Integrating services for publishers

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John Murphy looks at Publishing Technology

It was not that long ago that publishers who printed things could stand aloof from those who went online. The print business model provided profitable revenue through controlling a physical asset, while online publishing was about selling subscriptions to content. Such distinctions are not so clear now with eBook formats emerging and traditional print publishing channels looking for ways to compete with the new purely-online players.

Vista is an established provider of the kind of software that makes publishing companies work. It handles internal workflow, royalties, supply-chain logistics and most of the other functions of a major publishing house; and most of the major publishers use its products. It needed to find a way to engage with the electronic publishing world and had a choice of investing millions of dollars in developing its own systems or forming a partnership with an existing player. Ingenta, meanwhile, was wrestling with the issue of how to integrate its online hosting and e-commerce systems into the back-office systems of the major publishers.

In February the two companies merged to form Publishing Technology. Both ends of the business and Ingenta’s PCG consultancy group will continue to trade as separate brands in the near term. However, the future lies in integrating more of Vista’s logistics and back-office technology into Ingenta’s online publishing platform, which provides access to some 30,000 journals. Vista CEO, George Lossius, is now CEO of Publishing Technology. He said: ‘Things have moved on quite rapidly in the industry. People like ourselves want to be able to provide portals to hold content and provide publishers websites to deliver not just PDFs but rich content that the web can take advantage of. Companies like ours need to cross over as many delivery mechanisms as we can.

‘We did consider going our own way but that would have cost a lot of money and would have entailed a very high risk of the investment going in the wrong direction. We felt it was more prudent to find a company that had already made the investment and had a business model that was working.

George Lossius: 'The benefit is that there is an increase in the R&D resources being deployed'

Lossius said that, at present, there is little crossover between Vista and Ingenta customers. Vista tends to work with larger publishers with an established presence in print publishing while most of Ingenta’s customers are smaller publishers. The initial focus for crossover is amongst the larger Ingenta customers who will benefit most from the kind of features that Vista has in its integrated solutions. The first cut of the integration has been completed but it is likely that this will be considerably refined in years to come.

Benefits of integration

Lossius said: ‘Many Vista customers are already publishing online. Some have dipped their toes in the market but not gone very far and we will be able to offer them a fully-integrated package. Sometimes publishers have quite clunky ways of linking to their back-end systems. We believe we can help them go a lot further by simplifying the whole process. Many publishers have many websites for the different products that they sell and use a Vista system for the sales and royalties. They often have to duplicate information such as discounting and have different connections to the Vista system. We now have a piece of middleware that sits between the Vista and the websites that provides all the common information as well as common plumbing.’

For existing Ingenta customers there are many attractions to investing in Vista modules because they will be integrated, according to Lossius. He explained that many Ingenta customers with multiple distribution outlets have to manually move data around to various portals. Ingenta customers using Vista systems can automate all of that. Some of the larger Ingenta customers will already have a back-end system so Lossius said that the focus will be on modularising the Vista range so that such customers can consider the advantages of the Vista product against other options when they either want to add functionality or replace legacy systems.

‘The benefit to both sets of customers is that there is an increase in the R&D resources being deployed on both companies. Its probably the larger Ingenta customers who are going to benefit most because they have back-office systems that can be integrated, but the smaller customers are going to benefit because of the extra R&D resources that are going into the Ingenta platform’

Lossius added that a bonus of the merger is being able to create a higher profile to Ingenta’s consultancy division PCG. It provides marketing and research support to publishers who may want to do targeted campaigns and need some specialist resource to do it. He is looking forward to being able to introduce this service to Vista’s customer-base.