Earlier this week I wrote about why I’m bullish on publishing’s future. I talked about two areas that are ripe for change: ebook prices and formats. In the second and final part of this discussion I share the other two reasons why the future is bright for smart publishers: direct channels and new toolsets.
As we’re creating those rich, HTML5-based products, we should also start thinking about the opportunity to sell direct to our customers. I’ve heard some publishers say that they see no need to create a direct sales channel because (a) the existing retailers do a great job and (b) they don’t want to compete with their retail partners. Perhaps these publishers haven’t noticed that some of their retail partners have no problem competing with them as publishers. Even if they aren’t concerned about that, they should be focused on establishing a direct relationship with their customers.
Direct channels provide outlets for products, and they also provide customer insights that are almost impossible to get anywhere else. For example, you can keep a close eye on what formats customers prefer (EPUB, mobi or PDF) and make adjustments as necessary. Good luck getting your retail partners to provide you with that kind of information.
Creating a successful direct sales channel isn’t easy. There’s much more to it than simply offering your catalog on your website.
You need to give your customers a reason to buy from you rather than buying somewhere else. Publishers who take the time to do this will be richly rewarded, though, not just in sales revenue, but customer intelligence. Publishers need to re-evaluate what value they can bring to the process. Building communities and creating experiences around your books will play a huge part in this development. This is especially relevant for smaller publishers who don’t have the muscle to compete with Amazon and other industry giants in attracting large numbers of consumers. By offering a more narrow but deep and focused range of books and expertise to a smaller number of specialized consumers, publishers might just be able to carve out an area that they can fill and manage.
Publishers have spent small fortunes enabling their production systems to output all those formats covered in the first part of this discussion. Despite those investments, most publishers still work with the same content creation tools they used in the pre-ebook era. It’s time to bring our authoring tools in line with the capabilities of today’s powerful e-reading devices and apps.
More and more books are being written by multiple authors these days. Even if it’s a single-author project, there are still editors and reviewers who need to get into the manuscript, often working on it simultaneously with the author or each other. Tools like Microsoft Word don’t really lend themselves to collaboration like this.
Another issue we’re going to face in the future is more frequent updates to content as well as short-form content that can grow over time.
This leads to the need for version control capabilities that haven’t been a major consideration in the past. And even if a publisher’s content isn’t updated frequently, there are still version control considerations for the collaboration requirement noted earlier. For example, if a freelance editor accidentally wipes out a batch of changes the publisher will want the ability to roll back to an earlier version of the content.
Booktype, Sourcefabric’s tool for writing and publishing books and ebooks, already responds to those needs and anticipates the demand for collaborative tools very well. At O’Reilly, we also realize the need for these collaboration and version control capabilities, and have made the investment to bring our authoring tools in line with today’s content management requirements. We’re currently using a new authoring and development platform we developed for our books, and we plan to make it available to other publishers soon, so stay tuned for more details right here on the TOC community site.