless of location. Even the supposedly low-cost countries with massive populations—think China and India—are facing wage gains as well as limited talent pools caused by intra- and inter-industry competition.

In view of rising labor costs and shrinking customer budgets, continuous training and development is imperative, says Bharathram, of Lapiz Digital. “Training staff across project segments and processes to ensure versatile skill sets is an ongoing process. Of course, the risk of employees leaving after being fully trained is always there. But we believe that investing in staff growth and reskilling is essential to our success, enabling the whole organization to scale up quickly and handle projects of varying complexity.”

More publishing clients are struggling with labor and hiring, says Taylor, of Westchester. “So they are turning to us to help them with project management, editorial responsibilities, and other upstream tasks. Because we have onshore teams in the U.K. and U.S. as well as offshore—i.e., our India Direct solutions—for project management and editorial, we can customize a solution for clients in different parts of the world that meet their specific needs in addition to timing, budget, and policy requirements.”

At MPS Limited, the strategic alignment of the HighWire accounts team with all business segments opens new opportunities for revenue generation within the scholarly market. “By aligning MPS offerings with the evolving demands of researchers and learners, MPS can position itself as a trusted partner in providing content, platform, and e-learning solutions that drive growth and success for all its customers in the digital era,” says Alves, of HighWire Press.

“There is a level of trust that our clients have in us,” says Carey, of Westchester. “They consider us as an extension of their operation when it comes to tasks that publishers have traditionally been uncomfortable about outsourcing.” For instance, over the past year, the team has edited and typeset an increasing number of trade fiction titles, which many publishers have historically preferred to manage themselves. “With our proven track record working on bestsellers, embargoed titles, and complex books, publishers are increasingly looking for our expertise and granting us a greater editorial role in their workflow,” Carey says. “It’s an amazing time to be at Westchester and be involved in working on all of the great publications we help our publishers bring to market, quickly and under budget.”

Which brings us to this: when opportunity knocks, answer the door. For digital solutions vendors in India, this means challenging themselves with difficult projects they have not done before and that require new ways of thinking, tools, and tweaks. It also means going the extra mile to assist clients who are in need of cost-effective, nimble, reliable, and scalable solutions. Naturally, these vendors are also creating new areas of growth, organic and inorganic, by offering unique products and solutions, developing their existing market, diversifying the business, and increasing their share of the market.

And as Milton Berle put it so wisely, “if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” The digital solutions vendors in India are definitely heeding his advice by building as many doors as possible even as they continue to answer the knocks.

This feature is published with the support of the vendors covered in these articles

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