How to sweat your publishing assets

Unlocking the value of content with digital print

An array of revived literature by Goloseo

Avoiding risk in the publishing sector

Content may be king in the publishing world, but for publishers the challenge is to realise its value while minimising risk. Historically, printing books has resulted in a weighty cost commitment, including high-volume offset printing, warehousing and distribution, and the likely cost of storing or pulping returned stock at the end of the book’s commercial lifecycle.

Writing in UK publishing trade title ’The Bookseller’, Profile Books’ Andrew Franklin offered the publisher’s perspective on profit: “Publishing is a risky business – each book is a challenge that should cover its costs. Some do and are brilliantly profitable. The successes subsidise the disappointments.”

The downside of this commercial reality has been a tendency to risk aversion among many publishers, unwilling to gamble on content aimed at a niche audience and reluctant to face the financial consequences stemming from unsellable printed stock of an underperforming title.

A woman looking through a shop window at a rack of books

The long-term risks of risk aversion

Tom Weldon, chief executive of Penguin Random House UK, acknowledged the implications for the publishing sector back in 2016 when he said: “When a publisher has a bestseller, it’s easy to just keep publishing what sold yesterday. But there are amazing writers out there who we aren’t commissioning. The whole industry needs to change.”

Weldon highlights the implications of this mindset for content diversity, arguing that this risk-aversion could precipitate publishing’s long-term decline. It is this extreme cautiousness on publishers’ part, coupled with the availability of affordable print-on-demand, which has stimulated the self-publishing phenomenon of recent years.

The maturity of cost-efficient digital book production creates opportunities for publishers to think in fresh, creative ways about how to monetise the assets over which they hold copyright, or to be more open to take risks on the content they commission.

One of the key advantages of digital printing is that it makes the length of a production run irrelevant – streamlined technologies and digital workflows enable a single book to be printed and finished in minutes from a print-ready digital file.

Short-run digital production is already showing publishers the scope for more flexible production and distribution, as well as for book life cycle management, a strategic partnership between printer and publisher aimed to reduce sell-off risk and enable more sales by aligning production to actual demand.

New life from the archives

There is true potential for publishers to unlock the value of their content assets through print-on-demand. Today, with a streamlined process between publishers and book producers, it is feasible to deliver a single book on demand, challenging traditional publishing economics.

For example, Munich-based publishing house Goloseo specialises in reviving children’s literature in both printed and digital formats. Taking advantage of digital book production, they produce short runs of heritage books in multiple languages, making multi-lingual training easier and helping non-native speakers to learn new languages.

The on-demand model has positive implications for minority language publishing, which has historically made it difficult or expensive for speakers of non-mainstream languages to access a broad range of literature. Likewise, publishing for minority interest groups becomes viable, and publishers may see new opportunities in niche markets, without compromising profitability.

In fact, printing individual titles may develop into a specific value proposition, as it did for Canon customer Signature Books. The company leverages digital on-demand production to deliver approximately 300,000 personalised books a year, working with content under licence from brands such as Penguin, Beano, Disney, Marvel, Ladybird and Mirror.

Students studying   with printed text book

From declining format to dynamic content

In the educational and technical markets, analogue publishing models have struggled to keep pace with the immediacy of online content, with many observers ringing the death knell for text books.

But, as explored at the Future Book Forum in 2017, personalised print-on-demand offers amazing scope for educational books to become customised learning companions for students. These blend standard core content with bespoke material taken from different areas of a publishing asset management system, meeting the unique educational needs of each student.

The printed text can be supported by online learning platforms, video, audio, and so on, placing the printed book at the centre of a multi-platform palette of tailored content – or ‘smart book’, as we might choose to call it.

It’s evident that, even in the more digitally-oriented times we live in today, publishers are still able to prosper in the online arena by sweating their existing assets. The key to succeeding lies in their ability to manage existing resources optimally, while also maximising the effectiveness of their strategies.

This is where a consistent, open dialogue with book printers and technology providers becomes instrumental, as both parties are capable of providing valuable insight through their expertise and industry knowledge. It is thanks to this triangular partnership that publishers will be able to optimise their supply chains and make the most of their assets.

Написано от Tino Wägelein

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