For all of the innovative new digital products aimed at consumers, digital has continued to revolutionize the behind-the-scenes work of publishers. But editorial staff will tell you that they could use a little more help. The art department still has all the fun. And when it comes to proofing and editing, editors are often left wanting. Which is why John Pettigrew, an editor with a love of technology, quit his publishing job, and set to work developing a suite of tools for editors. We caught up with Pettigrew ahead of the London Book Fair to talk about his new product, Futureproofs.
So much of the digital focus today is on e-books, but you decided to take on a behind-the-scenes publishing problem: proofing and editorial workflow. Why?
While I’m a huge fan of reaching readers with new technology, I’m an editor at heart. And I believe that the question of how we ensure quality content will remain fundamental whatever format our product takes, and that editors are the key to quality. As a result, enabling them to better perform their often underappreciated job means developing the tools they need to do it across all product types.
What does Futureproofs offer that some of the workflow solutions currently available lack?
The traditional way of checking book proofs on paper is simple, mostly reliable, and accessible. But it’s surprisingly expensive, especially for color projects, and it doesn’t enable collaboration or provide useful data. With publishers always looking to cut costs, all that printing is an obvious target. However, the digital solutions so far—usually PDF software—are clumsy and not designed expressly for the job. Futureproofs, by contrast, is designed specifically for editorial workflows. We provide very precise, intuitive, on-screen markup based on traditional markup standards. And we enable effective collaboration, which reduces the time spent on queries and gives project managers real-time information, meaning they can better spot problems as they arise, rather than having to react after the fact.
You recently closed a round of seed funding—tell us about that.
Yes, we’ve just signed the agreement on our first seed funding, which will help us to hire another developer and push ahead. I was fortunate to bootstrap the business through its first milestones—launching our platform at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year and securing our first paying customer, Cambridge University Press. However, like any startup, we need money to grow, and it takes time to get investors interested—especially for a publishing tech business. A lot of investors think books are dead or that publishing is simply too small an industry in which to invest. But we did find some investors who understand what we are trying to do and believe in our team—and that’s a great feeling.
With those first milestones passed and some new funding, what’s next?
We’re definitely going to add e-book proofing, which will allow editors to ensure that their e-books are editorially correct and not merely technically valid. We’re also talking to other publishing tech companies about integration. If you have several great tools, each of which solves a problem really well, you really need those tools to talk to each other. For example, you don’t want to have half a dozen sets of login details, or be copying book titles and ISBNs around manually. Enabling seamless communication will be something we look at over the coming year, because that will help everyone.