Cloud-Watching: Report from Publishers Launch

About one hundred commercial publishers and service reps showed up for Mike Shatzkin's latest Publisher's Launch conference, "Book Publishing in the Cloud," at New York's Baruch College campus on July 26.

The efficient, quick pace of the day left little room for fluff: most of the 15-to-20 minute presentations were studded with anecdotes and real-life examples of how these houses are making use of today's cloud services. Following the presentations was a two-hour "speed-dating" session for publishers to meet in small groups with vendors for brief Q&A sessions.

Cloud services have just recently become widespread lingo, marketed to the individual user, but as the presenters were quick to remind us, cloud is another term for software-as-a-service (SaaS), which has been employed by businesses such as publishing for many years now. Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Marketplace, leading the conference with Shatzkin, named a few well-known examples he uses daily: news feeds, URL shorteners, content-management systems, hosting and email services. The options are growing along with our capabilities.

Ken Michaels, Executive VP and COO at Hachette, warmed up the stage with another broad view of the cloud and its possibilities, many of which Hachette has pursued (in some cases also expanding its suite of services available to other publishers). One example highlighted the nimble response to supply and demand that SaaS systems enable: BookRadar monitors Hachette's online vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) to ensure products are on sale on the correct date, at the correct price point, and catalogs the item's site placement and promotions. The automation saves a great deal of staff time and also a great deal of error.

Much lightness was made of the conflict between SaaS and IT, with the underlying assumption that moving more systems to the cloud greatly cuts down on IT needs, as most of these services come with their own customizations and technical support—to the point where one IT staffer was compelled to speak up for his department, that they are as excited about cloud possibilities as anyone. "The State of the Cloud" session noted that the biggest driver to the cloud has actually not been IT costs, but rather, the more direct connections it allows between publisher and consumer, and publisher and contributor.

Ted Hill of THA Consulting comprehensively reviewed the types of services now available for publishers via the cloud in "Understanding the Options": enterprise services like billing, email, CRM, calendars, finances, and human resources; publishing-specific services like contracts and rights, EDP workflow and management, digital asset management, and title management; and business, marketing, and commerce services such as social media, marketing tools, analytics, and sales tracking. He noted that IT is still necessary in these services wherever lots of users are involved, a significant amount of money is involved, and data needs to be moved across systems.

AAUP's own Bonnie Russell, Technical Project Manager at Wayne State University Press, took the stage for a panel on "Opportunities and Challenges for Smaller Houses" alongside staff from Workman, David C. Cook, and Liberty Fund. Russell described Wayne State's (very) recent update from an in-house service and FileMaker databases to cloud services like Virtusales. With vendors providing on-call technical expertise, "IT" was replaced by "Project Manager." The vendor was also able to lead the way in terms of best practices and workflow development. With the new systems in place, the press is now able to store three times as much content. While clearly happy with the results for Wayne State, Russell emphasizes that each press must "find the tool that fits your process, not the process that fits your tool"—which becomes easier to do with the proliferation of SaaS options.

Andrea Fleck-Nisbet (Workman) chimed in with a dilemma common to small publishers: the cultural resistance to new systems, a problem that can be amplified with the accelerating evolution of all things digital. Russell acknowledged that while the new systems will be implemented anyway, it's always important to make all on staff feel like their voices are heard.

So, where had the small presses seen their biggest improvements from converting to the cloud? For Workman, territory rights; for Cook, Michael Covington sang praises to all things Firebrand; for Liberty, royalties; and for Wayne State, metadata management, after implementing BiblioVault three months previously. The biggest challenge, across the board, had been integrating new services with legacy systems (a theme echoed in the "Legacy is a Four-Letter Word" segment).

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the cloud-happy day was the number, ever-growing, of services now available to publishers, including for smaller presses, and the energy that can be invested just into keeping up with what's out there and testing out new opportunities (as many also encourage free trial sessions). Half of the program was devoted purely to educating oneself about those options, as each press's needs, priorities, and capabilities differ.

Regan Colestock
Communications Coordinator, AAUP