As we move deeper into 2017, the need to supply consumers with content digitally at the same time as maintaining traditional print production means a digital-first approach is not just a priority but an exciting opportunity to monetise content in new ways.
But digitisation is too often seen as just another way to lock content into another format, bringing with it added hassles of sending books off to create epub formats, or converting them to e-PDFs at the end of the production process.
Digital-first is a means to free content, not confine it. The key is to store it in a way that can easily be output to all sorts of formats and sold in all sorts of ways—like InDesign, XML, EPUB, Word or RSS feeds. And if you can digitise content at the start of production rather than the end of it, by importing directly from Word manuscripts into something like a content management system (CMS), it is possible to take control of the whole production process online before outputting to different formats directly.
How does this translate into sales?
From book chapters and magazine articles to hotel listings and images, content needs to be sold in a way that best maximises its value. Obviously, selling online access, such as through a CMS-style platform, provides an instant way for customers to buy, since anyone with a web-connected device can purchase and read instantly.
But this isn’t the limit of the freedom that digitisation can bring. No longer tied to selling the full-bound book, publishers can sell more at a lower price on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Articles or chapters from different books can be easily repurposed and combined into new collections—to suit a university course for example.
And although epub formats are important, selling online access to content is a key way to market. Offering complex annotation, citation and indexing tools on the CMS-style platform adds value, as does online functionality for specialist content like images or listings that are easily transformed into fully searchable online databases.
Online access also enables publishers to rapidly configure and adapt subscription packages, perhaps based around a topic or an author. Or, beyond this, to create whole microsites that use the same fundamental CMS and content to generate websites with different branding, selections of content and functionality to appeal to different audiences.
More work for the production team?
A digital-first approach must integrate with existing production workflows so as not to end up with double the work for a few more sales. Used intelligently, it can actually decrease workloads while increasing value.
Some CMS offer editorial and production tools that improve efficiency. They allow editors and authors to edit content online in a Word-style environment, or manage workflows to share access with the right contributors at different stages of the production process—in one notable case enabling academic books to pass from receipt of manuscript to print-ready proofs in just five weeks.
Above all, being able to create InDesign and epub files and other documents from any content of any kind stored in the CMS at the click of a button cuts out a hefty part of the process, and often the need for costly outsourcing.
Digital-first should not be a trap, or something that adds to workloads, although improper implementation can sometimes make it feel that way. Instead, used thoughtfully, with close attention to the needs of publisher and customers, it frees up content to be sold in numerous ways at the touch of a button.