What to Finish before You Begin

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Michael Johnson is a seasoned executive with over thirty years of experience in the technology, publishing, and education markets. He brings a wealth of expertise with particular strengths in the areas of P&L performance, strategic planning, and integrating technology into business planning. Michael has an abundance of experience in helping businesses use technology to be more effective and therefore more profitable. Read more

Over the last decade or so, just about every aspect of publishing and bookselling has changed—starting from the way that rights are negotiated and going all the way through to how books are bought and read. The key question here is, what is your publishing house doing to reshape itself in light of all these changes?

What adjustments has it made in rights processes to handle e-books, audiobooks, and the incredible growth in book-to-movie and -TV adaptations? How have your production flows been changed to handle things like accessibility standards, print-on-demand options, digital review copies, and ever-evolving final digital output options?

Does your publishing house have an effective and efficient way to track and pay royalties on things like the Amazon Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, where the reader doesn’t pay an end price?

There isn’t enough space in an article such as this to fully cover even these two issues, let alone the host of others that we all must consider in order to survive in the ever-changing world that is book publishing.

However, I will attempt to give you meaningful things to consider from the production and workflow “back-end” areas of publishing that you should finish before your firm starts working on your next book.

In today’s world of reader needs and wants, we can’t simply do page layout and markup (regardless of the tools used), run books through editorial, and then send things off to the printer or whatever production house you use to get books finalized and created. No, not at all. Today’s reader has needs—or, should I say, demands—that are not only more sophisticated than those of readers from days gone by but also more complex and nuanced than in the past.

As recently as ten or fifteen years ago, a publishing house could pretty much still focus on print (that is, hardback, paperback, and large print) and leave the rest of the output formats, rights, and reader types alone. This was still a valid approach since there was no clear path on the various digital rights management (DRM) issues, royalties, file formats, and software and hardware reader combinations around the various e-book approaches.

In today’s world, that is simply no longer the case. Various organizations, including on some issues the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), have worked very hard to get the rights issues, the DRM, and the file formats settled. Amazon, all by itself, settled the software/hardware issue. This began in 2007 when Amazon released the first of the Kindle family of readers and then the Kindle software in 2009, which now runs on just about any device from any manufacturer. For all intents and purposes, Amazon is the e-book marketplace in the mind of the general public.

While the sales opportunity is nowhere near the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it fearmongering prediction that gripped the publishing world at the turn of the twenty-first century, e-books have settled into a respectable 18 to 22 percent range of overall sales. Certainly, this is large enough to pay both attention and respect to.

So, to address the e-book market opportunity, you need to finish your thinking on whether a book should be offered as an e-book (now or in the near future) and then ensure that from the beginning of the process your production environment reflects everything required to output your book into EPUB format so that it can load onto Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem. You should be evaluating the e-book possibilities for each title as you begin your workflow cycle rather than treating it as something to be done after the book is finished with production.

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