PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2017
by Kelly Peterson, Director of Client Services, INscribe Digital —
The turn of the 20th century was all about industrialization: locomotives, factory lines, and, eventually, automobiles. There was a reason they called it a revolution: It reshaped the world. Now that we’re ensconced in the 21st century, we’ve moved to everyday micro-automations. We can even go wallet-free, since your thumbprint and your phone can pay for a coffee, buy concert tickets, or download a book anywhere.
While it might feel different to you, today’s electronic automation has some of the same requirements as automation in the Industrial Age: it falls apart without transparency. Once people began to drive cars, we needed assembly lines to make the cars fast enough (automation) and roads with road signs (transparency). While it’s a different exercise, in today’s world, scanning a check with your bank app wouldn’t be trusted if you didn’t see the check deposit into your account. As you see, the same requirements can exist for any kind of effort, and that includes publishing. Book distribution, whether distributed as a physical book or an e-book, requires the same rigor. Automation is the future, but it only works if you can make the process completely transparent.
Ten years ago, the following scenario wouldn’t be possible: You are at the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards™ and they announce the winner. It’s your book! After giving your speech, you go to your table, and right before the dinner course, you upload the new cover with the medallion and metadata emblazoned with “Winner of the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for Fiction.” (Of course, you happened to have them ready, just in case.) By the dessert course, you can see it available for sale at Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo with the new cover and description.
That scenario isn’t possible without automation. Automation gives you a few things that are critical in this day and age: speed, accuracy, and control. With automation, you can complete distribution alone and have your product go out as anticipated. Automation at the delivery point means that changes can happen immediately without anyone pushing a button, which gives you the quick response your customers expect today. When they get the breaking news on their phone, then go to buy the book, they see the cover announcing the win and have confidence in their purchase.
Now, let’s consider where the process above failed. Your cover isn’t live at Google—and that’s where transparency plays its role. With transparency, you can click on the book in your account, read the error, make an adjustment, and redeliver the content. While it might not be live by the dessert course, it is live before breakfast the next day—and that is still several hours before it would have been done if you were waiting for someone to get into the office.
Once you start thinking about how automation and transparency work together, you see examples of it everywhere. The audiobook you play on your phone? Automation. The pop-up that reminds you that you are going to pay $9.99 to download your book? Transparency. Ordering a mop from a website? Automation. Tracking your package down to the minute? Transparency. The key for us all, though, is to apply that to our business. If we automate, we have a responsibility to make it easy for our customers to get answers. At INscribe Digital, there’s a reason that we show you the time we started and completed a transfer to a retailer to the second, and that we show you the exact time that you uploaded each file (and how you did it). It’s all a part of being transparent, so that you don’t have to guess or estimate when your price changed, or whether your new description went out; you know. By automating our process and providing transparency everywhere, we believe that you can focus on finding your next customer instead of your missing file.
Applying that transparency and automation allows us to innovate in small and large ways. For example, we knew that it was critical for an automated system to make decisions large and small about what goes into any retailer delivery. Building that set of automated but intricate rules has led to innovation of all kinds. Since it needs to choose a file type based on retailer preferences, we can truly customize those deliveries by retailer without adding work for our customers. That led to a huge sales driver: We can now put links in the back of your books, and store separate files for any retailer we serve. For the customer buying your books, the best time to make a suggestion is when they’ve just finished a book—and now you can do that easily and make it a simple click to your next sale. That’s money that comes to you via automation and transparency.
Using rules, of course, also means all those files can be stored under one ISBN. That allows you as a publisher to more easily analyze your sales, compare your pre-orders at each retailer, and determine the success of your e-book business. This comes in particularly handy with fixed layout books, where retailers have more requirements about what they can handle. While it’s not easy to create several versions of a book, it’s much easier to handle when you have all the versions stored together without fear of mis-delivery.
Once you establish these rules, you can use them in a myriad of ways. For example, for a children’s retailer, we can restrict the content to Juvenile and Young Adult BISAC codes; there’s no chance we will deliver an inappropriate title, which allows us to all sleep better at night. We can send limited time price campaigns in the ONIX feed, allowing retailers who use them to handle interval pricing, but also trigger an e-mail to retailers who set their sale pricing by hand.
I have this quote from Steve Jobs in my eyesight every day:
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” It reminds me that what really matters is being able to get books in your customers’ hands easier, faster, and more accurately. Applying that tenant to any business is a sure way to succeed: and no matter what you do, you’ll find that automation and transparency will make it easier to develop new and exciting innovations along the way.
Kelly Peterson is director of client services at INscribe Digital, a division of IPG, and brings 20 years of marketing and merchandising experience to her current role. At INscribe Digital, she helps major trade publishers, university presses, independent publishers, agents, and authors maximize their e-book sales and marketing efforts at the major retailers. She is also a board member and professional development coordinator for the Bay Area Women in Publishing.