The Shatzkin Files


Finding the right digital services is today’s challenge for publishers


The era of digital change in publishing has given rise to a slew of service propositions to help publishers with their new infrastructure needs. This is both essential and also nothing new. It has always been necessary for publishers to execute on core needs by getting help at scale. There was a time when publishers owned their own printing presses or were started by printers. When my father was hired by Doubleday in 1951, his first job there involved oversight of printing facilities they had in Garden City, Long Island. I don’t know when they stopped owning presses, but they certainly did so into the 1970s.

Smaller publishers have leaned heavily on larger publishers or service companies for distribution for several decades. Even before that (and still today), independent commissioned sales reps were available to help publishers too small to have “house reps” get orders from bookstores scattered far and wide across the landscape.

In the era of digital change, there have risen a whole new crop of services. But unlike typesetting, printing, and sales representation, which were services to deliver processes that were relatively stable and well-understood by the publishers who were buying them, even what is needed to accommodate digital change is a constantly-shifting landscape.

And just like the smaller publishers were the ones who needed distribution deals and commissioned reps, it is the publishers below the Big Five level that can gain the biggest benefits from the various service providers solving the problems posed by the digital transition.

Publishing services, aside from marketing, fall into three buckets:

* Digital Asset Distribution: services that “warehouse” a publisher’s digital IP, push it out to customers or intermediaries, and account for the transactions that occur;

* Editorial/Production: services that help publishers and agents organize new digital workflows that make smart use of XML-coding for identification and production, put into electronic form what might now only exist in print, and store and manage “digital assets” so they can be recombined and reused as needed;

* Rights and Royalties: services that help publishers keep clear what rights they own and where they’re licensed, make sure the licensees account properly and pay on time, and provide the necessary data to inform the contractually-interested author of this activity. And digital is making permissions activity explode with publishers having more and more tiny transactions to keep track, both bringing things in and licensing things out.

There is the potential for overlap. Since the “DAD” (provider of digital asset distribution services) is putting IP into a database, some publishers have attempted to use the DAD database as a DAM (digital asset management) system, which we’re suggesting is a core element of the editorial/production function. The DAD might be shipping off a file to complete a rights transaction which could be tracked separately from a “sale”; we see sales as part of what a DAD does and rights as something separate. In an ideal world, which few companies are in yet, these talk to each other seamlessly.

As always in our industry, the lines between functions depend a bit on which publishing company you’re talking about.

Digital Asset Distribution

By this point, most publishers small and large have had to solve the challenge of finding a digital asset distributor. But even somebody who has been distributed for some time will be finding new questions arising constantly.

How does a DAM for your assets work with a DAD pushing out products?
Can you “do it yourself” instead of paying for services? What risks would that entail?
How does your DAD help maximize sales through metadata? Do you need to change metadata for a title over time?
How do you manage metadata across channels?
What metadata do you need for the supply chain, and what metadata makes your products more discoverable and desirable to the marketplace?
How do you future-proof your processes and technology?
How do you make sure you reach international markets?
How hard is it to switch DAD vendors?
What are the challenges to making bulk or individual sales direct?
How can you be sure that you’re getting the broadest possible distribution and reaching new sales channels?
How can you be sure that you’ll be able to manage new digital formats and product types as they arise?

Many houses got started with digital distribution without feeling an immediate need for changing their entire editorial and production workflow. After all, everybody had print workflows in place and probably started making and selling ebooks when they were a small fraction of their total sales, not the big chunk they are now, so changing the print workflow wouldn’t have seemed sensible when they started. But, increasingly, publishers are seeing the value in reconfiguring their whole editorial process, which in turn creates a new set of challenges. It has been about five years since we did our “StartWithXML” conferences and white papers with O’Reilly, but many houses are just getting familiar with XML: a markup language that, if used right, can make outputting both print and digital products faster and cheaper.

Editorial/Production

The service providers for editorial and production have gotten increasingly sophisticated along with the publishers, but even the more experienced publishers face difficult questions as they choose suppliers for these services.

With “born digital” content, how can you be sure to get good XML?
With “born digital” content, what’s the best way to get a print PDF?
What’s the best way to work when you’re starting with the print version?
How do the roles of editor and managing editor change in a digital workflow?
How can you get more mileage out of your investment?
Repurposing? Selling smaller chunks? Combining chunks to create new products?
Can you get more value out of your backlist?
What’s best outsourced? What’s best kept in house?
How can complex, illustrated, and reference content be digitized efficiently and effectively?
How can publishers be sure content works across platforms and devices?
What can trade pubs learn from textbook publishers about digital products?
How do you build the tagging you need into the workflow?
How far should you go with snazzy enhancements like interactivity and multimedia?
What are best practices for storing and managing assets for new format/product creation, reuse, and recombination?

Rights and Royalties

Publishers manage, produce, and distribute an increasingly complex range of products, challenging traditional contracts, permissions, rights licensing, and royalty practices. The management of rights and royalties with a digital database is not something that needed to wait for digital products to begin, and in some places the shift from paper in file cabinets to rights information accessible in the computer was done years ago. But, in most places it was not. And even in the places where it was, the shift in what rights are traded and under what circumstances has been driven by the changing digital marketplace and was often not anticipated, even by publishers far-sighted enough to database their contracts many years ago.

So the rights managers in publishing houses and the literary agents that sell publishers rights have their own questions.

How do you accommodate future rights usages in contracts and metadata?
How do you deal with legacy contracts?
What’s the best way to create a working rights database of legacy rights?
How granular do you get—just title rights, or rights for components (chapters, images)?
What’s the best way to database rights going forward?
What’s best practice for consistency of language in contracts around rights?
What’s the best way to maximize revenue from RROs worldwide?
How do you deal with an explosion of permission requests?
How do you deal with the mushrooming number of permissions you’ve secured to take content in?
How does staffing and training for rights change in a 21st century rights workflow?
What do you do when you don’t have digital rights to things (like images) in books you want to publish digitally?

As complex as all the challenges under each of these three headings are, they all still qualify as “parity” functions. A parity function is something you can’t gain much competitive advantage from doing better than the next guy, but which can really hurt your business if you fail at it. The wisdom about parity functions is that they are almost always best delegated to a specialist that will focus on doing them in a world-class way.

The right answers to these questions are almost never universal. They depend on all sorts of circumstances local to the publishing operation seeking them.

So the challenge for book publishing operators is to understand the particular needs of their operation — different if you do more illustrated books; different if you sell more rights than the average publisher; different if you re-use and repackage material regularly — and to find the supplier combinations that cover their requirements efficiently.

With our partners at Digital Book World, Cader’s and my Publishers Launch Conferences has organized a Publishing Services Expo to take place on September 26 in NYC to address all these challenges. PSE will be three mini-conferences, one on each of the three areas discussed in this piece. We’ll have presentations from experts at publishing houses who are managing these functions addressing all the issues. Then we’ll have speed-dating: an opportunity for attendees to meet sponsoring service providers and the experts in 15-minute roundtable conversations where each attendee can get his or her own particular questions answered. Tickets to PSE are cheap so it will be worth it even if you only need help with one or two of the three service areas we’ll cover.

Our session captains: Ted Hill of THA Consulting for Digital Asset Distribution, Bill Kasdorf of Apex for Editorial/Production, and Ashley Mabbitt of Wiley for Rights and Royalties, are among the most knowledgeable operators in our industry. They will summarize the issues, moderate the publishers in conversation, and will be available themselves during the speed-dating sessions to answer questions. If any of the questions in this post are meaningful to you, circle the date, September 26, and come to PSE and get them answered. Register here. (It’s the second option.)

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