The typical creation, development, production and publication of an ELT title is an often gruelling process. The sheer amount of meetings, emails, phone calls, emails, meetings and Word docs is overwhelming to the point of maddening. But … that’s the way books are born, right? The key project team (publishers, editorial, production) correspond with each other and whatever third party contributors are on board through an endless torrent of content exchange and documentation. Briefs, contracts, style sheets, manuscripts, comments, sales figures, artwork sketches, colour illos, page layouts, proofs – they all create a swarm of attachments and folders, all of which are saved locally to machines in various locations on the planet.

The M.O. of ELT publishing (although it’s by no means exclusive) is system-based workflows; a gruelling sequence of decisions that are made and, in some form, logged for the benefit of those who need to know. The critical questions that arise from this observation are do the publishers own the processes or do the processes own the publishers? Are decisions being limited by the workflows that are in place or do the workflows enable the realisation of only the finest decisions?

In his excellent blog post on Cloud-based publishing, Mike Shatzkin comments:

Over the years, the companies with stronger systems have tended to acquire the companies with weaker ones. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it has most of the time.

As ELT publishing evolves into an increasingly digital creature the publishing companies who are intent on maintaining a stake in the industry need to be seriously considering the question posed above. Continuing to deploy systems that are based on in-house computers or devised/adapted by in-house IT departments is a strategy for deferred evolution; everyone in that workflow is entirely dependant on the skills, availability and effectiveness of the IT bods should anything techie go awry. It’s great that the IT guys have created a CMS or asset library for project members to access and distribute what is needed, but if that goes down (for maintenance or just out of bloody-mindedness) then you’re left bewailing your reliance upon your servers.

This is where cloud-based publishing comes in; it is an approach that removes the risk/reliance/responsibility attributed to maintaining your systems on-site and under your own roof by putting them onto the cloud and tapping into the advantages inherent in that mode of delivery. A key component of this strategy is SaaS (Software as a Service) whereby in-house systems can be ‘rented’ from third party service providers who hosts the software, updates and maintenance wherewithal. Instead of purchasing, installing and maintaining software across all the necessary machines in an company, the software is run from the providers’s servers and the users access it online.

The service provider is responsible for managing access to the application, performance and security. A prime example of this is Salesforce, the cloud-based sales and marketing application. Similarly, there is Basecamp (a project management application) and GoToMeeting (on online meeting and collaboration application).

The benefits to the SaaS approach are fairly clear cut:

1. Cost effective: As it’s on a subscription basis there are no license fees and lower initial costs.

2. Time-saving: Because it’s all out there already, it’s just a matter of setting up an account.

3. Up-to-date releases: Updates and innovations are delivered on an on-going basis, as opposed to waiting for the next version of licensed software which may then require a full re-installation.

And there are other advantages, I’m sure, but the point’s been made. The opportunities available through this approach are profound; publishers are able to achieve scalability quicker and more accurately than before. There is no longer such a trade-off between print/digital strategies; a company can decide how it wants to operate and implement that decision swiftly.

What about the workflows more at the heart of the publishing process? What are the implications of SaaS an cloud-based solutions for a publisher? According to Vishal Jindal in his excellent article on Cloud-based services for publishers:

The time seems right for cloud technologies to take over more applications essential to publishers.

Adobe’s Creative Cloud is a brilliant example of this. A monthly subscription gives you access to the full Adobe suite along with the ability to create and share assets collaboratively in the cloud.

There is, of course, the ninja-like Google Docs suite that has already penetrated the workflows of many an attachment-averse editor. It’s simplicity and real-time collaboration is an invaluable tool for a globally dispersed team. Pearson (obviously) has taken it to the next level by allowing it’s 40,000-strong workforce the choice of using either Google Docs or Microsoft Office cloud applications. By implementing a BYOD (bring your own device) policy Pearson has created an opportunity for its employees to demonstrate how they want to use the cloud-based software.

The cloud-based publishing gauntlet has been taken up by a selection of particularly innovative companies. Inkling’s Habitat is a fully cloud-based, collaborative digital publishing platform. The SaaS application allows authors, editors, vendors and developers to work from the same content simultaneously. Changes can be made by anyone, anywhere, at any time whilst team members’ roles can be assigned with specified permissions.

There is also the award-winning YUDU digital publishing platform. Their feature-rich platform allows publishers to create products with integrated digital assets (video, audio) and to deliver them seamlessly. Publishers can then communicate directly with their users as they access the content, and integrate their editions into Google Analytics to observe how the users are moving through the series.

The opportunities that these applications create are considerable and it should be that potential that is integrated as a core process for aspirational publishers; to be in the business of maximising their capabilities through the systems that are on offer, rather than offering only what their current systems will allow.

Featured Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

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