What’s the Deal With? . . . Digital Transformation in Publishing

29 January 18

What’s the Deal With? . . . Digital Transformation in Publishing

by Dave Bailey, PPS Editor

Why Digital Transformation Is So Important in the Publishing World

Like many buzzwords that get thrown around in articles, business meetings, and reports, the term digital transformation can be used indiscriminately. At issue is the problem with the term, which is generic enough to lend itself to many definitions that can be applied to many types of businesses. As Christopher Kenneally, business director of the Copyright Clearance Center, said in a recent panel discussion, “The phrase ‘digital transformation’ in the publishing industry is both aspirational and nebulous.” (see article)

According to Wikipedia, digital transformation is “the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society.” The Enterprisers Project defines it as “the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers.”

Heady stuff. So how does this relate to the publishing world?

One of the main issues many publishers have with digital transformation involves putting the customer first; listening to what the authors, schools, researchers, and readers want instead of deciding for them. The old paradigm was that the publisher decided what made a good book; the new paradigm is a more collaborative effort of working together in a digital environment to create an end product where everyone is satisfied.

Publishers are storehouses of information, and the idea is to store all this information digitally, map the information (using metadata) so it is easier for end users to find, and give end users different ways of using it. This allows the publisher to better respond to consumer demand and create new revenue streams.

Customers now expect information to be available immediately and inexpensively across many platforms and delivery systems, and publishers are looking for ways to supplement declining revenues from print and advertising. Digital content allows for both; it is easily exported and repurposed for other types of products, creating more opportunities for revenue and more ways to access content.

As an example, an instructor for a nursing class would like to use a single chapter on medicating patients from a book on nursing that originally was published with 50 chapters. They’d also like to use review questions, PowerPoint presentations, and other media that relate to that chapter, and make it available on different platforms (print, PC, tablet). In a perfect world, this content would be easily found, easily updated, permissioned correctly to allow for multiple format use, and ready to be purchased.

So ultimately for publishers, digital transformation is a matter of survival. If customers don’t get what they want, when they want it, and how they want it, they’ll go somewhere else.

Ixxus published a white paper title Industry Leaders’ Perspectives on Digital Transformation in Publishing. In it, they note that digital transformation in publishing involves five key areas:

  • Storage: creating a standardized system capable of granular content (eg, XML, XHTML)
  • Metadata: tagging content so that it is easily searchable and usable, both internally (by publishing staff and outsource units) and externally (enhancing end-user discoverability)
  • Content agility: creating new ways to repurpose content and make it easily accessible to end users in many formats and platforms
  • Discoverability: the ability to find content through search engines and websites
  • Collaboration: working with authors/staff/users in a more real-time environment

Overall, according to the Ixxus report, publishers are most concerned with handling metadata, as well-tagged content can also help drive discoverability and content agility.

Digital transformation is also about creating a distinctive and unique brand for your business. What kind of publisher are you, and what does publishing actually mean as we rush headlong into the next decade? As of now, publishers are doing any or all of the following: book publication, articles for websites, monthly journals/magazines, active social media feeds, podcasting, and database management.

In the educational sector, the introduction of Common Core standards has pushed state governments and schoolstoward a more digital environment, which includes content creation, administration, delivery, assessments, and reporting. The key to creating this all-encompassing strategy is getting these separate ecosystems to work together cohesively.

For example, Student A completes a digital assessment (Assessments) on her tablet (Delivery); this information is successfully saved to a cloud database. This information is successfully mapped to Student A (Administration), allowing accurate reporting of analytics for not only that student, but their teacher and school district (Reporting).

If even one thing goes wrong, the whole system can fail. For example, Student A can’t take the test because the Assessment won’t load properly on her tablet. Or she does complete the test, but the information for the assessment is incorrectly mapped to Student B.

To avoid failure, this usually means creating an entirely new integrated system that is thoroughly tested and QA’d. While this can be a challenge for school systems, it is especially difficult for publishers, who are often dealing with separate departments with their own legacy systems, storage formats and placements, and inconsistent metadata standards.

Tagging metadata and content can also be a very time-consuming process, but the benefits are normally worth the financial risks. For publishers interested in outsourcing this process, PPS can help prepare content for digital transformation through tagging formats, such as XML and XHTML, compliancy with ADA and 508 standards, and metadata tagging.