E-books force rethink of processes

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Andy Richardson considers why publishers need to update their contracts, rights and royalties processes to make the most of e-book opportunities

The advent of the e-books phenomenon has forced many publishers to start thinking outside the box, particularly in terms of how content is packaged, delivered, marketed, sold and digested. They have had to adapt and respond swiftly to an evolving landscape in which consumers demand is king. Perhaps one of the most significant, yet well-concealed elements of this digital publishing revolution is what is happening behind the scenes within publishing houses in order to accommodate these exciting new business models and delivery platforms.

In the last six years, e-books have gone from being labelled as a fad with no realistic potential for success to becoming a fundamental component in a publisher’s armoury. Sinking or swimming is now, in many cases, completely dependent on how much publishers are prepared to embrace digital advances and bring them to the heart of their business plans and growth strategy.

Until recently, publishers have got by sticking with the same tried-and-tested IT systems to manage their day-to-day processes, especially when it comes to product tracking and contracts, rights and royalties (CR&R). The legacy systems that publishers have had in place since the 1980s and 1990s to manage the lifespans of printed books have served them incredibly well. However, publishers now need more and these archaic systems can no longer meet the complex demands and requirements that are being impressed upon companies with a growing digital vision.

Publishers have spent the last few years learning how to reap the rewards from e-books, but most have discovered that their systems are ill-equipped to cope with multiple new sales channels, content delivery formats and platforms, and needless to say, all the data that comes along with this migration. This is why many major trade and academic publishers have completely overhauled their back and front end systems or are in the process of doing so, looking at investing in and modernising their CR&R systems in particular.

As digital models take centre stage, the internal systems that publishers use need to be refreshed accordingly. Publishers now require more flexible systems that understand different product groups, such as printed books, e-books, apps, and progressively, chapters. These systems need to be able to process intricate workflows, calculate increasingly complicated royalties effectively and handle contracts and rights correspondence from across the enterprise. Unlike their predecessors, modern platforms uniquely offer publishers the ability to provide authors with access to relevant sales data as and when they need it. This crucial functionality has become one of the major USPs for publishers when it comes to considering upgrading systems.

However, these solutions are by no means cheap to implement and they often entail a top-to-bottom, company-wide cultural shift, which is understandably a big turn-off for publishers. But, as many of the larger publishing houses are now realising, CR&R system upgrades have moved on from being considered expensive luxuries to outright necessities, essential for any publisher that is serious about taking advantage of digital publishing opportunities.

From our publishing consultancy work during recent years, we have witnessed a striking intensification in publishers taking a good, hard look at modernising their CR&R solutions. Some have already implemented, some are in the process, and others have merely put the feelers out. My prediction is that within two to three years all the major international publishers will have migrated to modern platforms – a severe expenditure and investment on their parts, but one that is sure to pay off in the long term. 

Andy Richardson is CEO of Influential Software