Technology: The oil in the publishing chain
Properly deployed, technology optimises publishing processes from start to finish. Systems and automation can deliver efficiencies right across a business, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has acted as an accelerant to their take-up. It’s been an opportunity to pause and reflect on our workflows, and to ease disruption by optimising our efficiency. In this article, we’ll take an overview of the book development process, and identify a few areas where technology can simplify our working lives.
Smart use of technology starts with efficient project management. Whether via a simple spreadsheet or one of many specialist management platforms like Firebrand’s Title Management, mapping each stage of a book’s typical journey, from the acquisition, contract and development phases onwards, will make it much easier to track progress and collaborate with partners like authors and freelancers.
Once this basic roadmap is laid out, it becomes straightforward to identify steps of the publishing journey where technology can smooth the way. The earliest of these stages is the management of contracts, which can really set the tone for a publisher’s professionalism and author relationships. Any contract will probably need to be referenced multiple times, so easy access is key, and a central repository—whether a purpose-built tool like MetaComet’s AuthorPortal or a generic one like DropBox—makes that much easier. It will also facilitate quick access for authors, so they don’t need to trouble publishers for copies of contracts.
Another early and crucial stage of the publishing cycle is the production of metadata—the building blocks of book discoverability and sales. Good practice here can dramatically increase sales, especially online. Metadata should be as rich as possible, covering not just the basics like ISBNs and category codes, but additional elements like keywords, contents and images. It shouldn’t just apply to frontlist titles either; the backlist is often neglected, but spending time on polishing metadata here can pay off in sales.
Keeping metadata comprehensive, accurate and up to date can be a chore. Management via spreadsheets or home-grown databases is possible up to a point, but purpose-built systems make it much easier to monitor and edit metadata and, crucially, cascade it down to retail partners. They reduce the need to rekey information for multiple purposes, and provide flags when something needs attention. “Metadata is the most important non-people asset you have as a publishing company,” said Firebrand’s Joshua Tallent at a recent ECPA webinar that I participated in.
As with metadata, the use of technology has massively increased across the production steps of book projects in recent years. Digital tools for proofreading, pre-press, ebook conversion and many more tasks have streamlined the work of editors and production teams, and increased the quality of their end-products. The ECPA webinar also highlighted its rising value in distribution, with Richard T. Williams of the Independent Publishers Group emphasising the role of sales dashboards in monitoring patterns and improving marketing.
With so much browsing currently being done on websites rather than in stores, it’s also important to monitor online engagement with your content and brand. Again, good metadata management is vital, as is regular inspection of all the places your potential customers might find your content. A free tool called PageNexter can help here, by speeding up access to multiple product pages so you can check everything is in order.
As sales of your titles flow, royalties becomes the next phase of your publishing journey to consider—and technology can help here too. By automating royalty payments, solutions like MetaComet’s RoyaltyTracker save hours of work and ensure positive and transparent communication with authors. They consolidate sales files from multiple sources—domestic and international, print and electronic—for much quicker and deeper analysis than manual integration will allow, and make sure that every sale is properly accounted for and reconciled with royalty accounting. Without automation, the risk of mistakes in royalty payments is substantially higher.
These examples only scratch the surface of technology’s role in publishing today. Bringing new digital solutions into your workflows can seem daunting—especially if you are automating practices for which you have established routines—and good solutions have cost implications. But if it can save on labour and generate extra sales, the investment can soon pay for itself. For start-ups and small businesses in particular, it can take operations to another level. As Michelle Halket of North American independent Central Avenue Publishing put it at the ECPA webinar: “When you’re small and money is tight, it’s near-impossible to think about investing money in those tools. But I guarantee the investment will free up time for you to produce more books—which will hopefully bring in more money.”
David Marlin is President of MetaComet Systems. David will be contributing a bi-monthly blog to explore ways technology can help publishers.
In a nutshell: Five big benefits of technology in publishing
- Save time
- Accelerate processes
- Grow sales
- Reduce risk
- Improve partner relations