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Direct channels and new tools bring freedom and flexibility

It's time to build a direct channel and bring your content development platform up to date

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.

Direct Channels

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.

Evolving Tools

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.

This content is taken from an article I wrote for a magazine Sourcefabric published called The Future of the Book. You can learn more about the Sourcefabric magazine here and you can download the free PDF of The Future of the Book here.
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  • The real question is if any of these tools are actually usable in the real world and are being used to put out professional-looking books. Booktype’s JavaScript crashed Chrome tabs on me constantly in a quick import test of the demo – I can’t see using it for a full-fledged project if it’s going to be that flaky. Plus, it imported my EPUB in such a way that every B-head became a new chapter, and lost much of the original formatting. It’s possible that Booktype could be made to work and create decent output with a great deal of effort, but it’s not evident from a quick look that such an outcome is likely.

  • Hi Adam. What you experienced sounds unusual. I have used Booktype for the production of many hundreds of books and its very stable. If you would like help with your specific issues please feel free to drop me a line and I will look into it.
    adam (Booktype project lead)

    • Adam Engst

      Not sure what the best way is to contact you, Adam, but I’m happy to share my EPUB if you want to see the kind of thing I’m talking about. I’d be curious if you’re creating seriously formatted books (not hand layout, but a lot of elements like multiple headings, note/tip boxes, multiple nested list types, figures with captions, and so on), since that’s where I’ve been disappointed many times.

      Also, are you using CSS3 with the Paged Media extensions for PDF output now?

      • ok! thanks…I will email you so we dont bore the TOC readers with platform specific mechanics 🙂

    • Adam Engst

      Oops – forgot. You can email me at ace@tidbits.com