In the past two years, growth in e-book sales has slowed and in some cases declined. Publishers have hailed the shift as a break in the digital revolution, and some have gone so far as to say the digital revolution is behind us. A recent study conducted by CIDM, the Center for Information-Development Management, suggests the digital revolution in publishing is far from over. On several fronts, the survey indicates, the impact of digital formats is just starting to take hold.
To the extent that the revolution continues, it is being driven by changes in customer expectations for content and information delivery. “Customers are demanding information in new ways,” almost half of the companies surveyed by CIDM agreed. Three-quarters of respondents saw continued growth in the use of HTML, the Web standard for content, over the next three years.
More than 350 companies took part in the survey, from more than 20 industries (of which only one was publishing). While that makes it less reliable as a tool for predicting what might happen within publishing, the results provide a window into the ways in which consumer expectations are likely to shift across a variety of content markets.
Asked about formats, just over a quarter of those sampled said they produced books, but the majority deliver information in other ways: user manuals and training materials, for example. Increasingly, digital formats are the norm, with embedded user assistance, knowledge-base articles, streaming video, and mobile applications all named as delivery vehicles.
Data Conversion Laboratory, a content-conversion company that works with publishers to create a range of digital formats, sponsored the study. Mark Gross, DCL’s CEO, acknowledged that at the moment, “trade publishers have simpler requirements and less impetus to change.” However, as consumer expectations change, demands for different formats and capabilities are likely to affect even trade publishers. In explaining the study, Gross observed, “Cross-pollination across user segments means that technologies and formats will start spreading to other areas.”
The tools used to create and edit content represent a key area in which a shift in technology may be coming. Whereas those responding to the survey still used the tools most evident in trade publishing (Microsoft Word and Adobe’s InDesign and FrameMaker), the dominant tools of choice are XML editors. “We’ll see tools emerge with even greater functionality,” Gross said. He noted that a recent CIDM event featured three new content-management products designed for a specific variety of XML, adding to a market of half a dozen others.
The growing use of HTML has been underway for several years, but the survey shows that we may see a significant shift away from another format: PDFs. Gross noted that today, almost 90% of those companies responding to the survey published PDFs. Asked what they would be delivering in three years, only a bit more than half of the same group said they would still be producing PDFs.
The decline in the use of PDFs is driven by a significant shift toward mobile content consumption. Because PDFs are a static re-creation of an original page, they do not adjust to the size or aspect ratio of a mobile screen. Reading a PDF on a tablet can be frustrating; reading a PDF document on a phone screen can be a nonstarter.
Shifting consumer expectations, changes in formats, continued growth in content use on mobile devices: these trends suggest the digital revolution is far from over. Automation and user-driven content delivery in STM publishing may point the way for continued evolution in other segments, including trade publishing.