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September 26, 2014

Publishing Sector Blazes A New Tech Trail

Posted by Manish Tandon (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:42 AM

Rethinking the business of publishing [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grq-iOt3ubY]

Drawing parallels between the modern pharmaceutical and book publishing businesses is extremely tempting. If you're a book agent at one of the few, big publishing firms that remain, your duties are not unlike that of an R&D chief in Big Pharma. That is, you're looking for only one or two blockbuster products (in this case, books) every year.

In the rarified world of book publishing, your success depends on finding literary Solvadi. That's because in both industries, it's a numbers game. The company wants one or two hugely successful products on its hands so that marketing, distribution, and every other administrative task are focused on as few products as possible. The company isn't spread thin promoting an extremely specialized drug or a book of offbeat poems that might be read by 100 people. They want widespread commercial appeal.

So what are all the other authors (some of them far better writers than the current crop of best-selling authors) to do? In the old days, they'd have plenty of places to send their manuscripts for consideration. And the firm was more likely to take a risk on an up-and-coming author it thought could become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Again, there could be in a small laboratory a researcher on the verge of discovering the cure for pancreatic cancer. But without the full resources and heft of a Big Pharma budget, that scientist might be years or decades away from reaching her goal.

The other tempting parallel, therefore, is how both industries can leverage Big Data to regain the best aspects of their pasts. For Big Pharma the question is how to utilize massive amounts of unstructured data so as to replicate, in as cost-effective way as possible, to replicate the months of research that would have occurred, in decades past, in their in-house laboratories. For book publishing, it's a bit more interesting. The qualitative questions surrounding the elements of a blockbuster book could, it seems, be culled from the parsing of huge amounts of data from, say, social media. If sentiment analysis can help hedge fund managers invest in stocks, then can't book publishers use similar tools to gauge what their audiences want in a new novel?

The answer to that question has been yes, with mixed results. But allow me to take a contrarian view. I propose utilizing Information Technology in the publishing sector in a different way - a way that allows for the traditional, creative processes to flourish yet still streamline a company's operations, improve margins, generate new revenue streams, and find growth opportunities.

The last thing the creative process needs is analysis by technology. All the analysis in the world could not have helped J.K. Rowling dream up Harry Potter. So I say enterprises should turn off the computers and let the writers dream up the ideas. Then use technology right across the rest of the value chain to bring their creativity and insights to the widest audience at the best price. The tools that publishers need - those that ensure revenue accuracy, help with litigation-free royalty management, make timely payments & collections, and drive data-based decision-making - are crucial for their success.

There is the urge to add to that list the development of a books storyline. But I think that a good suite of IT solutions actually frees up a publisher to work with authors creatively, like they did in ages past when the industry was at its peak, rather than succumb to allowing analytics to influence the development of the book drafts. Speaking of which, another advantage of IT in the publishing industry is all about the evolving nature of the book. Consumers are increasingly going paperless with various tablets, e-readers, and phablets. These devices work well for reading - they are easy on the eyes - but are also incredibly valuable to publishers when is comes to offering "on-the-go" content.

Tracking content is important in today's industry. With the traditional subscription model dying a slow death, publishers seek ways to accurately bill consumers and also improve the methods by which they take care of the needs of their authors. Most publishers are struck by how seamless a solution such as the Content Usage Monitoring tool has become. The monitoring system not only tracks online content; it stores it as well. A publishing house can use adaptors to connect to different content systems and feed various types of information to the system. It also addresses complexities that arise out of growing companies: a large user base, complicated revenue models like primary and secondary subscriptions, and even disparate content systems. The right IT is all about accuracy.

Strategically speaking, the most competitive publishing houses have suites of IT solutions that create customized domains for readers, booksellers, and authors alike. The power of Big Data analytics is actually freeing up promising new authors to be discovered and to be properly marketed to a new generation of digital consumers. Instead of relying on that all-too-tempting blockbuster model, today's best publishers leverage IT to create a constant stream of high-quality content for whatever kind of digital device readers want to use.

My prediction is that the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King will come from a publishing house that uses IT in a savvy manner that allows their creative juices to flow.

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