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Time to Revise Your Publishing Workflow? 6 Warning Signs it Won’t Scale

Why do digital media startups attract investor capital at a time when traditional publishers are struggling in the market? The answer may be operational: traditional publishing workflows are typically built for a single purpose, making them difficult to adapt and scale.

Earlier this year, Ontotext, a Bulgarian developer and provider of semantic solutions for published content, released a brief white paper it called “Master Publishing: Make Content Memorable”. There, they outlined “Signs of an Institutional Memory Problem”, the kind that prevents publishers from effectively monetizing content.

The roadblocks directly relate to workflows that cannot scale. The six warning signs are:

  1. Single-purpose, legacy content management systems. Most publishers have optimized their workflows for print. They manage distribution to other platforms and purposes as follow-on steps. This approach can’t grow cost-effectively.
  2. Multiple, incompatible metadata schemas and systems. Each title, function or brand handle metadata it its own way. They don’t follow standard approaches, and their systems can’t talk to one another. Trying to look across the legacy business becomes expensive or impossible.
  3. Replica or single-purpose, static digital content. Emulating the past is natural. Book publishers, for example, are comfortable with eBooks because they mimic print books. That comfort blinds them to the value of investing to make the original content more structured, searchable and reusable.
  4. Content silos that make it difficult to integrate content from different departments or functions. Content silos (may) organize information in ways that make sense to a publisher. But, both B2B and B2C audiences want to be able to look across an enterprise. Like incompatible metadata, content silos get in the way of user access.
  5. Limited or no use of data analytics, both for content characteristics and user engagement. This, too, is a legacy issue, one that started when the output was a static print rendition. Today, we can and should know a lot more about how content is consumed, but the systems used to track this information are typically separate from content workflows.
  6. Redundancies in production workflows. Format for print. Format for web. Format for tablet. Format for reuse in an eBook. Format for … whatever’s next. The work is repetitive, error-prone, time-consuming and costly.

Retooling traditional publishing workflows takes time and senior-management commitment. It is hard work, and even outside investors have struggled to revamp operations at publishers like Cengage Learning and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

But, the work has to be done. Unaddressed, legacy workflows lead publishers to focus on cutting costs. When that happens, investments in content workflows seem like a luxury, even though those investments are needed to expand content flexibility and use.

Any investor looking to fund a content-driven company, and any publisher, should be looking at content workflows and asking which of these warning signs apply. If you can relate to more than a couple, sound the alarm, because now is the time to create scalable workflows.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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