Sunday, September 16, 2007

Digitisation Does Not Start at the Back Door

The question of what to do in the digital world and when to do it perplexes many today. Different sectors are clearly moving at different speeds and in different directions and the questions are still very focused on the consumer demand and that all elusive ebook reader.

Last week Elsevier and Oxford University Press launched major programmes to migrate e-book versions of front and backlist print titles onto their digital platforms. Elsevier made 4,000 backlist e-books available on its online journals site Science-Direct and aim to put another 4,000 backlist titles plus some 700 new titles onto the platform in 2008. OUP plan to publish 200 academic monographs in parallel with the print versions on its subscription-only site, Oxford Scholarship Online.
These moves may appear small but they are part of a growing migration that is becoming stand in the academic world. This sector realise, that the current demand from intuitions is for online ‘stuff’ and if they don’t move, it clearly places them at a growing disadvantage. Leaders such as Taylor and Francis are clearly making and benefiting from the digital transition today. Academic publishers are aware of the threats and opportunities from new entrants.

However as we have long agued, publishers need to change their upstream processes, and to digitalise these so that they have titles which they can quickly deploy in any which way. This change is starting to take place and again academic, reference and educational publishers are leading they way. Customised books are become a reality and digitisation is starting to replace the old analogue process. Online libraries are also become common and many are starting to look at books, chapters, articles and think outside the jacket.

Publishers should be less obsessed by the end product being digital and more focused at digitising the process from manuscript to finished product. This is where the benefit case is strongest, the asset development has its greatest opportunity to maximise its value and where market change can be kick-started. Converting backlist isn’t going to be economic unless the sell, digitising typesetting is a start but its at the finished product stage and often misses out on the digital promotion and marketing opportunities. Lets not forget rights, which in the true digital world should be tagged to every digital asset and track able but in today’s world are often sitting in a separate transactional database and lost in space and after all publishing is a rights business.