How electronic publishing is reshaping the publishing industry

Publishing work online, on a compact disk, or in a file format compatible with electronic readers, is especially attractive to industry stakeholders. There is negligible investment on the part of the publisher. There is, generally, a faster publishing time for accepted work. There is the opportunity for greater flexibility within working relationships, as a publisher can be more responsive to writers and editors when handling work pre-publication, or amending work post-publication.

It is possible to update text often and easily at virtually no cost. Since the electronic publisher does not have an investment in printed journals lining shelves, text can be electronically updated in seconds.

 

New business practices

Electronic publishing offers, also, greater longevity for journals that do not generate great revenue – for instance, business-to-business publications catering to specialists in a particular field. Electronic storage affords unlimited archiving, giving time to generate revenue from new business practices – for example, by creating collated catalogues of journals and articles on particular subject matter, published originally during specific time periods.

Electronic works are not yet read as widely as their print counterparts, so for the moment the premium chargeable by a publisher for advertisement, subscription or individual purchase must be less. Many people aren’t aware of e-publishing, and many public and private sector organisations have not developed a truly smart online presence. In my view, the truly smart organisation addresses the electronic world through an array of channels with relevant content. It offers information via social networking sites, podcasts, departmental and global web pages. It offers engagement via click-through buttons, subscriptions, contact addresses and forms, and surveys. Where it is perceived to need to work with a publisher, to reach a publisher’s audience through a particular journal, it does more than supply an advert and advertorial. It presses the publisher to treat his audience intelligently. In my view, examples of intelligent engagement with an audience include online forums, blogs, wikis, social media site pages, and online directories with user-generated content – linking to external sites and within a publisher’s own network of sites and pages. These can be vibrant, informative, interesting – and, most importantly to a publisher, commercially viable. Creating debate, and creating an inclusive environment, can be profitable.

There is, of course, the matter of information security, of the protection of content and intellectual property. Piracy is a concern. It is a fairly simple thing, technically speaking, for the recipient of a text to edit a file or rewrite a web page, make copies of the text, and sell the work away from the original e-publisher. Protection of property rights over the intangible and the innovative is not so simple. Publishers are concerned about controlling access to, and use of, the content they produce electronically. The ease with which content is copied and distributed over the web makes these concerns very real. And intellectual property legislation seems not to provide the level of control that content-providers would like. Copyright law is not comprehensive, and is costly to enforce. Publishers have, hence, begun to turn to new forms of intellectual property protection – either extending from contract law or using technology to control access and use. Publishers have also chosen to pursue no intellectual property protection at all – arguing that, with no contracts or technologies available to prevent the prime consequences of the digitisation of information, that information will be regarded as free at source, and that a transition is taking place, in which information is valued less for its intrinsic quality and more for its immediacy and the support it offers in social and economic environments.

 

Innovation in the market

And what of the ways in which developments in e-publishing affect the publication of newspapers and magazines? In my view, the future of publishing, with respect to journals and journalism, can be found in the packaging of stories. What does that mean? Publishers who practice innovation will know, and will have known throughout the centuries, that the packaging of text is a fundamental aspect of the publishing business. This industry has always been about packaging content – in newspapers, in magazines, in newsletters. In the electronic world, in digital media, on the Internet, the publisher’s package is a function of software. Innovative publishers will create unique – or at the very least, distinctive – user interfaces, ways to consume content, to use information, to express views, to buy from advertisers. Charging audiences for stories is the old world. Charging the market for unique or distinctive packaging and provision of stories is where new money may be made. There is real value in aggregating articles from multiple sources, in solving consumers’ problems, in taking a lead on issues affecting professions. There is real value in controlling the lucrative front end of distribution, through intelligent content creation and management.

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