I was recently asked to participate in a round table along with Alex Watson [Exec VP Operations, LexisNexis Legal & Professional] to talk about the impact of technology in publishing. The round table session took place at a summit sponsored by SPi Global specifically for those in the publishing industry. Having worked for publishers such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill and now being part of an awesome team here at Flatirons Solutions, I was looking forward to this opportunity. Some obvious but salient comments came out of the round table discussion:
Not since the advent of the Guttenberg press has technology really impacted the publishing industry until now. We are finally producing something other than books with covers.
The impact of technology in publishing is not only coming from within the publishing houses but from their customers and the technology they have.
The impact of technology in publishing has and continues to create a tension between the IT and the content creators; authors, editors, designers and production teams. This must change.
There are too many groups out there that are really good at IT or really good at content related work but way too few that are good at both.
None of these comments were new and one would think that over the last 10 or 20 years as technology has grown in influence and impact in publishing, we would have figured out how IT and content creation can play nice. The reality is that they are fundamentally two different worlds with very different approaches to their craft. Does that mean this tension cannot be removed? Maybe not, however tension can be a good thing that drives critical thinking, prevents stagnation and can introduce a well-managed approach to checks and balances. Seeing the other group as if it were your customer will go a long way in making the relationship not only work, but successful.
Hearing these discussions made me feel better about including the old Henry Ford quote about asking the customer what they want…faster horses [well there is some question about crediting Henry Ford with this]. The interesting thing, regardless of who said it, is that Henry Ford did not listen to his customer at first and created something totally disruptive, new and innovative. However, he proceeded not to listen to his customers and continued to build a vehicle that was standard in every way, no options. GM came along and listened to their customers and began to manufacture vehicles with options such as color, etc. and sales soared.
Maybe the impact of technology in publishing [and possibly other industries] has caused us to naval gaze rather then look to our customer. Maybe technology has caused us to simply say “this technology can solve your problem” or “you can never solve my problem with that technology.” Maybe part of the impact of technology has to be to really work to understand our customer better and meet and exceed their needs.
For us here at Flatirons Solutions, that means every engagement is special as each customer is unique. It means that we must understand the world of publishing and its need for flexibility and standardization, the fact that books are still printed and are made available in many digital formats and iterations, that simply applying an off-the-shelf piece of software to the problem is not the solution. For me, one of the repeating statements I heard was that “We [publishers] need to work with vendors who understand the technology they promote and understand our world of publishing equally well”. Maybe that is the goal of the impact of technology in publishing.