2019: Year of the Workflow

Aside from the flu, dieting fads and Blue Monday, for many in the publishing industry January can only mean one thing – it’s time to implement plans and budgets for the year ahead. But as the marketing, sales, editorial, acquisitions and rights teams all bid against each other for more lines in the budget, grappling for a greater slice of the pie, how much is left in the pot for innovation, investment in technology and long-term strategic and visionary thinking?

The answer more often than not, as you might expect, is very little indeed. Decision makers in publishing have traditionally been very reluctant to prioritise investment in new technologies, replacing legacy systems and adapting workflows, sticking with the status quo as opposed to rocking the boat and causing inevitable short-term disruption and anxiety among employees.

Complete system overhauls are extremely rare in publishing, particularly in the larger houses where the scale of cost and disruption is much more prominent. This means companies are often locked into deals with suppliers for decades, leaving them lumbered with archaic solutions which haven’t necessarily adapted with the times to suit their needs. While it’s far from an ideal situation that many in the industry are still using 20th century technology on a day-to-day basis, it is unrealistic to expect publishers to take big, drastic steps in order to change things, especially during times of political and economic uncertainty.

But this doesn’t mean that publishers are turning a blind eye to technology and innovation. Last year we spoke to hundreds of business leaders across all sectors of the publishing world, many of whom were increasingly open to adapting their internal workflows in an effort to boost efficiency and stem loss of revenue.

Why workflows, you may ask? Well, one of the main issues has been that, while most publishers are producing books and journals across all formats, the workflows embedded throughout publishing companies are still primarily print-first models. This means that the processes in place for bringing ebooks, online journals and audiobooks to market are often the same for print products, which traditionally require much longer lead times. A case study by Gutenberg Technology, published in March last year, revealed the benefits of switching to synchronous print/digital or digital-first workflows, claiming that 47 per cent of time can be saved and as much as 30 percent of costs can be saved” if publishers were to adopt this modern way of working.

These are compelling statistics, which most CEOs are not taking lightly. In an industry where there is a constant struggle to keep costs down, profit margins are wafer slim and market forces are working against us, publishers can no longer afford any unnecessary wastage in their supply chains and internal workflows. Streamlining workflows and looking at how many tasks across the publishing business can be automated thanks to innovative new technologies is what industry leaders are now turning their attention to as strategy du jour.

So, while I don’t expect 2019 to be a year when publishers revolutionise the way they use technology and do business, I do believe it will be one where we take baby steps towards a smarter and more agile way of working. And technology will play a vital role in shaping the workflows publishers increasingly choose to adopt in the not so far future.

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