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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Digital publishing is now “fabric”, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

steveconnollySteve Connolly, Publishing Director for FE and Digital at Hodder Education, ponders on the current digital landscape.

"When we pause for thought to contemplate the evolution of digital publishing, it is clear that a revolution has taken place in the way that content is produced and consumed. However, it is equally remarkable (and healthy to note) that print product still drives much of what the publishing industry produces and monetises. The most notable player in terms of driving the eBook revolution (now slowing to an evolution) is Amazon: a major disruptor in online retailing, positioning and recommending product, manufacturing innovative hardware (yes – Kindle was innovative in terms of adopting established technology and making it a mass market device), driving down prices and providing publishers with new ways of packaging and distributing their IP. In addition, mobile technology is now so prevalent worldwide that it cannot be ignored as a means of consuming content.

"So, other than driving this rapid growth in digital consumption that can’t be ignored, what does mobile technology represent for publishers? It has promoted the creation of universally adopted (adapted in Amazon’s case) standards in the shape of ePub, and has forced us all to think in terms of the creation of our content in new ways. Any publisher who fails to think in terms of scalable and standards-driven workflow / outputs is not necessarily going to go out of business, but they will seriously hinder their ability to leverage their IP to its greatest potential. Others who have posted on this site have pointed to the ways in which copy-editing has evolved, with most editorial tasks now being completed on screen, including standard mark-up and tagging of content using consumer tools such as Word. This is a quiet but fundamental shift; and where we start to standardise the ways in which we describe elements of content (form and function), we have the foundations of a workflow that results in content that can be re-used with greater efficiency in a myriad of contexts – print, online, mobile, XML, interactive games and assessment etc.

"For many of us working in what is ostensibly a creative industry, standards can seem to be the equivalent of watching digital paint dry. In my journey from being a print publisher to someone who creates and helps others create interactive content, I have discovered the importance of standards (tagging, XML, epub etc.) in the planning, generation and distribution of a range of published products – from interactive etextbooks to standardised assessment engines. All of this originates from a set of principles that were agreed across our business and were applied at each point in the supply chain. Some of what we do is driven by international standards and some by our own proprietary rules, allowing us to provide the market with innovative and high-quality content-led services at a faster rate and at lower cost than would have otherwise been the case."

Decisions on “digital” require a multi-component model that considers at least eight aspects, such as:

  • Developments in technology – what’s important and (importantly) what’s not?
  • Market expectations
  • Business expectations and rules
  • Analysis of the competition
  • Defining your product
  • Workflow and content creation
  • Return on investment
  • Marketing and selling

Steve Connolly is a tutor on the PTC's flagship course for editors in the educational, academic, scientific and professional sectors, Commissioning and List Management (CLM) happening next on September 25 – 28 2017. Steve's Digital decision-making session is designed to help unpick some of the challenges he discusses here.

Paul Cherry, CLM Course Director has written a guide to the role of the commissioning editor available as a free download.

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