Digitality vs Digitisation: new thinking, new opportunities

Change your mindset to open up new business models, urges Sven Fund

Sven Fund presenting at FBF 2017

The evolution of book publishing

As someone deeply steeped in the world of publishers and technologists, I have a keen interest in observing the impact that tech innovation is having on book publishing. The arrival of e-readers, the unexpected surge in popularity of audiobooks and the complex relationship between Amazon and publishers have all played a key role in shaping the industry.

But perhaps the most significant change of the past decade is that readers are becoming less bound to the book as a tangible product, as it is no longer at the core of our media consumption. In the age of digitality, it is now more appropriate to think in terms of ‘content’.

Before elaborating on what this shift in perspective means for the wider publishing industry, it is first worth making the distinction between what we mean by ‘digitality’, which differs from ‘digitisation’.

A shift in perspective

With the digitisation process, the business model is still essentially print-based – the publisher repurposes already available content in print for a digital platform, such as an e-reader, and simply resells it in a new format. In the context of ‘digitality’, content is born digital and opens up multiple avenues for completely new business models.

In principle, this digital publishing strategy is more attuned to our tech-driven times and one that you would expect publishers to be keen to adopt for their own business. However, digital should be viewed as a mindset, rather than a technology – and if it is one to be more widely adopted by publishers, then they must first get better at innovation management.

Two women looking at iPad

The reality is that, with the technology available today, content can be upgraded, digitally redistributed and even reprinted on-demand.

- Sven Fund, fullstopp

There are two types of publishers: those that reinvent their business, and those that resist innovation until it is already a widely-adopted solution. You can be either proactive or reactive in your approach. There are still ‘digitally illiterate’ publishers that may have access to digital products and be familiar with their benefits, but have not fully embraced the possibilities of digitality.

With that in mind, it is safe to assume that publishers are not making full use of the technological features that are available in their industry. And, therefore, they do not understand the full impact that book publishing technology can have on the way they operate.

People in the publishing sector struggling to embrace ‘content’ as a dynamic concept are the same people that continue to view books as tangible, single-use products that are printed and distributed once, and then transferred to a different platform. The reality is that, with the technology available today, content can be updated, digitally redistributed and even reprinted on-demand.

This is why we should be encouraging more publishing businesses to adopt the digital mindset. To capitalise on the possibilities afforded by dynamic content management and digital printing technology.

Young woman reading book on train

The digital mindset

A digital mindset enables publishers to embrace a future in which short runs and on-demand delivery are possible. In which a more proactive lifecycle management of publishing assets enables them to maximise the commercial value of their content and make it more readily accessible to consumers.

Meanwhile, if book producers have invested in a digitised production, they are able to play a valuable role in motivating and guiding their publishers to think digitally and implement streamlined digital-first processes, enabling business models that will help them innovate.

As you can see, book publishing innovation is not a one-way street. It is more likely to be achieved through a sustained, trilateral collaboration between publishers, book printers and technology solution providers.

Written by Sven Fund

Sven Fund is Founder & Managing Director at fullstopp, a consultancy for academic publishing houses that provides strategic guidance on a number of issues ranging from change management to mergers and acquisitions. Sven’s company not only works with vendors, such as printing companies or distributors, but also acts as an interface between academic libraries and publishers.

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