Arthur nails it. One of the many concerns I have for small and medium sized publishers is that they will simply lose the technical ability to service large parts of the market should that market start to demand more than just straight forward text:
But for publishers, these possibilities extend the technical skill level required to create market-wowing products. EPUB 3.0 has great bells and important whistles, but you’re going to need actual software-development skills in-house to use them properly. In other words, ebooks just took a big step towards becoming software, rather than elaborate text files.
This is huge for publishing businesses, many of whom are only beginning to get their teams’ heads around reflowable text. Add the need to cost for a software development process to compete in, say, the college market, and you’ve got instant editorial heart failure.
via New EPUB spec gives tech companies the edge | Arthur Attwell.
Sure that’s an alarmist perspective but it’s one worth planning to avoid!
Very thoughtfully put together piece:
Fast forward 20 years and the scale economic model is falling apart for trade publishing. So effective at applying scale to accounting, manufacturing, management, production and other overhead, it is ironic that in the internet world everyone now has access to similar scale benefits. Publishing companies now realize they have achieved scale advantages in the wrong functions. Scale advantage in editorial, marketing, promotion, and content management is almost non-existent to the degree that will ensure competitive advantage, yet these are the functions important to future success. (As an isolated example, I would argue that authonomy.com by Harpercollins represents an attempt to build scale into the editorial process).
via Personanondata: The Baked Beans Are Off: Michael Cairns – Content to Strategy.
Why the future will bite
Today’s lesson in why the future is neither necessarily a nice place comes in the form of this nasty headline and story I spotted in The Bookseller:
A total of 11 assistant editor posts have gone at Taylor & Francis imprint Europa Publications, with the function now offshored to New Delhi.
We will see more of these headlines and they are one of the very specific reason* why I avoided the editorial side of publishing in favour of commissioning and more relationship focused aspects. It all comes down to fungibility (that link goes to a pretty decent explanation on wikipedia but if you wanted an uncritical look at what I really mean, try Friedman’s The World is Flat which does a good job of explaining some of the economics).
Why is the editorial side at risk more than the commissioning?
The basic thought process goes like this. There is no reason why an English speaking editor in India, Pakistan, China, Canada, Germany or indeed any country in the world cannot edited a work written in English. This increases the competition. Even if all things were equal that would make the market tougher for editors anyway. But all things are not equal and pay scales differ hugely across these countries making it tempting for companies to outsource their editorial efforts and achieve productivity and expense improvements.
On the commissioning side there is less chance that an English speaker in India knows much about the market conditions of the Irish or UK market, they may well have a strong idea of who the major players are but do they know them and can they reach them on the phone, have they lunched with them or met them for sales events recently? Do they understand why certain books work in a small distant market or why they don’t? Probably not and learning these things and meeting these people requires on the ground experience an expense that most people won’t engage in. This builds an artificial protection for those engaged in commissioning and relationship type activities on the ground.
Of course this logic does not always protect the commissioning editor as I know too well but announcements like the one today and my own experience within publishing shows that where a bad economy might hurt the prospects for those working in the commissioning arena, even a good economy will not protect the editorial side of the business from the competition that changing technology has enabled!
Been a good few days,
* The others being:
1) I saw that the larger share of the money in publishing rested in this area and
2) I felt much more at home with the commissioning and relationship skill-set.