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Chunks and Verticals and Niches — Oh, My!

Despite the bell tolling on the publishing industry lately, the publishers who are doing well these days are those who have focus. Publishers who have a consistent message, who create content about specific things, seem not to be paddling the lifeboat with broad, generalized trade publishers. Niches, areas of concentration — call them what you will, but this is where the future of publishing lies. Just as cable TV brought about a revolution in video consumption — movies on this channel, comedy on this other one, news on this third one — digital distribution has brought about a revolution in publishing. It’s just a question of understanding where the ground is moving under your feet.

Digital tools — such as e-books, book trailers, widgets, what have you — are just that: tools. They are no substitution for product — nor will they sell a product that doesn’t deserve to be sold. Funneling money into “digital initiatives” is wasting money — unless those initiatives are clearly defined.

How to define them? How to read the tea leaves and figure out what initiatives actually make sense and which are a money pit?

The StartWithXML team has looked at XML itself for guidance. XML tools allow people — editors, authors, production teams — to “componentize,” to break content down into irreducible parts, to re-use those parts, to publish content more than once. If your book content is sufficiently tagged, you can re-use it early and often.

I think about one of my favorite authors, Wayne Dyer. He writes his books. From those books are generated calendars, one-a-day cards, daily journals, audiobooks, supplementary materials (such as meditations). If Hay House felt like it, they could send an email containing an inspirational quote to my inbox every morning. Dyer writes once. But Hay House publishes his stuff many times over, in many different formats. If he feels like doing more, they provide him with a platform for podcasts, conferences, interviews, and opportunities to preface or foreword other Hay House authors’ books.

Doing these sorts of tricks — and creating loads of interesting and compelling products almost as byproducts of your original content — is much easier and cost-effective if you’re already using XML. The “chunks” of content are pre-defined. You don’t have to make iterative runs at the original manuscript and figure out what can be re-used; you know from the get-go what you WILL re-use.

This is not anti-literary. It’s pro-keeping-your-publishing-house-in-business. And the sooner trade houses realize what their verticals actually are, and pursue them with the savage focus that the niche publishers do, the sooner everyone is happy: the consumer, who gets loads of content; the author, who gets loads of royalties; and the publisher, who is squeezing every last penny out of each word the author writes.

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  • bowerbird

    > much easier and cost-effective if
    > you’re already using XML.
    > The “chunks” of content are pre-defined.

    who “pre-defined” them? god?

    > You don’t have to make iterative runs
    > at the original manuscript and figure out
    > what can be re-used;
    > you know from the get-go
    > what you WILL re-use.

    this is another trick the x.m.l. people pull.

    the only way you can “know from the get-go” –
    what you will re-use, and how you’ll “chunk” it
    — is _to_do_that_analysis_in_advance_…

    in other words, you need to do all of those
    “iterative runs” on the original manuscript
    _before_ you tag it, so that you _can_ tag it.

    because if you fail to tag the text in a way that
    enables you to pull out what you want to pull out,
    having stuff in x.m.l. format won’t help you much.
    in fact, all that markup obscuring the original
    text will just become an obstacle when you go to
    “do another iteration” to pull out what you want.

    but, of course, it’s really difficult to _know_,
    in advance, all the ways that you might want to
    “repurpose” the text. indeed, isn’t that the crux
    of the situation here, that publishers are finding
    that they need to repurpose text in ways that they
    did not anticipate, in the past, they would want?

    and even if you do know all the ways you _might_
    want to repurpose the text, you’ll certainly know
    that some of them are “long-shots” that might not
    be needed after all. but if you want to leave the
    option open, you’ll need to tag in advance anyway.

    which means you’ll need to absorb some real costs
    to keep the option open for revenue that might not
    actually materialize. you know what that means…

    an x.m.l. approach is heavy, clumsy, and bloated.

    that’s not what publishers need. they need to be
    light, graceful, and flexible. think about it…

    if you choose the dinosaur mode, the mammals will
    eat your lunch.

    -bowerbird

  • http://www.magellanmediapartners.com Brian O'Leary

    I’m not sure what you are saying here.

    Making decisions about how content will be used is one of the core parts of the authoring and editorial process. That’s not new. What Laura has suggested would capture decisions by structuring content to carry both data (text, for example) and metadata relevant to the work.

    You seem to be in favor of planning for downstream utility (content agility) but against XML. If I read you correctly, what would you suggest publishers do instead?

  • bowerbird

    brian said:
    > You seem to be in favor of
    > planning for downstream utility
    > (content agility) but against XML.
    > If I read you correctly,
    > what would you suggest publishers do instead?

    brian, i was gonna reply that if you believe that
    content agility is maximized by the use of x.m.l.,
    you should attend that conference next month…

    but now i see your post here:

    > http://toc.oreilly.com/2008/09/xml-and-apis-perfect-together.html

    which makes me think that you’ll probably be
    an _instructor_ at that conference, since you
    seem to have all the catch-phrases down pat…

    either way, teacher or student, good luck with it.

    -bowerbird