Changing the script

Automation is everywhere. From retail sites to healthcare to publishing, the elimination of redundant and time-consuming processes is occurring throughout daily life—including the workplace. For publishers, automation is in its infancy, but it has the potential to revolutionise the industry, speeding up time to market, while enabling publishers to re-focus on thoughtful work rather than the mundane, and potentially increasing revenue in the process. In some departments, automation won’t likely play much of a role, but others will be changed dramatically—for the better.

Why is automation important? Traditionally, it takes a year to publish a book, less so for a journal, but the process of editing, designing, laying out and copyediting can be incredibly time-consuming and can only be done at the speed of human ability. By automating some of these aspects, the entire system can be changed and publishers can be more responsive to trends in the marketplace, have more agility in their publishing practices and be more bullish about what they can publish—and what they can’t, when there isn’t as much of a time investment on the back end. There are three key departments in which automation will make the most impact.

Editorial

Editorial positions are among the most sought-after roles in publishing. These roles are the very lifeblood of the industry, seeking out new talent, nurturing writers and shaping their work for the better. Of course, these aspects are only a small part of what editors do. They also have to pore over multiple versions of a manuscript during the editing process and fact-check everything in a book to make sure that if the main character was wearing a green dress on page 23, she isn’t wearing a red dress on page 27. Editors also gamble every day on whether or not a book will be successful. With machine learning, all of this can change.

As workflow tools become increasingly sophisticated and integrate machine learning, this can enable machines to do the heavy lifting on checking manuscripts for typos, grammar, flow, sense, clarity, consistency and even facts. This frees up the editor to read for the larger picture of the story—character development, themes, and message of the book—freeing up their time considerably.

In addition, if there was a guarantee that a book would be a bestseller, an editor would snap it up in a heartbeat. That’s what Jodie Archer and Matthew L Jocker’s algorithm, as described in their book The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, could help predict. Commissioning editors can potentially incorporate AI tools into their roles to help uncover potential bestsellers, decreasing the risk for catastrophic investments in books that can’t find their audience.

Design

Many publishers opt for a particular house style for their book jackets, typeface, marketing materials and corporate design. By adding automation to many of the procedural design processes, that could have a positive impact on designers’ roles, freeing them up to focus on the more creative elements of their jobs.

Production

The production department is also going to be greatly impacted by automation, and those who hold junior roles may be at risk unless they can adapt to more creative aspects of the job. Workflow tools that incorporate machine learning are increasingly automating many key production tasks, such as formatting, layout, typesetting and proofing. They are also facilitating improved lines of communication between design and editorial and production departments, so that they operate more closely in tandem. Without the babysitting of the project to take up their time, production managers can develop more technical skills to advance the look and feel of books and online content or digital products.

We don’t know how quickly automation will be applied to the industry as a whole, or these roles specifically, but these are some potential changes that can be seen at publishers who have begun to adapt to automation. As with all new technology and trends, many publishers are wary and slow to adopt, but with automation taking over so much of our daily lives, publishers must adapt in order to stay relevant in today’s market.

Jon White is the vice-president of global sales and marketing at PageMajik. He will be participating in a panel entitled Empowered, Itinerant and Automated: The Workplace in 2025 at the FutureBook Live conference in London on 30th November.