The biggest challenge facing pub- lishing is probably not what you think it is. It’s not DRM. It’s not skills. It’s not ebooks or search- ability, neither is itthe reshaping of
channels to market, nor metadata management.
Least of all, is it the threat of self-publishing.
It’s none of these because you have the ability and creativity to deal with every one of
them. The biggest challenge is workflow. It’s
deciding how much money you’re going to
spend on a book, then sticking to it. It’s about
deciding how long the publishing process
should take, and sticking to that as well.
It’s getting the right information to the right
people at the right time without production
blowing a gasket or editorial having a melt-down, and having information available in
time to inform your measured decisions rather
than relying on gut feel. It’s about staff knowing what they are responsible for, and who is
responsible for everything else.
It’s about getting 50 people with 60 opinions
to work as a team, and automating the administrative drudge away so that these bright,
thinking and expensive individuals are put to
work on the difficult and creative aspects of
making and selling exceptional books, and
overcoming every new challenge to the industry. And it’s about doing all of that transparently, without turning the business into an FW
Taylorian nightmare of cogs and process
instead of spark and innovation.
This is not controversial. Cost control,
scheduling and efficient, consistent processes
are the basis of any successful company. But
it’s hard. The few who get it right find they
have enough time and creative head-space to
do whatever it takes to be notable. Lower
administrative and organisational overheads
lead to better books, better author relationships, better design, better thinking and better
Look at some of the stand-out publishers
around today–Nosy Crow, Osprey, Constable & Robinson, & Other Stories–and you’ll
find the workflow is thought-through and the
publishing process locked down.
Systems are one critical part of achieving suc-
cess through efficiency. Don’t settle for a mere
relational data-store; the data in your publish-
ing system has to be accessible and easily repur-
posed into whatever shape you need it. Click a
button and your PDF AI should download to
your desktop. Click another, and 100 AIs, gen-
erated on the fly from your up-to-date data,
should start to download in a zip file. Need to
send data to Waterstones? Amazon? ONIX or
Excel? Need to generate your catalogue in
InDesign? Click, click, click, click, click–for the
correct and complete data in the correct format
and layout, within seconds.
What is your standard for metadata com-
pletion and correctness? BIC Excellence
should not be a struggle, but you need valida-
tion baked in to your systems and processes to
test your metadata against industry and your
Less data entry
In fact, there should be precious little data
entry; templates and easy-to-use data import
tools remove the data-entry drudge for you.
And you should be able to set up all the data
for a new work and its various manifestations
in one go, without repeating yourself. Multiple editions of the same work should be able to
share common data such as subject codes,
contributors, reviews and marketing texts.
There are certain parts of the publishing
process that sound like admin, but which are
emotion-bombs waiting to go off. Royalties.
To an author, their book is their child. Authors
take any lateness as contempt, and the relationship is soured. You need a system that
handles a decade of line-level data in a second,
running calculations for the most fiendishly
complex multi-channel volume and discount
escalator terms. You need a system
that lets you check and re-run the
numbers as easily as breathing, and
which emails beautiful, informative,
clear PDF statements out automatically, and on time.
Your staff want you to have a sys-
tem like this. If they’re typing data
into Pub Web in the morning, past-
ing data into AIs in InDesign over
lunch, and filling out the Water-
stones grid and distributor spread-
sheet in the afternoon, you’re doing
it wrong. People wanted to work in
publishing to be Alpha creatives, and you’ve
turned them into Delta data monkeys. And
Deltas don’t innovate!
To keep books on track you need a full,
flexible scheduling system. And you need a
military-grade forecasting and spend authorisation module in place, so your managers can
ensure they spend what was agreed when the
book was bought, and no more.
All this; this is my life’s work. For the last
eleven years I’ve run Snowbooks, the little
publisher Rob Jones and I founded in a haze of
post-big-business-management-consul-tancy-working-for-the-man-blues”, as a
means of doing something we’d be proud of.
And, by Jove, we are; Snowbooks runs like
clockwork, and on a shoestring to boot, finding
cracking authors every year and publishing
award-winning books. Out of our decade-long experiment with efficiency has come
Bibliocloud, a web app we originally wrote to
help our own business. And of course, Bibliocloud is the system that I’ve described here.
Osprey Group, Quercus, & Other Stories,
Inpress and Unbound are some of our valued
clients and, with the support of an Arts Council
England grant, the list grows weekly.
We’re absurdly proud of Bibliocloud’s long
feature list, and of what our clients are achieving with it. We delight in how easy it is to use
Bibliocloud, how it’s built, the technology
behind it, the way we develop it, its accessibility, its security, the publishers we’re helping,
the books we’re enabling, the modest licence
fee we charge, the support we provide, the
things people say about us and our Future-book Innovation award.
This is such an important industry. Get
your business workflow sorted out, whichever
system you use to manage it. We simply have
to make our businesses efficient, because the
future of books themselves depends on us.
Emma Barnes is a co-founder of Snowbooks and CEO
of publishing software house General Products Ltd. ■
Emma Barnes, of Bibliocloud, argues that the biggest challenge facing publishing is
getting the workflow right
Clear skies ahead