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Going Digital? Get Efficient.

Incorporating digital publishing, in some capacity, is widely viewed as an evolutionary necessity for publishers. And while digital publishing is often discussed in broad strokes, Sourcebooks Founder, Publisher, and Chief Executive Dominique Raccah feels that frank talk about the specific challenges, and costs involved, is largely overlooked.  The experience of Sourcebooks also highlights how critical time-saving technologies – such as royalty management software –  are in making digital printing viable.

Sourcebooks is one of the largest independent book publishers in the US. In a Publisher’s Weekly guide to the Frankfurt Book Fair, Dominique Raccah weighed in on the very real costs, both financial and logistical, of entering the world of digital publishing.

“It isn’t as simple as we’re all saying to one another. Everyone thinks e-books are free or cheap . . . but that’s not Sourcebooks’ experience. Publishers are not counting the steps involved,” said Raccah in the October 7th Frankfurt Book Fair guide.

As Sourcebooks entered the digital publishing fray, the company saw “costs going through the roof,” so Raccah brought in a team of outside experts to analyze the processes of digital production. Their findings echoed what Raccah was already seeing: digital publishing piled on layers and layers of complexity and expense.

“E-books have added six overall processes to the production of books, and a further seventy steps within those processes. Think about it: When I print a book, I provide the same printed book to every retailer — Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, whoever. But when I provide an e-book, that’s not true because there’s no standardization of formats. What Apple gets, what Amazon gets is different . . . Then every time there’s a change in operating systems, we need to change again. So that’s a lot of added expense. And this is without mentioning things like Apps!”

Raccah continues: “Consider the manufacturing process. In traditional publishing, I hand the files to the printer, who has his own staff to do a whole bunch of stuff. With e-books, publishers have brought all that work in-house. It’s added an enormous amount of costs and processes to our infrastructure.”

On the lack of relevant, specific discussion among publishers, about going digital, Raccah says: “We need to start communicating with each other, to share our experiences. It’s damaging otherwise.” Publishers also need to reach out to authors and agents: “We exist because we are in partnership with authors and agents. We need to talk about what we do — not only e-books, but also enhanced apps, websites and so on.”

Going digital has been challenging for Sourcebooks despite the publisher being a tech-savvy early adopter: “We were the second book publisher to get an Apple developer’s licence. We were developing for the iPad before the iPad was out there. Publishers don’t get to sit these changes out, or stay behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz. The future is coming whether we like it or not. We need to be transparent. We need a culture of innovation.”

Such openness should provide the flexibility and efficiency that publishers will need to overcome the challenges in going digital. As Raccah’s internal analysis caculated, e-Book publishing has required 6 new distinct processes, each incorporating a further 70 steps. Putting efficiency-boosting technologies to work, throughout these new processes, is going to be key for Sourcebooks, as it will be for publishers across the industry.

Raccah also touches on how challenging and frustrating for authors the publishing environment can be, with emerging and competing digital platforms, and how that complexity may serve to increase the worth of a good, digital-savvy publisher to an author: “There’s a big infrastructure, so we need to explain it, and showcase it, to make sure authors know we’re doing all of it. They need to understand that the concept of what’s available with a publisher is a lot larger . . . For example, an author can sign a contract directly with Amazon and gain access to, say, 65% of the online market share — but the rest is totally fragmented. Authors need to understand the scale of the complexity and the costs. The more complex it gets the more he’s going to regret turning his back on a publisher.”

Facing the same challenges encountered by Sourcebooks is likely to become a reality for more and more publishers, as the demand-side euphoria of sexy new end-user devices, like the iPad, wears off.  Digital readers are fun, and consensus is growing that there are oases, for smart publishers, in the digital landscape.  But reaching the goal of successfully integrated digital publishing requires surmounting many small obstacles, which are compounded into large obstacles.  The varied requirements of a multiplicity of digital formats have raised the technological bar for successful publishing.

Publishers can rest assured that device manufacturers and book sellers will take care of supplying consumers with a steady stream of new technologies for the reading, purchasing, or borrowing of books.  The technology challenge for publishers is to maintain agility and scalability internally.

They can keep up by incorporating efficiency-boosting software, such as royalty management or royalty accounting systems, which can help to keep a whole range of cataloging and accounting functions ready for any change in the industry.  And as licensing and rights agreements make up a bigger and bigger portion of a book’s revenue potential, publishers can put software to work automating their rights agreements, across the growing spectrum of opportunities for licensing revenue.

Going digital isn’t easy, but as the well-trodden cliche says, the long journey starts with small steps.





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