LJNDawson.com, Consulting to the Book Publishing Industry
Book Publishing Industry Consultant

Digital Publishing

It seems that editors are either being told or sensing that they have to ?do something digital?. But they?re not sure what that means, even, or what they should be doing. So they go to the ?digital group? and tell them, ?We need a digital product.? And it?s supposed to do everything but wash your socks, you know? It?s an ebook, but it?s not really an ebook ? it?s a course cartridge/coursepack, except it?s supposed to be compatible with all course management systems and not just Blackboard ? it?s got to have video because the competition doesn?t have video yet, and money?s not a problem because it will raise the profile of the brand and ultimately sell more print books?.

I cannot tell you how many things are wrong with that. (But I will try.)

First of all, the digital product is not arising out of any real consumer need. It?s arising because publishers are nervous that other publishers might be figuring out the whole ?digital thing? and leaving them in the dust. It?s arising because the publisher is scared to stand still and let the customer tell the publisher what s/he needs. ?Wait! Let me guess what you need! Here, you need an ebook that?s a coursepack that has video that you can download onto your iPod!?

Second, the goal is not to raise the profile of the brand and thus sell more print books. (Shocking, I know.) The goal is to develop and sell viable digital products. Which is very different from being in the print book publishing business.

For now you are in the print book publishing business and that is fine ? you have to run this other business in parallel and have it ready to move to center stage when the market inevitably moves there. It will earn, it will pull its weight, we?re not talking about throwing money down a hole. It has to be profitable. But it?s apples and oranges to print publishing. Yes, we are talking about different ways of content distribution. But McLuhan is more apt now than ever ? the medium in which you distribute that content can in many cases determine the content that gets distributed. If you?re going to distribute video, you?re in the broadcasting business. If you?re going to distribute text, you?re in the publishing business. If you?re going to build online learning centers, you?re in the website business. And each of these businesses has its own business model ? and when you combine them, you breed new business models.

You also have to take a few risks. Developing features just to meet competition is not a good use of resources. And yes, you may lose market share to other publishers whose digital products have bells and whistles that you cannot possibly foresee or develop. But if your digital products are truly driven by the needs of the market ? rather than being developed in anticipation of what you THINK those market needs might be ? then your customers will come back to you with more loyalty than ever because you're really looking out for them, not just throwing features in their path like golden apples.

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