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Technology Game Changers in Book Publishing

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by Deb Vanasse, Reporter, IBPA Independent magazine —

Deb Vanasse

Publishers need to make the most of recent innovations while keeping an eye on emerging technologies to remain competitive.

Article Synopsis:

  • Publishers may see an expansion of cloud-based, internet-ready authoring systems.
  • E-book and audiobook technologies have not been fully tapped into and continue to evolve.
  • Advances in printing technology will continue to refine print processes.

Like it or not, technology propels us forward at a head-spinning pace. In every sector of publishing, it’s changing the game.

Keeping up can be a challenge. But to remain competitive, publishers need to make the most of recent innovations while also keeping an eye on emerging technologies that will continue to change the industry in the years to come.

Digital Evolution

Peter Brantley

Peter Brantley

Though it sounds like old news, the internet is still the most impactful innovation in the digital content sector, according to Peter Brantley, director of online strategy at the UC Davis Library. As much as we use the internet now, he says its impact on how we communicate, work, and learn remains in the early stages.

As the internet continues to develop, Brantley predicts publishers will see an expansion of cloud-based, internet-ready authoring systems that are transforming the ways authors engage with readers. He also expects the pick-and-choose options that allow educators to dissemble textbooks into smaller chunks will start making their way into fiction and other genres.

Likewise, the e-book revolution is far from over, according to Mark Lefebvre, director of business development at Draft2Digital. “The e-book format is still in the midst of what is likely a multi-decades-long modification to the publishing industry,” he says. “An e-book can be serialized, can be bundled, and can be presented in multiple formats and styles in order to appeal to different readers who are interested in consuming their reading in different and unique formats.”

For all the flexibility the format affords, Lefebvre says publishers have yet to tap into anything approximating its full potential. “In the past 10 years, I have watched publishers experiment with digital, find huge success, and then go back to doing it the way it was always done, without recognizing or leveraging the possibilities with digital books,” he says. As an example, he points to a major publisher that had great success with a serialized e-book but has yet to try the format again.

In the future, Lefebvre expects to see more niche operations using analytics to closely connect with their end consumers. “It is also possible that new formats and evolutions of what we think of as digital books are going to continue to evolve,” he says. “It will involve a lot of experimentation, mostly driven by the smaller publishers and indie authors. Some of those experiments will prove successful with consumers and will forge new standards in the industry.”

As technologies evolve, Brantley suggests publishers watch for open annotation technologies to enter the publishing stream in unexpected ways. “Publisher-hosted annotation has yet to demonstrate its potential in reader-to-reader engagement and book-club-to-author interactions, among other possibilities,” he explains.

Within the decade, artificial intelligence (AI) may also change how fiction is written and edited, Brantley adds. “Authoring AI assistants will be able to suggest in real time what character changes, plot twists, and alternative endings might be considered by authors, or suggest alternative pathways to their editors,” he says.

To track tech developments, Brantley suggests following Jane Friedman’s The Hot Sheet (hotsheetpub.com – IBPA members receive 25% off), billed for authors but helpful to publishers, as well. He also recommends the weekly Axios newsletter on Media Trends.

As technologies advance, Lefebvre suggests publishers also keep an eye on what’s happening in non-English language markets while remaining open to experimentation. Though he acknowledges concerns about protecting content, he urges publishers to embrace trends that increase access to books.

Tech Speak

Michele Cobb

As with e-books, publishers have yet to fully explore the possibilities of audio technology, Lefebvre says. He points to the new Voices Share program, offered by Findaway Voices, as one example of how current technology can help publishers of all sizes reach the audio market.

With the proliferation of in-home and in-vehicle smart speaker systems, Lefebvre also reminds publishers of the importance of audio for discoverability. In effect, readers can now search for content without ever touching a device.

Might Siri be the next new audiobook voice? Within the decade, that’s possible, according to Diane Lasek, senior vice president at ListenUp Audiobooks. “Through AI research, which is moving along at a fast pace, I suspect text to speech will sound more human-like, and we may embrace these computer model voices,” she says. “Or we may not. Humans are fickle.”

To stay abreast of changes in audio technology, Lasek suggests publishers access the “incredible data” assembled by Michelle Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association (audiopub.org).

Print Refinements

Rick Lindemann

Gutenberg’s press began the tech revolution in publishing, and refinements continue to this day.

In the print sector, the most recent big advancements involve inkjet technology, says Rick Lindemann, president of Total Printing Systems. “Instead of having only long-run, offset, or ultra-short run, inkjet is bridging the gap,” he says.

Also facilitating “just-in-time” inventory models are advanced automated binding and finishing processes, says Lindemann. In addition, new technologies are allowing publishers to connect directly with a printer’s management information system (MIS) via their own networks, thus improving communication and coordination.

In the next five to 10 years, Lindemann expects advances in inkjet technology to continue refining print processes. For instance, cut-sheet devices will facilitate ultra-short runs on multiple paper types. He also looks for technology to improve bindery equipment and adhesives that will enhance print production on gloss and matte-coated media.

Held in Dusseldorf every four years, the drupa trade fair is where manufacturers introduce up-and-coming tech innovations, Lindemann says. Trade shows like Print19 and Printing United also help those in the print industry stay abreast of changing technologies. At all of these events, publishers are welcome.

Between trade fairs, Lindemann relies on print industry news from websites such as WhatTheyThink (whattheythink.com) and Printing Impressions (piworld.com) to stay informed on changing technologies.

More With Less—And Faster

Mark Witkowski

Technology is remaking marketplace expectations, especially with regard to order fulfillment. “Every aspect of our business is under pressure to do more with less—and to do it faster,” says Mark Witkowski, chief technology officer at Publishers Storage and Shipping (PSS).

At the same time, technology helps publishers meet these demands. By incorporating integrated systems technology into their fulfillment strategies, publishers can decrease overall cycle time, increase order accuracy, and trim costs, says Witkowski. In addition, publishers can use technology to access data that helps them fine-tune their fulfillment strategies.

“Believe it or not, there is a treasure trove of consumer insight and trends right within publishers’ existing order data,” he says. “Technical developments around the synthesis of that data and determining key indicators are improving daily.”

Going forward, publishers can only expect timelines to get tighter, Witkowski says, but he also predicts that technology will help them adjust. He looks to smart automation to further integrate workflow as enhanced data applications drive inventory strategies.

To ensure publishers are poised to take advantage of tech advancements, Witkowski suggests they speak with their fulfillment providers about how to improve their processes. “Stay involved,” he urges. “By making changes, you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t.”

Royalty Complications


David Marlin

With technology, publishers can reach markets they’ve never before reached with products they never used to have. Happily, that means more royalties to track. But with these changes, author expectations are also increasing, says David Marlin, president of MetaComet systems.

“We live in an age of increasing accountability,” he says. “From many publishers I’ve spoken with, more authors are wanting more data, which, in turn, naturally leads them to want to validate their royalties.”

Yet as technology allows for more aggregated online content—subscription models, for instance—revenue streams are also becoming more complicated. “Fortunately, this a problem that royalty automation can easily solve,” Marlin says.

As a best practice, he recommends that publishers look for tech solutions that allow for quick, easy internal audits. Publishers who want to learn more about their options can access MetaComet’s free, downloadable handbook (MetaComet.com – IBPA members receive 10-20% off).

Ahead of the Game

As technologies continue to evolve, the pace of change can feel overwhelming. And, as Lefebvre points out, publishers can’t expect to anticipate every change before it happens.

“The key is to pay attention, experiment regularly, and be open to the changes as we face them,” he says. “As technology continues to assist publishing and reading, the publishing industry itself is going to become more collaborative than ever before.”

Whatever the industry sector, help is at hand to make the most of existing technology and stay abreast of innovations as they happen. By learning from one another, publishers can stay ahead of the game.

Deb Vanasse is the author of 17 books. Among her most recent are the novel Cold Spell and a biography, Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold. She also works as a freelance editor.

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