It's Personal and It's Publishing

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 10:06

Publishing is a personal, human industry. It’s full of hope and insight and skill and creativity and it produces beautiful things. It nurtures the best in people, too. 

Some limitations can be frustrating. One is that traditional publishers don’t know enough about their customers; their knowledge is slight when compared with other industries. Another is that it would be good to have more control over markets we sell to. And another is that we don’t always get as much out of what we create as we could. The last is also frustrating for authors. 

The causes are understandable. But they’re not easy to fix, at least in traditional ways. 

Digital media are starting to make a difference. There are three areas where valuable benefits from what can be called ‘digital culture’ are beginning to be seen. These relate to consumer communities, consumer collaboration and consumer-focused content development.


Social media keep us in touch with customers. Selling directly helps publishers know who their readers are. Digital media can encourage recommendations and feedback in dynamic ways from customers and the communities they form that weren’t possible before. 


Social media are particularly important in niche markets. Participants here tend to be enthusiasts who are keen to communicate and share their interests. Enthusiasts drive online communities and publishers can nurture these. Doing so can turn special-interest communities into micro-markets, where suppliers and consumers collaborate. The publisher who facilitates these gains a valuable level of influence, even control. 

Content development

Both customer-communities and micro-markets boost the value of the content they are built around. They create opportunities for related or enhanced products, and potentially information services too. This also benefits the writers and illustrators on whom publishing depends.Although this sounds idealistic, it’s more practical than one might think. Things don’t need to be done very differently ... although the thinking behind some of them does need to change. 

Other blogs  #2, #3 and #4 look at how these changes work.

Digital change

These developments are part of a rising wave of change, not only in publishing. Terms such as ‘post-industrial’ and ‘millennial revolution’ are increasingly familiar. The entertainment industry has been transformed. Healthcare is changing. Retail businesses are moving online. Financial industries have changed beyond recognition. And as AI comes knocking, many other industries will go the same way. 

Publishing has a cautious relationship with digital products and even more with digital thinking. Much of publishing still depends on processes that would have been familiar throughout the 20th century and in much of the 19th century too. For instance, paper making, printing, binding, bulk transport, warehouse storage, postal distribution, as well as book stores, author readings and signings. 

It’s interesting to think why digital change in publishing seems different from other industries? Is it just slower to change? Or is there something that makes it really unique?

Perhaps publishers are keen to embrace digital media, but don’t know how to do so without risk. To help with this it’s useful to know what digital does best. Publishers already use digital storage, digital creative tools (where would we be without word-processing, desktop or onscreen layout, digital visual design and graphics?), digital production, websites help us work with these tools and email help us work with each other. All these have transformed publishing over recent years. And using Artificial Intelligence in various ways, from market research to generic copy-writing, is likely to transform it even more. Are there more ways that digital innovation can enhance what we do?

Human factors

In my blogs I’ll try to answer that question, to see what digital media are best for in publishing, what they’re not, and what the differences mean. And I’ll focus on human factors rather than technological ones. That’s partly because others write about technology better than I can. But it’s also because publishing is a profoundly human industry. It’s about ideas, adventures, beauty, emotion, learning and sharing. These human factors and many others do have an important role to play.

This is a kind of exploration, too, so I’d like to know what you think, what experiences you have of digital media used to best effect, and also experiences when they’ve not delivered what you need. I’m keen to know, and I’ll answer every email as well as I can.