Saturday, March 06, 2010

Digital Publishing Skills: There Are No Silver Bullets

To some the move by O’Reilly to exploit their digital credentials to expand their business into digital distribution makes perfect sense. To others it starts to question the skill set a publisher now need in tomorrow’s digital world. As we have said many times ‘Digital Publishing is Publishing’.

Over the years we have seen many publishers outsource great swathes of their business. Many started with their print production, then their distribution and fulfilment and associated customer service, accounts receivable finance, royalties and even their sales-force. Some have taken the bold steps to use contractors for graphics, copyediting and indexing. Some today are just ‘publishers’ with everything else outsourced. Some created separate divisions which were cross subsidized by taking on other publishers’ operations.

So what is a publisher today in today’s print world and what will be a publisher in tomorrow’s digital world?

It makes sense to assume that the physical channel is not necessarily the best equipped to be the distributor for the digital channel. One is steeped in logistics, physical fulfilment, customer service and is importantly geared to B2B supply chain management, the other is about digital technologies, digital platforms, virtual and white label inventory and increasingly B2C digital supply.

So is the O’Reilly move such a great seed change some would have us believe?

We have seen digital library shelves for other publishers from the likes of Bloomsbury, Macmillan’s textbook mash up offer to fellow publishers and now OReilly’s end to end digital conversion and distribution service offer to all. These are not wrong, nor are they necessarily right, they are merely digital ventures. They are no different to today’s outsourced world. Some will succeed and some will fail and be forgotten.

Some may suggest that it isn’t the case that the publishers offer better technology and economies of scope or scale and more a need to cross subsidise their own operations. It may be that they want to own more of the channel and protect themselves from bigger fish. Some may have invested heavily in smart technology that needs to be exploited and give a return.

The interesting challenge is where the physical and digital ‘fulfilment to royalty’ services overlap and whether we are talking about the supply of mere technology or full internal business services? Certainly the 25% of net receipts O’Reilly propose to charge would appear a steep call, but it is probably just a stake in the ground and aimed at the many small publisher who are looking with interpretation into the digital divide.

Contrary to the wise words of some there is no digital silver bullet and many digital options. More importantly one digital swallow doesn’t make and digital summer.


Josh Jasper said...

This is an interesting top view, but I hope you can unpack this statement:

the other is about digital technologies, digital platforms, virtual and white label inventory and increasingly B2C digital supply.

into actual examples of best and not
best practices, and talk about who's doing what in the industry. For example, I'd like to hear more about the idea of B2C digital supply in terms of competition with online megastores like Amazon who have the physical devices that the books are read on, and in the UK, seem to be trying to leapfrog the publishers and buy e-rights on their own.

Martyn Daniels said...

i will write some more about the digital skills which are very differnt and can mention examples. B2C supply is a challenge and is heavily dependant on sector. Amazon is a digital publisher the same as some publishers are now digital resellers. More to come when i have structured it.