Saturday, January 31, 2009

Where's the Digital Content?

We have often argued that consumer digital book demand today is a demand operating in a vacuum. Compare just the titles in print or the titles published in print this year to the total number of ebooks available. There is still a clear dearth of digital content today. Waterstones last week asked publishers to stand up and grasp the opportunity and were clearly stating the obvious – you can’t get consumer attention if you could find what you want. Today we read the same from the US in the Christian Monitor. These voices aren’t alone nor are they asking for something that is unreasonable. The ebook, the digital debate, the introduction of Digital directors aren’t new. So what are the issues and why isn’t there a digital edition of every book in print?

The publishers have rights issues to be cleared and investments to make but this isn’t new nor is going to happen without the commitment. Some say that the cost is prohibitive for the likely return but how will that logic ever change? Device manufacturers, digital companies and now channels, libraries and retailers are stepping up but the word ‘cautious’ best describes the market.

Can we remember the early Internet days or the first ebook pre dot com crash digital gold rush? Some we are still today suffering from the burnt fingers and mistakes made then. However today is very different and there are many positive signs that this digital move will survive the recession. Some will say that it has to survive the recession and may be the way forward.

Some would say that the biggest mistake being made today is view digital as an add on, something you do after you have published the physical book, an afterthought, something you do if you have some spare cash to gamble. The reality is that the digital rendition is just that a rendition and should be created as part of the development process. This means changing not just what we produce but how and what is acquired, how its edited and developed, marketed and promoted and sold.

Digital content, rights management and digital context (metadata and bibliographic) are all corporate assets. So wouldn’t make sense to develop them and manage them digitally? Publishing visionary Mike Shatzkin’s research and conference ‘Start with XML’ has raised the agenda, but although it may have touched some, in reality it missed many. If publishers are to participate in the digital world they must look at their total process from manuscript to consumer and manage this with today’s processes and tools.

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