The Future is Now (Still)

A Report from Digital Publishing Forums

Unbound: Advancing Book Publishing in a Digital World

What felt at times like a motivational fête for the publishing industry was hosted by Google this January in one of America's temples to book culture, the New York Public Library. Publishers were addressed by web-savvy authors and gurus such as Chris Anderson (The Long Tail) and Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing) as well as innovative publishers such as Tim O'Reilly and Michael Holdsworth (formerly of Cambridge University Press).

One of the ideas that recurred throughout the day was that trade and scholarly/professional publishing are perhaps two different businesses—"entertainment vs. information —that would diverge even further in the digital world. Interestingly, the authors who presented were mostly trade (fiction and nonfiction) writers, whereas most publishers presented from the scholarly, professional, and education sectors.

The authors provided fascinating case studies of how they and their publishers had put the web and networked communities to work for their books. Several of the authors admitted that they had little concern for any sales revenue that might be lost by free online dissemination of their published book. The speaking and consulting fees they can command are only going to be enhanced by a higher public profile. Several publishers presented valuable details on how large-scale digitization projects and business models, rather than individualized web-based marketing plans, had enhanced sales.

HarperCollins Senior Vice President Carolyn Pittis spoke about their "Digital Warehouse," whose functions are conceived as comparable to a bricks-and-mortar warehouse: the storage, management, and distribution of content. On top of their digital warehouse, HarperCollins has developed its own "Search Inside" functionality and recently introduced a widget for syndicating searchable book content to users' web sites. Holdsworth provided a glimpse of how improvements to digital channels—from print-on-demand (POD) programs to Google Book Search—have increased sales of what Cambridge University Press had once called the "Comet's Tail," the books that sell less than 50 copies a year. One eye-catching statistic involved more than 1000 POD-available titles that sold not a single copy in 2005, but represented more than $1 million in sales in 2006—sales that would have been lost if those titles had gone out of print in the interim.

Most presenters seemed to agree that giving some kind of content away for free was a no-brainer for selling more content in various formats. What that meant to different folks—be it entire digital copies of a book under loose Creative Commons licenses, free sample chapters, free audio downloads or other 'extras,' or free search accessibility and text browsing—was not explicitly debated. The underlying consensus was, unsurprisingly, that publishers by this point need to be digitizing their content and should be able to control that content, but that indexing and search should be widely available through not just Google and Amazon, but through other search engines, libraries, and so on.

Google produced a short video of highlights from the event, which you can view here:


STM Book 2.01: The e-Book Journey: Current Paths and Future Roads

The STM (International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers) e-book seminar was billed as appropriate for any segment of scholarly publishing—including the humanities and social sciences. The day provided a thorough overview of where e-books now stand in the publishing industry, and the road ahead as perceived by both publishers and librarians.

To get us to today's leading edge of electronic book publishing, James Gray of the Ingram Digital Group spoke about the massive advances in print-on-demand (POD) technologies and applications by traditional and non-traditional publishers. As well, he indicated the experiments that Lightening Source has been undertaking in producing books in a wide array of POD formats such as large print and other language editions. Such advances in POD capability continue to transform the book production and distribution systems. Michael Holdsworth presented here, as well, focusing on the role that Google, Amazon, and Microsoft LiveSearch may play in the e-book market.

Preparing the book production workflow to take greatest advantage of new technologies and content channels was addressed by Helen Bailey, VP & Pub Director for Content Management at John Wiley & Sons. Bailey spoke about how Wiley has transformed their workflow to create XML digital content that can serve the many new (and potential future) publishing and distribution channels. While post-press XML coding had the initial appeal of speed, Bailey saw that in the long run it would not serve their business needs. From a print-focused process, Wiley is now moving steadily to a digital-first workflow.

By far some of the most interesting information presented was market research on how libraries use and what they want from e-books. Elsevier (Science Direct) shared data from their pilot e-book project, which experimented with various subscription and sales models. A science librarian, while recognizing that a print book would always be needed for the library's core collection, looked forward to a day when they would be able to collect e-books broadly. From his perspective, this would be feasible when publishers made e-book versions available with no time lag, with greater functionality (more than just a copy of the print book), with flexibility of use, and when e-books can be integrated into the catalogue (through MARC records).

Linda Bennett, of Gold Leaf Consulting, had earlier confirmed many of these recommendations. Bennett recently conducted a survey of librarians on use of e-books and opinions of publishers' business models. Some of the problems that librarians see with current e-book options are rigid usage restrictions, the wide variety of platforms, the lack of MARC records, lack of searchability, and price. After reviewing several publishers' e-book models, Bennett noted that librarians were split on preferred models themselves. Fifty percent of surveyed librarians preferred to directly purchase content, and fifty percent preferred a license arrangement. An AAUP member got top marks in that survey—the librarians interviewed appreciated the Oxford Scholarship Online model, and, perhaps just as importantly, recognized the brand with approval.

For more detailed information, several presentations from this seminar are available online:

As another useful reference on this topic, Springer has publicly released a study of their e-books' usage in libraries:


Digital Asset Distribution for Book Publishers: An Emerging Infrastructure

One of the newest acronyms in electronic publishing is DAD, for digital asset distribution—a new name for the electronic storage and distribution infrastructure that's been developing in the industry over recent years. Klopotek brought together presenters from a number of DADs, including codeMantra, BiblioVault, Value Chain, HarperCollins, and Ingram Digital Ventures, to give publishers a crash course on DAD.

Each DAD representative took 15 minutes to present their services and opinions about what publishers could and should expect from a digital asset distribution partner. The vendors ranged from LibreDigital, a book-focused division of NewsStand, which manages electronic newspaper content for media companies around the globe; HarperCollins, which is now offering their digital warehousing services (described at the Books Unbound seminar, see above) to other publishers; to the familiar nonprofit BiblioVault, which is evolving into a full-service DAD.

Many presenters also had general advice for publishers, regardless of what service provider one might choose. Kate Davies of BiblioVault reminded the audience that working with a DAD can't mean walking away from digital content distribution tasks entirely—strategic publishing decisions remain with the publisher. Choosing a vendor you can build a relationship with is vital. LibreDigital's Craig Miller's mantra was "convert once, publish many"—publishers should aim for a solution which ensures that content need be digitized only once for all of the many new content distribution channels available.

The day was extremely informative, presenting a wide array of options to consider as publishers search for the right—scalable, flexible yet stable—infrastructure for new electronic publishing models. Most usefully, however, the presentations from each DAD are now freely available online for publishers' review. A white paper on the topic, prepared by Kloptek for Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical and Mark Bide of Rightscom is also available for purchase.

Presentations and white paper are available here:

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic & Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP