Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Trends in Electronic Publishing

I'm a consultant (sounds like an admission) in the publishing industry and throughout my career I've developed and integrated new technologies to help publishers stay competitive. Everything from back-room content management to user-facing "wow" tools. And, I'm noticing some trends in the publishing business lately. Especially in electronic publishing. These are some things I'm observing from my clients specifically, and from public media (annual reports, news, and so on). I think we're seeing a big shift in the way publishers generate revenue, away from the value on information.

One well known revenue shift is towards advertising revenues. This is an old model, of course. Newspapers have been at it forever, and online search engines for years. But more recently, we're seeing a larger shift of revenue away from subscription sales for information resources and towards advertising. I think this is driven by a couple of factors.

First is the nature of the internet and social networking. These are creating an underlying expectation of free information on the web. No news there! But this is creating new revenue streams in the form of advertising that are replacing traditional subscription revenues. And with tools like Google's AdSense, this is easier than ever to do, making it possible for just about anyone to create an ad-driven information portal.

The second factor is the rise in information portals repurposing and rebranding content for their own purposes. Tools like RSS and aggregators like Feedburner make it easy to brand your own content, creating a demand for and an expectation of specialized information sources. In a sense, this is dividing the traditional publishing industry into two parts -- information creation and information dissemination. Publishers used to integrate both these functions under one roof, but in the repurposing/rebranding scenario lines between these functions become clear. New revenue streams are being created and recognized by selling content for aggregation, repurposing and rebranding.

Related to this is the increasing role public entities are playing in the information dissemination arena. A large market used to exist for private publishing of government information. In the old days, these publishers took government data and added value through indexing or other finding aids and sold the improved access. As technology tools have improved, government agencies are more easily and readily able to perform this publishing themselves. So adding content value has become more important to the ability to create revenue than using technology to improve access.

And this is exacerbated by the economy. With more choices and less budget, customers will opt for the cheapest product that reduces their workload. User expectations are indeed greater. Users now expect to access content with minimum wasted time and maximum accuracy. To stay competitive, publishers need more sophisticated user-facing technology to meet these expectations. In turn, new revenue streams are coming from sales of integrated technology and content or from the sale of the technology itself (software products).

So, do I have a conclusion from this? Not really. I don't think anyone can accurately predict the course of publishing over the next few years. I do think publishers need to keep their tools sharp. My personal belief is that investments in the right technology will win out in the end, but mostly because it will enable the publisher to be ready to respond to changes more rapidly. Of course, I'm a techy saying this, so my view is slanted. I'm reminded of a joke by Emo Phillips: "I used to think the brain was the most important organ in the human body, then I realized what was telling me this!" But I can't help thinking that technology investment, especially in these tough economic times will out.


john said...

Print will eventually phase out as it gives way to new tools that are more interactive, rich and ‘now’. Readers are giving up flat printed pages for online, interactive, participative, collaborative and rich media content such as Online Portals, Blogs, Social Networks, RSS, Mobiles and Podcasts.

Here’s few useful links on digital publishing / delivery

Steve Carton said...

I think that too, but I've been working in electronic publishing for 30 years now and have been hearing that for 30 years and print is still very much in the foreground. I think the main reason is because until very recently, electronic publishing was just a digital version of print, but harder to read. Tools are now emerging to change the entire experience. So I believe now that print may finally dwindle as you say.

This is an exciting time!