I cannot authoritatively speak for all of us, but from what I have seen, we in the print publication industries find it hard to include digital products in our business. But I think it’d be no surprise to all of us that if we don’t consider publishing more digital products in the near future, our business will be on track for exinction.
But I want to take the concept farther. If we don’t intricately integrate digital publishing into our publishing process and product concepts, we will eventually fail in the dust of other publishers who do. And I’m not looking 10 years down the line as we may naturally feel it is. It’s much, much closer.
I’d like to give some basics to be sure we are on the same page. When I speak about digital publishing, I’m not talking about creating a book or magazine in Adobe InDesign or Quark and then having it printed out. I’m talking about two general concepts.
The first is creating a print product and making it available in a digital form. Magazines have been doing a much better job of this in the last couple of years. You can get many of them in both an online form and print form. Books on the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader fit into this as well. Google’s Books Library Project relates as well. And practically all educational text books are available in a digital form now.
The other concept, and what I really want to encourage all of us to adopt, is not just thinking about taking a physical product and finding a way to use it online. Instead, I want us typical print-version creators to become digital creators.
What Does This Mean?
Consider creating an article with a video component. Integrate the two where each cannot stand alone. Use the video to convey concepts that can only be communicated visually. Use the videos to expound on the text. As they read the article or book, provide a video that dives deeper into the background of a story or concept.
Consider the ipod. Create audio versions of your physical products instead of just text versions. Podcasts pretty much do this. Here’s an article talking about this concept (Podiobooks)
What about a handheld unit that reads books to us almost as clearly as if we were listening to an audio book? It’d be a massive undertaking to have someone read and store every word in the English language, but they could start with words of a popular classic and slowly expand the database with each new title. Each additional book would require fewer unique word recordings. Each book would be a software update until most of the words are recorded, then a simple PDF would work. People could choose to either read or listen as they want. Publishers wouldn’t need to create an audio book version anymore. Taking it further, what if we included dialects for customers? TomTom and some other navigation units provide language and dialect options for many of their units’ spoken directions. What if a person wanted to hear a book read in a female British accent? It would considerably change and customize a book’s experience for her.
What about when selling a digital version of a book or article, it included a video of an author Q&A or a personal message from the author? Or what about the author expounding on the world behind their novel—almost making up another 5 to 30 minute piece. Make it sharable and it becomes a marketing piece for the novel.
What about alternative endings? Remember the movie Sliding Doors? What if I could start reading one book and then choose to split it off and read two simultaneous theoretical experiences? Or what if the digital version gives me enough options to where I almost choose my path for the characters in the book. The story then soon becomes my story and the character becomes my character and takes me along the adventure I create. Maybe the next time I read it, I choose another direction. I think this is a novel idea (no pun intended).
What about marketing promotions? When someone enters a contest to get a book, they’ll also get a personal video from the author to that person along with the book. Think about the ‘cool factor’ they would have when sharing that video or audio with all their friends. “An author actually recorded a video for me. Check it out!”
Here is an article that I think helps traditional media companies think outside the box: The Future for Publishers
Who We Are
To close my thoughts on this subject, I was recently passed a blog post that points out a concept I’ve realized for a few years now. We are no longer a book publisher. We are a MEDIA company. And we will not grow unless we see ourselves like that. No longer can we think in words on a page or pretty designs constrained by 6x8 pages. The day is near if not already when we have our authors’ conceptual messages before us, one of the first questions we consider will be what media we we’re going to launch them in.
In this day and time, we publishers shouldn’t be experimenting with integrating digital publishing into our general book publishing process. It should already be a staple part of our publishing process. Our time and effort wouldn't then be taken up by worrying about how and who's going to create it. Instead, our efforts would be on thinking about how to produce better digital products--like we do today for print products.
But thinking digitally is hard for so many of us editors and publishers. We are so ingrained in printing and editing text concepts, integrating digital for us feels like trying to turn a 1954 Cadillac into a 2008 hybrid. But I encourage all of us to steadily grow and expand our knowledge of digital options and make it a priority to integrate this thinking at the initial book concept. We must start exercising our minds and explore more ways to become digital, not simply adapt to it.
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