Agile Content: Developing Responsive Publishing Models
A panel discussion at Digital Book World Conference 2014
- Michael Cairns, Publishing Technology
- Amanda D’Acierno, Penguin Random House
- Pip Tannenbaum, Parragon Books
For podcast release Monday, March 17, 2014
KENNEALLY: Good afternoon and welcome back to Digital Book World, second half of our Wednesday program, a panel we call Agile Content: Developing Responsive Publishing Models. My name is Chris Kenneally. I’m the fill-in moderator for the program. I’ll introduce our panel and get going.
But first to remind you about our program today. As digital technology shortens the publishing cycle and offers a number of new ways to monetize content, publishers are finding opportunities outside their historical commercial activity to generate new revenue from existing content. Publishers are able now to deliver and license their content for websites and apps, partners and readers are able to mix and match content in new ways, and traditional book publishers and publishers in other media are suddenly able to repurpose that content in a range of forms and formats into books in response to news events and other timely triggers.
Over the next 45 minutes or so, we’re going to explore the technology and the business challenges of using old content to develop new business, and I’ll introduce our panel.
From my left, we’ll start with Pip Tannenbaum. Pip, welcome.
TANNENBAUM: Thank you.
KENNEALLY: Pip is digital product development director at Parragon Books, the largest illustrated nonfiction publisher in the world. Her responsibilities include development production and distribution of Parragon’s lifestyle, reference and children’s digital content.
Then to her left is Michael Cairns. Michael, welcome. Michael probably a familiar face and name to people here. He’s the chief operating officer for the online division of Publishing Technology, the largest supplier of software solutions and services to the publishing industry. He’s responsible for the company’s ingentaconnect and pub2web content platforms, which support over 250 book and journal publishers around the world. Michael is a member of the BISG board of directors and a prior member of the Association of American Publishers board of directors as well.
And then finally at the very far end, Amanda D’Acierno. Amada, welcome. Amanda is senior vice president and publisher of Fodor’s Travel, published by Penguin Random House. She’s also a publisher for Penguin Random House Audio and Living Language. She is focused on propelling Fodor’s, that 77-year-old brand, into the digital age while maintaining its trusted voice in travel.
In addition to Fodor’s, as I say, she leads the Random House Audio, Reference and Large Print, as well as Living Languages. She’s a native of Houston, Texas, and has always been a traveler, so maybe we’ll hear a bit about that.
In fact, I’d like to start with Amanda. You’ve been at work at Fodor’s now for about two and a half years. Tell us about your definition of agile. What does it mean to you? Is it really all about doing things better, faster, cheaper, or is it more involved than that?
D’ACIERNO: I don’t know that we’re necessarily faster. Our model works in such that we have 500 to 800 writers based around the world, and they’re all reporting in. We update about 70 guidebooks annually, so that’s sort of a fixed timeline.
What we’re doing with that content is quite different. In the past, we had always had book content that we commissioned, and then that eventually led to the Web. Now we have a CMS structure in place that we’ve been working on for two years now, and we’re just putting our first book through this week. So the content now, we create content for the sake of creating travel content, not for books.
And that content immediately feeds to the Web. We have e-books. We have print books. Our e-books are coming out a few weeks before the print versions are going onto the market. We have apps, we have licensees. It’s one-source content that feeding everywhere, sort of the create once, publish everywhere model.
KENNEALLY: That create once, publish everywhere model that you say you really look very closely at the things that National Public Radio had done, and The Atlantic, as well.
For the audience, familiarize them with what you do now beyond print books, because I think we’re all familiar. All of us have had at least one Fodor’s guidebook in our bag at one time.
D’ACIERNO: I know. They’re indispensible. The guidebook itself I still love. Absolutely indispensible.
KENNEALLY: And that business is still doing terrific.
D’ACIERNO: The business is doing really well. We’re up year over year, both in print and in e, so it’s a really good story for the guidebook itself. It’s very scary to fly across the world and not have a reliable print guidebook. Batteries fail, roaming charges are high. To have that book in your hands is really important.
We just want to be there for our travelers wherever they happen to be. So if that traveler wants an app, we’ll have all the information in an app. If they want to go to our website and look for everything on the Web, all of our content lives on the Web. In fact, we have a lot more features that live on the Web. We have a blog that does about 30 stories a week. We just want to be where our travelers are, apps, Webs.
We have a big licensing business. We have a lot of licensees, not book licensees, but like AARP, for example licenses our content for their members, so that’s a big business for us as well.
KENNEALLY: And to get there in the last two and a half years, you had to work with what you’ve called technology spaghetti. Tell us about the unraveling of that particular spaghetti bowl.
D’ACIERNO: It was very complicated to come into two and a half years ago, because I come from audio books where we make one great file and we publish it however it needs to be published. We have two digital editions, retail and library. We have a library CD, a retail CD, but that one great master is the common part of it.
So I kept saying, why can’t we just do that with travel? Why can’t I write about the restaurants in my neighborhood in Brooklyn and just have them immediately uploaded?
When you’re 77 years old, there are a lot of problems. I learned them all. We had a 17-year-old editorial database and I ran into the former publisher – two former publishers ago – and she said, you’re not still using that thing, are you? I said, I’m trying not to. So we had built kind of plugins on top of that that gave us the technology spaghetti.
KENNEALLY: All right. Michael Cairns, at Publishing Technology, where you, as I say, are responsible for ingentaconnect and pub2web, what does agility mean? It’s an enormous company. How can you be agile at that level of size?
CAIRNS: We approach the subject in a little bit of a different way. We are not a content owner, so we’re in the business of supplying solutions to publishers in a variety of different segments that enable them to be agile.
My businesses, at two aspects of it, ingentaconnect, which is a journal hosting business that’s been around since about 1997, ’98, something like that, has about 250 journals on it, so that’s a hosting platform, an aggregation platform.
The other product is a little bit more interesting mainly because it’s more up-to-date. It was developed over the course of the last five or six years, and that provides a bespoke platform for publishers to then market, distribute, sell their content in a variety of different ways.
We have companies that come to us typically would have their content in different locations. They might be a journal publisher and they’ve had their journals either on their own site or on a hosted site with another provider for a number of years and they want to combine that content with their book content or with some other material like conference proceedings or whatever it is. They can now recognize their desires to actually pull that content together and market it together as a package so that they can market that content to their users in different ways, not just in traditionally structured ways like a journal article or a book chapter, but actually combine those things together that makes that content a little bit more useful to their users.
KENNEALLY: So by getting it on that single platform, it allows your client publishers to really focus on their business and how they want to exploit that content.
CAIRNS: Yes, that’s correct. One of the other core aspects of our platform is we have a terminology for it, access control, which enables the publisher to create a variety of different business models around that content from a very simple yes, I want to sell a PDF of a book or a chapter – they can do that and assign a price to it and be able to sell that – to collections pulling in content from different parts of their collection of journal articles. Book chapters, they can do subscriptions, they can sell access just like a metro card kind of thing where you get 10 looks or 10 buys for a certain price. There’s a wide variety of things that we enable that publisher to both actually execute, but also more importantly, experiment with and see which things work and which things don’t, and then be able to leverage that content in different ways.
KENNEALLY: What struck me is looking at the program and coming in to discuss all of this was we’re emphasizing agile, but the other word in the title is about responsive publishing models. So what you’re talking about here is an effort to be as responsive as they can be to the marketplace, to the customer needs, and to their own businesses.
CAIRNS: Yes. A good example of that, we had a publisher come to us who was very interested in our access control system because they were in a position where they had a massive free traffic coming onto their site. They were a very large magazine/newspaper publisher.
They were happy with all of that traffic. They thought that traffic was great. You would hit a subscription wall at a certain point. But they wanted to see whether or not they could monetize the vast amount of that traffic.
We were in a position to be able to present a business case where you could actually start to categorize that traffic, identify groupings within that traffic, and then provide a solution or a package of content to them. It could be a webinar, it could be a job opportunity, job listings, it could be other types of content, but more importantly, the idea now is that we can see if we can monetize our traffic in different ways and eventually present something to them that they might actually buy, which would never have happened in the past before.
So that’s making you a little bit more responsive to what’s happening in the market.
KENNEALLY: Right. Pip Tannenbaum at Parragon Books. As we said, it’s the largest illustrated nonfiction publisher in the world. Really working in a global marketplace. You’re based in the U.K., but in countries around the world.
What does that mean to Parragon to be agile in an environment where you’re selling really very much at the consumer level, unlike Michael, where it’s more professional?
TANNENBAUM: For us, as we’ve all said, what’s very important is to be able to have one true source for our content, because we are publishing our content in multiple languages simultaneously. What we’ve come to understand is that we need that content, to be able to put our finger on it, and get to market faster and more cost-effectively in as many languages as we can.
KENNEALLY: Can you tell us briefly about that content that Parragon is publishing. I wasn’t familiar. I had a look and I said, oh, this is fascinating. I can imagine it’s an enormous business. Tell us about it.
TANNENBAUM: It is quite a large business, and we focus on primarily illustrated content, so we have a very large children’s list, picture book list, and we also have a very large cookbook list, and then we have a very large licensing arm where we do a lot of product for, say, Disney or Nickelodeon and Mattel, again, all over the world.
We are constantly publishing new content and new content for our customers. We work with certain companies throughout the world and publish exclusively for them. So for us to be able to very quickly put our finger on the one true version of something and be able to push it out to a printer, to a digital edition, to an app is increasingly important to us.
We recently in the last two years as well, we embarked on a very large content management system implementation and have discovered that building those kinds of systems for the teams make it possible for us to get to market faster, but also know what our content is, because you can imagine, we’re publishing all over the world and with the amount of product, you’re not really quite sure how often you’re using a story or how often you’re using an image. So in order to remain relevant, you don’t want to continually push out the same content.
So for us, it’s very important to also be able to identify that, and I think that as the marketplace becomes more challenging and you want to remain relevant, you have to know what you’re putting out there.
KENNEALLY: And certainly in the case of the partners you have, the clients you have, that’s going to be essential information to keep them as customers.
TANNENBAUM: Yes, absolutely, and we work very closely with them and they provide us with content that we’re allowed to use, but the licenses are different in different countries and what you have the right to do, and publishers own certain things, so you’ve got to be very aware of what you’re doing in multiple offices. Editorial’s in the U.K., but the U.S. sales office is in the U.S., and you’ve got to be able to have that open communication. That is important.
KENNEALLY: Can you describe some of the systems that are in place, then? You mentioned you put in the new CMS. Can you tell us about any of the details?
TANNENBAUM: Certainly. It’s actually in process, and it’s also been a two-year process. It is a digital asset management system as well as a title management system, and it’s changing the way we do business, so it’s quite a large implementation that is supposed to go live about June of this year. Part of that implementation also includes an XML recipe database so that we are tidying our recipe database content, and we’re able to then not only create print books faster, but go to digital a lot faster than we were able to.
We’ve invested a considerable amount of money over the last two years to do this because we felt that moving forward, to be agile, to be able to move very quickly in the marketplace, we had to own our content. We all say we’re content providers, but I know lots of publishers whose files are at their printers or at their repro houses or on a stack of discs, Lord knows where.
For us, we realized that that was imperative, and that we knew where it was sold, how much it was sold, when it was sold, what we paid for it, and especially when you do co-editions or licensing, you’ve got to be able to manage that content. So for us, the implementation was imperative and the cost to us what we think will be worthwhile.
KENNEALLY: Right. And it’s interesting. If you attend Digital Book World for long enough, you realize that you can’t go for a single panel without mentioning either Amazon or metadata. You used the term tagging, but it all comes down to that. I know, Amanda D’Acierno, that tagging was a critical challenge for you in this whole effort to remake the way Fodor’s delivered content. Tell us about that.
D’ACIERNO: We have about 80,000 we call them points of interest or POIs that live in our system, and they all had to be tagged. About three years ago, we started the project of really getting our writers and getting our editors to tag everything they did. It’s been a very long process.
KENNEALLY: For Fodor’s though, it started with users doing the tagging, and they kind of led the way.
D’ACIERNO: Exactly. We launched our website in 1996. Of course, tagging didn’t exist in ’96. I was trying to figure out, when did tagging start? Maybe five, six years ago? Maybe a little more. But it was our users in the Fodor’s forums that started tagging their own content first.
KENNEALLY: It probably started as soon as people began to realize that they were thinking about content as digital rather than as something converted from print.
D’ACIERNO: And for the first time about three years ago, we hired an editor for Fodors.com. that was a position that hadn’t existed before, and she came in and said, you’re not tagging content? We’ve got to tag content. So that became the first priority.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, Michael Cairns, obviously your business – it’s called publishing technology, so it’s got to be technology-dependent, but can you talk about some of the systems – and I know you’re still fairly fresh in the job, but are there some things that have been put in place recently that you want to share with the audience or some things you’re working on that will be leading you in new directions?
CAIRNS: As a technology company, we’re always updating our platform, so as I said, the development for the pub2web platform began about five years ago or so, and there’ve been iterations over the course of time. We’ve just released two big clients, new clients at the tail end of last year, and that platform is now the most up-to-date version of our platform. A lot more enhancements around how we manage content, how content is distributed, a lot of it dependent very much on what that publisher wants to do.
Those two examples are actually slightly different. One is American Society of Microbiologists. They have both books and journals. Their journals are currently hosted on another service. They did not have their books anywhere before. They want to combine those two into one offering. But the key differentiator here for that particular version of our platform is that they also want to include a membership module so a member can come onto the site, buy a membership as a member of the society, and then the transaction would then apply a discount to whatever content or provide them access to that content based on the status of their membership – red, yellow, green, whatever the status is.
AIP, which is the American Institute of Physics is, again, slightly different. They are predominantly a journal publisher. They don’t have books, but they do have conference proceedings, which is slightly different. Content is much greater, much larger in terms of the content there, but again, the principle is the same. They wanted to do certain things with the content, mixing and matching and making it available.
But to your point, we iterate all the time to elevate the level of sophistication of that base platform.
KENNEALLY: When it comes to metadata then, Michael, where’s the responsibility for that lie in the company?
CAIRNS: Again, we come at this slightly differently, because we are the receiver of both content and metadata, so when we sign up with a publisher, they adopt our platform. One of the key aspects of rolling out that platform for them is the absorption of their content. They provide us whatever format their content is. Typically, it’s PDF. Oftentimes, it’s some format of XML, but even though they would profess to have it in a standard format, there are always problems.
We also deal with publishers that have large archives. AIP goes back 100 years, I think, or something of that sort, so there’s a vast amount of content, and the further you go back, the more problems you typically would have. So we have to manage that process.
In terms of metadata, there are varying degrees of sophistication again as to what the publisher has done with their metadata, how deep that metadata is. Oftentimes, in the course of an implementation, the publisher will ask us about semantic enrichment, meaning, can you mine that content to pull out thematically terms and things of that sort that will aid the search that the users would have in terms of interacting with that content. We actually don’t do that, but we do work with third parties that do that.
That’s not always the case. It’s interesting that we do have one specific client that was very, very good at managing their metadata and had done deep kind of subject classifications, managed ontology. They maintain that. And they didn’t actually have to expend any money. They chose not to spend any money to doing semantic enrichment, and they’re very, very happy about the experience that their users have.
It does vary, but typically, the issues around content and metadata are always going to kind of slow down the projects.
KENNEALLY: And Pip Tannenbaum, at Parragon, agility is probably a function both of technology and of – I would call it corporate culture, right? Being responsive is something you don’t just sort of put into code. It has to happen in the office and so forth. Talk about how you make the technology relevant to people and really sort of lead the group or groups you work with so that they are agile, they are responsive.
TANNENBAUM: I think it can be very difficult in any corporate culture. I think everybody’s experienced this. Teams work very differently and certain people embrace technology more quickly than other teams.
What we’ve done is make sure that every team was represented when we went through the implementation of the content management system so that we had the voices of every department, so you heard what the concerns were on editorial, and you heard what the concerns were from design as well as from finance and from sales and marketing. They became a part of the team so they felt that they had a stake in it, and then they would go back to their staff and sort of spread the word, and that has helped adoption.
But I will also say that if the technology’s good, like for our recipe database, we’re actually bringing forward the implementation in our editorial teams, because when they saw it, light bulbs went off and they said, that makes our job easier. It was instant.
So I think that it’s about also finding the right technology for the application that you’re bringing in.
KENNEALLY: That’s a great point, because technology is on its own really of no value until somebody’s actually using the technology. I saw you nodding your head vigorously, Amanda, so talk about that.
D’ACIERNO: Our situation is very, very similar. We had had some smaller solutions over the years and our editors were actually very unhappy with all the things that had been implemented over the years. And our technology was very slow. They were finding it difficult.
It was almost a big PR move to get all of the editors involved from the beginning. They vetted the two providers that we were looking at. We had our whole RFP process. We narrowed it down to two. We actually hired both of them to do the early builds of the CMS, and we had a team of editors sit in every meeting so that they were using it. So we had total buy-in from the editorial staff.
And you’re right about that light bulb. That’s just what happened with our team there. My life is so much easier now. This is exactly what I needed. Their voice is always a part of what we’re doing.
KENNEALLY: We had an opening presentation yesterday from Carolyn Pittis that talked about change, and she was saying that the responsibility for change has transferred from the marketplace to the hive, as she was calling it, essentially to the office back where you work. So that’s how you see it.
D’ACIERNO: Right. We have to make it easy for our editors, our writers. We started doing videos for our writers so they know how to use the technology that they’ve got out in the field to come back to us, so it’s highly tech-dependent.
KENNEALLY: Michael, what about that leading change? You’ve done that not just at Publishing Technology, but at a variety of organizations. How do you make the case for technology when you’re working with professionals who have been doing things a certain way for long enough time that they think that’s the right way to do it?
CAIRNS: It’s still a challenge. I think the key aspect of what we’ve talked about here already is actually getting the group together. Where we’ve seen difficulties in implementations are where there hasn’t been enough buy-in across a wide enough functional areas, or they are brought in at the end of the process.
KENNEALLY: Is there a particular area that’s more resistant or more troublesome than others that you’ve found?
CAIRNS: I think we wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to it because it’s not really part of our interaction with the organizations, typically, which is the editorial part of the business where they are dealing with authors who are as a group, generally speaking – not to upset anybody, but as a group – are slightly more resistant to change.
When you start to think about are we going to have a Web editor, for example, that the authors have to write to and create their content that way and push that out to them and they have to use that tool, you start to get pushback and you have to really work hard to get buy-in. I’ve seen situations where that does take a lot of time and effort to spend on doing that.
The benefits, though, if you are able to push that out to a community of authors that are external to the organization, they can be substantial.
KENNEALLY: Pip, Amanda, and Michael are talking about authors. I noticed one way that Parragon describes itself or describes the content as non-author-driven. That was a phrase that I hadn’t come across before. Define non-author-driven, and then contrast your experience with what you’ve just been hearing from Michael and Amanda.
TANNENBAUM: We do have authors. It’s not that we don’t have authors, but Parragon owns most of its content, so that is a benefit we have from a lot of other publishing companies. So while we’re not dependent on how they deliver our content, we can be a little bit more flexible in our recipe database and experience. We are very dependent upon the people who write the recipes and the home economists who test them and the proofreaders who will go in and change that and edit that and update it.
Oddly enough, the experience that I’m having – I’m running the recipe database project with our freelancers – is that they’ve embraced it very readily. So the editorial team that you think would be a little bit more resistant to it are more open to it.
I think also freelancers tend to be more open to it than staff in-house, because they’re probably working for lots of different companies and potentially are using other systems where they’re delivering their content in this way, so it’s actually quite nice. You get that nice experience from them.
KENNEALLY: I was a freelance writer, so I know that agility is what counts. You eat what you kill, so you had better be agile.
TANNENBAUM: Yes, you better deliver however they want you to deliver. For us, that’s been very good.
What’s oddly – you say your editors have been a little bit resistant – is we find the design teams to be a little bit more resistant.
KENNEALLY: Why do you think?
TANNENBAUM: Because designers are working the programs they’re really used to working in. They’re very good at InDesign, they might be really good in Photoshop, and they’re very quick in those programs. You’ll notice they don’t usually use their keyboards. They’re only using shortcuts and they’re just moving very fast. Then if you start adding in extra layers where they have to save something in a different way or do two extra steps just to save the content in a manner that is important to some other workflow down the line that doesn’t affect them, they tend to not understand why to do it. I think they can be a little bit more resistant because it slows them down.
And they tend to work with the largest files. Moving large InDesign files and large Photoshop files can just slow your computer down. So we found a little bit more resistance there, especially when we talk about using InDesign in copy, because it’s not in the InDesign file and how they capture those kinds of things.
But it’s about educating them as to how the content is used, and then I think they do understand it better.
KENNEALLY: Right. Amanda D’Acierno, I would think that one piece of being agile for Fodor’s now is to think about content well beyond text, to incorporate all kinds of media. I’m sure that’s happening on the Web and in apps that you do and so forth. Talk about that. How can you get your designers and your editors and your writers to really incorporate the sort of pan-media philosophy in what they do?
D’ACIERNO: We’ve actually undergone a huge photo project this year and have built up an enormous photo database for us, because we didn’t have our own photos. So we actually hired photographers. We sent them out around the world. They were student photographers. It was a great project. They went around Europe and had photos that we now own.
Video is the next step for us. We’ve dabbled in video a little bit, but video is a big priority for us this year.
KENNEALLY: That’s kind of preparing you for the next generation of travel content, I would think.
D’ACIERNO: Right. The photos were particularly difficult because the rights are such an issue. We could have a photo that we commissioned for a book that could not go to a licensee or that could not be on the Web or couldn’t go into an app. Getting all photos cleared of all rights was an enormous undertaking that’s still going on this year.
KENNEALLY: And for any company, agility responsiveness is all about sort of getting ahead of and staying ahead of competitors. What’s the competitive set for Fodor’s today and where do you expect it to be five years from now?
D’ACIERNO: We sort of have two sets of competitors. We have the traditional book competitors, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides. We have the bookstore competitors. And again, books are up, so we’re all in good shape there.
But I really see our competitors of the future as Trip Advisor. We will never be Trip Advisor. We will never cover every hotel and every restaurant on the planet. That’s not what we want to do, but we want to be the other Trip Advisor, so when you go in there and you look at 400 different reviews on a hotel – and even Trip Advisor will tell you everything gets to three stars because some people love it, some people hate it – you don’t really know who’s reviewing that. That’s like going out on the street and asking everybody what they think of this hotel.
When you go on our site, it’s curated, it’s made for a particular audience. Our audience is slightly older. They’re 35 and up, slightly more affluent, college degrees, and many have higher degrees. So that’s who we’re really writing for, but our competition for advertising dollars for the Web is Trip Advisor.
KENNEALLY: But the brand, though, sort of rests on this notion of trusted recommendation. That’s a critical thing regardless of –
D’ACIERNO: It is. I meet people every day who tell me they will only stay in a Fodor’s choice hotel. They will not stay anywhere else. I’ll tell everyone here, download the New York City app. It’s fantastic. All the restaurants you need, all the shows. You can book everything through our apps. Our customers trust us.
KENNEALLY: Pip Tannenbaum, for Parragon, it must be a pretty multilayered set of competitors you have out there, and different from marketplace to marketplace, region to region. Can you give us a sense of who you’re competing against these days and what the direction that’s going so that you can be responsive to the challenge that they’re going to bring?
TANNENBAUM: As a trade book publisher, illustrated book publisher, our competitors are everybody in this room, your big publishers of kids’ books and cookbooks. I think that’s still a traditional market. The cooking area is changing very rapidly, so while it used to be cookbooks and it’s e-books, it is also apps. It’s also online. Most people get their recipe content via the Web, so you’re competing with lots of free content.
So for us, it’s about being out there in the appropriate spaces and where you can monetize it or where you can leverage as marketing. You get those marketing back as opposed to just dollars. So for us, it’s very much about being able to move into new spaces very quickly.
KENNEALLY: And as we’ve learned from other presentations here at Digital Book World, it really depends where you are in the world as to where you are in that continuum of e-book development or even for that matter, mobile content consumption. Can you point to a particular area where you see it’s leading way that you will then be following in other marketplaces? For example, in Asia, is the mobile content consumption more critical but you’re expecting it to sort of follow here in the U.S. as well?
TANNENBAUM: Interestingly enough, we’re seeing mobile content – not e-books but more apps available in those areas – to be very popular in the U.S., but yes, to lead more globally because of how they ingest that content.
So rather than publish or going into those platforms in English language content, we’re aggressively going into them in other languages where we think they will grow, Spanish being a very big market that’s growing, as well as English language in other parts of the world, which we’re seeing. It has been mentioned before where that content, people want either to learn language or are able to speak English as well as whatever their local language is. So we’re really looking at doing it in multi languages mobily, sometimes more so than e-book-wise.
KENNEALLY: Michael Cairns, the man in the middle here, you’ve got a very different kind of business than Amanda’s and Pips, but for you, for Publishing Technology and businesses that you work on, describe the competitive set and how you’re preparing to be agile in the future, not just today.
CAIRNS: Yes. We have competitors that do similar things to what we do. We are actually newer to the market than some of those companies.
KENNEALLY: That’s interesting to say for a company that’s been around 25 years.
CAIRNS: No, I mean the pub2web product.
CAIRNS: Yes, not Publishing Technology in total. We believe that our solution has competitive advantages over those other providers because of the fact that we’re newer. We’re to date smaller than they are, as you would expect, because we haven’t yet been able to sign as many clients as those other large providers, but we think that there’s opportunity there.
I think the two clients that I mentioned earlier are indicative of the capabilities of the platform. They are very large content companies and it just speaks to how leveragable our platform is.
You were talking about it earlier about other types of content. Our platform is content-agnostic. Not just textual content, but we also have made it capable in terms of handling audio and video content, and for some of our publishers, that will be increasingly important.
We’re just about to start a project in the next couple of months with one of our existing clients to add a video. Actually, they’re calling it a TV station, basically, for their content. Those types of things will start to become more and more typical.
KENNEALLY: One of the propositions for our panel discussion today was that all of this is making it possible for publishers and others who are beginning to publish on their own to look at existing content, older content, and think of new ways to package it and offer it to their customers. You mentioned some of the journal publishers you have have been around for a century or more. What are they doing? Can they really do something with a journal article from Einstein in the 1930s?
CAIRNS: I think so. I’m not a microbiologist and I’m not a physicist, but it depends on the field, like geology. I think geology doesn’t really change that much, almost by definition.
KENNEALLY: If it changes, it’s very slowly.
CAIRNS: Very slowly. So you can find articles and research and other types of material going back over quite large periods of time in certain areas. Neurophysics, maybe not. Maybe it’s much more kind of most recent stuff, so it depends on the subject.
But it was important to our clients that they have that full repository of content, because who knows. Maybe somebody would want that 1857 journal article and they would have now the ability to sell it or distribute it.
KENNEALLY: Right. Or maybe a better way to think about it is the access to the content. I was told at one point that if you want to understand the revolution in scientific publishing, it’s that they’ve redesigned the lab coat to have a pocket for the iPad. So it’s not just that the content can be available for a laptop or even back at the library. It has to be available in that tablet device.
CAIRNS: Yes, correct. We don’t do apps for our clients, and our recommendation for clients is actually to do something we call responsive Web design, and that is the one core set of code. It enables the user to see the content in a similar way, depending on the device they’re using from the television set apps, their desktop, to their iPad to their phone. You kind of minimize the screen and it rearranges the elements on the page to give a fairly consistent view of that content.
We believe that’s a better representation of delivering the content in that space, and we’re rolling that our across our client base over the next couple months.
KENNEALLY: Amanda D’Acierno, what about that? Is there kind of classic Fodor’s content that you are continuing to use for years? And another part of that is, when it comes to travel publishing – and we’ve heard this again many times throughout the last couple of days – it’s living side by side with all kinds of other published material online that is as up-to-date as possible, so I guess really the follow-on question is, can any kind of older content be relevant in that environment?
D’ACIERNO: And our content really isn’t older. We have to refresh every year. We’ve been publishing since 1936, but every year, that guidebook is updated. Some things don’t change. MoMA’s still in the same place.
KENNEALLY: The Eiffel Tower is still so many feet tall.
D’ACIERNO: Yes, it’s still there. Entry fees may change, hours of operation may change, but there isn’t a lot that changes there. What changes is hotels, restaurants, neighborhoods. Ten years ago, 15 years ago, would we have covered Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or any of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn that are just on fire right now and tourists really want to see? So our content is very up-to-date.
What slowed us down and what our CMS is changing is that our old editorial database was imagined before we had a website, before there was a Web, so everything went into the database for a book and then we had to extract. So the book had to be commissioned in order for content to be created, and we – and still, to some extent go through a very painful process of extracting that content from our old editorial database and posting that on the Web.
What the new CMS allows us to do is constantly write content, constantly update content, so that all of that can go immediately fresh to the Web, and then when it’s time for that book creation to happen, we’re pulling from something that already exists. When a licensee comes in and wants content on a certain destination, we can just pull that all from the CMS for the Web.
KENNEALLY: Right. Pip Tannenbaum, when it comes to children’s publishing, the book we read as children we want to be sure our children read and so forth and so on. So undoubtedly, Parragon is working with material that’s been around for a long time. It’s just, again, how it’s going to be delivered, I would imagine is the challenge.
TANNENBAUM: Yes. We all still read Cinderella and we all still read The Gingerbread Man. Those are things that are continued to be published, so for us it’s about updating the art, coming up with new packaging for the print version or bundling for print.
But then, it’s also adding audio, adding video where it’s possible, making it interactive. It’s about delivering that content in new formats, which obviously, is easier digitally than in a book as a book, to some level. You can certainly add more things, so we are constantly looking at how to add that additional value to update the stories we’re all used to and familiar with.
We also don’t want to digress too much from that story. You still want to be able to pick up Cinderella and know what the story is and read it to your child and have that experience, so we don’t want to change, obviously, the content. But it is about re-envisioning how you package it.
I think on the print side, people are doing very interesting things, whether you’re gifting or you’re creating kits, or you’re doing story time, bedtime stories and you’re packaging up a number of those stories together with a CD volume. But then digitally, we have quite a lot more leeway in what we can and cannot do.
KENNEALLY: And I wonder, we’re thinking about agility as a positive thing, and sometimes, particularly at a time when technology is moving so quickly, you might be responding to something that could be a dead end. So I wonder whether, again, in children’s, where we’re seeing print really hold its own, there’s a lot to be said for the tablet, and children are certainly getting a lot of screen time, but I can imagine a few years ago with apps coming on, you must have thought, oh, we have to throw away print and we just have to go to apps.
TANNENBAUM: Yes, and everybody invested a tremendous amount of apps and we all know how much money everybody made on apps – or didn’t. For us, when we look to do sort of not just a straightforward e-book, although we do think it’s worth investing the read-along audio for all of our children’s book and we do see that fit. That does affect sales.
When we look to do sort of interactive books rather than apps, because they are cheaper and more cost-effective, it is about how can we do it in a manner that isn’t going to break the bank. We might not make the money back, but we’re pretty sure we’ll make the money back, and we see that there’s a market for it.
So we’re a little bit more – I think we think through what we’re going to do more quickly – (inaudible) more quickly than we used to. I also think we’re looking to partner. A lot of people have been talking through the whole conference. People who built apps, the brought in, they built their own staffs and they brought it all in-house and they spent a lot of money to build up the departments, where the reality is, that’s not what you’re good at. So we look to partner with other companies who are building tools that have an app, that allow you to create an app with some very easy sort of you don’t have to know the technology and just drag and drop, and you can build a basic app and you can then customize it a little bit.
So that’s what we’re looking to do as opposed to putting out 30 apps ourselves next year.
KENNEALLY: Michael Cairns, you probably have a lot of in-house talents as far as technology and development is concerned, but do you also go outside for help in being responsive to a particularly new and fast-moving development? Is that sort of thing relevant in your space?
CAIRNS: To some extent, yes, but we do have a core engineering team. As you would expect, a traditional technology company, our predominant staff are engineers, at least in my group, anyway.
But for something like I was talking about responsive Web design and that initiative, it’s likely that we will probably bring in some people that will help us do that and roll that out. We have some staff capable of guiding that process and doing some of that work, but we’ll probably bring three or four people in to finish it up.
KENNEALLY: That’s what you did, Amanda, when you were beginning to revamp the whole CMS for Fodor’s, right? You brought in some people, but I would imagine by the end of the process – and I know it’s still ongoing – you’re hoping that you’ve grown some in-house talent as well.
D’ACIERNO: We have some in-house talent, but we use outside developers for most of our projects. All of our apps are done by outside developers. CMS is outside. We just have people internally. Our developers are mainly devoted to the website, and we have some other talent internally that just speaks the language enough to move the projects along.
KENNEALLY: And do you become accustomed to – one of the sort of habitual efforts in technology is to kind of fail fast. Is that something that people in publishing can get used to, or is it difficult?
D’ACIERNO: I think I’m becoming more used to failing. I think what’s hard for all of us who grew up in traditional book publishing, we are so used to releasing that final, perfect, finished product to market. We send out a beautiful book and the cover’s great and the design is great and it’s all just breathtakingly perfect.
What’s been one of the harder adjustments for me now releasing apps and Web content is that it doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s just about getting it to market and then there’s always an update and there’s always a fix and this content that’s never really complete. You’re always updating, you’re always feeding, you’re always filling in. That’s been a huge change for us.
And I also think for publishers, we’re very comfortable taking a chance on a book and it not working. That’s our model. That’s what we do. We’ll spent a lot of money in an advance, and it doesn’t pan out, and that’s the type of failure we’re accustomed to. It’s much harder.
We actually had an app project a few years ago that had taken tremendous resources out of our group that we had to cancel three quarters of the way through, and as painful as that was, it’s a great lesson that with a lot of these new technologies and emerging technologies, we are going to fail and we have to become as comfortable with that as we are comfortable with failing at a first-time novel.
KENNEALLY: I want to thank my very agile panel for being so responsive. We have been hearing from Amanda D’Acierno, senior vice president and publisher at Fodor’s Travel. Amanda, thank you. From Michael Cairns, chief operating officer of the online division of Publishing Technology. Michael, thank you. And finally, Pip Tannenbaum, digital product development director at Parragon Books. Thank you very much.
For everybody at Digital Book World, for Copyright Clearance Center, my name’s Chris Kenneally, thank you for joining us today. Thank you.