Embracing the digital transformation in publishing—and its impact on authors

As one game-changing tech-led disruption after another rocked the book trade, publishers raced to meet new opportunities (and new consumer expectations) generated by new ways of accessing content.

Companies in the publishing space are shifting to a system that can help them maintain a position of strength regardless of the next big innovation. The process is called digital transformation and, ultimately, it can improve the success of any author’s work. What is digital transformation, in a nutshell?

It is a series of system and process changes within a business to maximise the efficiencies created by today’s technological landscape. The process includes five stages: content storage, metadata, discoverability, content agility and automated collaboration.

Content storage means leaving the patched-together siloes of desktop folders, network drives and shared-content systems such as Google Drive, and instead unifying the entire enterprise on a single, global, centralised file repository, often cloud-based. Sharing material between departments becomes a breeze, document version worries a thing of the past.

Metadata—a set of labels or tags that can be applied to files manually or, better yet, through automation—enables quick browsing for anyone in the system, using keyword searches and more advanced methods such as semantic search.

Discoverability signifies the ability to get the best, most relevant content as efficiently as possible. Content storage and metadata are the building blocks that enable discoverability to function. Discoverability can be a nuanced task, for example, making sure search results use contextual clues to surface the most appropriate material, or the ability to distinguish between homonyms.

Content agility enables organisations to respond to external demands for the fast and efficient reuse of valuable content. Regardless of publication date or original format, decades-old files in a digital transformation environment can be summoned and put into use as easily as brand new content.

Automated collaboration enables individuals to work together, with better results, on common tasks— for instance, live-editing the same master document. On an enterprise-wide level, content development becomes tidier and faster.

What does digital transformation mean for authors? Writers win when their work is published faster, cleaner, with the widest possible reach, and with the longest possible lifespan. Digital transformation optimises the ecosystem to achieve this.

In an optimised workflow, the editorial manager achieves superior oversight from manuscript to proof copy. Agile content and automated collaboration track the status of every piece of content, eliminating bottlenecks, fast-tracking the approval process and streamlining development.

When an entire company shares one system, that means faster production. Today’s pre-publication process is too manual. Content must be loaded into one system or software environment, developed, exported, then handed off to repeat the process with the next team. Automated collaboration and a strong content storage system brings the process into the 21st century.

In a publishing house that has embraced digital transformation, even workflows outside content production can benefit. Marketing and publicity teams use the agile content to leverage the best assets, while also improving campaign execution through automated collaboration.

Depending on your content and licensing agreements, your material could be chunked into modules available for repurposing. Tagging for metadata and optimising for semantic search or text mining can make your content easy to discover and, in turn, to use. With a simple search, your content could surface as a candidate for anthologies, course packs or other content bundles.

The back catalogue changes dramatically in the digital transformation environment. Without the restrictions of siloes or antiquated filing systems, years-old content can be surfaced and used just as content published yesterday would be. The optimised content can also be transitioned to whatever new device or reading platform comes next—none of last decade’s agony of turning print to e-books.

Digital transformation empowers publishers to be responsive in a demanding market place. Has your house made the commitment?