Why publishers need an integrated digital strategy

July 12th, 2011 § 2 comments

Recently, I’ve seen a couple of posts advocating that publishing companies should establish separate digital units that are given relative freedom to do their own thing; the implication being that the rest of the business carries on largely as before. I don’t agree with this approach, and here’s why.


Firstly, digital publishing is as much about process as it is about digital product. The latter (and indeed the print product and marketing material) should be an end result of the digital process rather than a goal in and of itself.

It is critical that the person responsible for digital publishing (process or product) understands the importance of agile development. This is particularly so for those digital products that are more complex than a very simple EPUB. It is one thing to have a digital product that looks good, but if that product has not been produced using good digital processes that allow for quick updates, alterations and iterations, the resultant product with all its links, media, and interconnected bits and pieces, will be, quite possibly, more difficult to update than the print book. And the content won’t be easily reusable.

Publishers should experiment as much as possible, but on a small scale, with prototypes to find what works. Use a variety of methods, even use ‘traditional’ methods if that is what people feel most comfortable with initially. But sooner rather than later, they should find the most agile and cost-effective way of achieving the desired result, and bring in the programmers who understand what ‘agile development’ really means, and the project managers who understand planning and budgets. And yes, this does all mean that xml should be somewhere in the workflow to make this all possible; whether this is ‘traditional’ xml or xml in the form of XHTML and CSS3 (see related posts). Establishing an agile, software-driven, and properly managed process (with good design, editing and content management as part of this) will enable both quick turnaround of product and the ability to creatively use the content in a variety of ways.


Secondly, from a people perspective, privileging the ‘digital people’ in a publishing house is likely to lead to two things: the rest of the business feels alienated and neglected, and staff morale and productivity may drop. Rather, let everyone feel excited about what’s coming, what they can do to contribute and what skills they can learn.

The Business

The skills that are needed for a digitally-savvy business, whether it be publishing or any other company, are needed throughout the business, not just in a pocket of it. In a digitally enabled and aware business, ‘digital’ is at the core of everything the business does.


As long as publishers are only thinking about the digital product, and see ‘digital’ as separate from the rest of their business, they will not be able to take advantage of all the wonderful technological advances that will enable creativity and great content to flourish.

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  • I agree with your points and after many years involved in publishing production technology, I still can’t understand why publishers/production companies see ‘Digital’ as a separate entity! Digital is and has been the method used by most publishers/typesetters/printers since the demise of Hot Metal (which was definitely not digital).

    Going back to my 4 principals for truly agile publishing, a) get all your content in one standard format probably XML (maybe XHTML in certain cases) b) manage/edit/enhance that content effectively so that you can publish what you want to, when you want to c)make sure you have the right ‘formatters’ for transforming your content into the format of your destination devices. d) Make sure you have the right people in the right roles that understand what you want and understand what they are doing. It seems so straightforward to me!

    One thing I would say about ‘digital’ is, as we have moved forward over the years, more and more technology products have appeared, perhaps adding a level of confusion that some Publishers find hard to fathom. For one example, everyone knows what a PDF is and although it is ‘digital’ in nature, it is the last place I would begin to base any new ‘Digital’ workflow on, but amazingly, I still get asked that question.

    Many production systems are purchased with ‘eyes wide shut’, yet still expected to bend and twist for every kind of requirement. Getting the fundamentals sorted out first will deliver many profitable benefits later on.

    • Thanks Araman Consulting for your comprehensive comment. I’ll address some of your points in a separate post as there is much to cover here.:)

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