Digital Publishing, a view from an Educational Publisher

This lunchtime, before the first of my lectures from the Digital Media Publishing module, we were visited by Liz Marchant, the head of Science Publishing at Pearson. The talk was the first of this semester’s lectures on digital publishing, all of which will feature visiting speakers from the industry.

Due to a tight deadline, Marchant’s lecture moved from last week to today and was a really good way of getting into the digital mood before my session in the afternoon. The talk walked us through the process of publishing a digital product from conception to delivery. It was focussed specifically on the scientific educational market but the theory and thought behind it can be easily applied to all.

She put great emphasis on the publisher’s responsibility to the success of the product, while there may be many other agents involved in its creation it is ultimately the publisher who takes the responsibility for it. If it doesn’t work for whatever reason, the fault is with the publisher and it is beneficial to have that in mind when conceiving a product.

The talk was formed of five main areas (with several of these expanded further):

  1. Digital as a whole.
  2. Process overview.
  3. Translating the needs of your target market into an attractive solution.
  4. Digital Business Case (vs. Print).
  5. Success.

The views below are mixture of both Marchant’s talk and my own thoughts. 

Digital as a whole

The first part of the talk highlighted the differences between print and digital, and what consumers perceive about digital in comparison. An example used being that online material is perceived as either free or cheap. There was a lot of emphasis on the changeability of content; digital products are not fixed in the way that print books are, content can be experienced in a lot of different ways, the function changes, the product can be changed more easily after it has been released, you can interact with your consumer.

Another focus of this section was the change of relationship to the customers and the consumers, the ability to track usage of the product which is not possible past the sale of a print title. With this comes the need for the customer to re-purchase, a challenge introduced by the changing face of access, whether it be subscription based, one purchase only, licences for certain machines or certain members of each organisation etc. The relationship with the consumer is crucial in the digital world.

Process overview

Fairly similar to the process of creating a print product, the digital process was outlined as follows:

  1. Segment identification (who will buy this product?)
  2. Problem (what does the customer need?)
  3. Concept development (solution)
  4. Business case
  5. Delivery
  6. Ongoing support.

With digital products the last point is very important. Print needs little follow up but with digital you are required to keep your audience interested and keep them needing the product. Without support customers might choose to adopt something else.

In this section Marchant also delved into all of the roles involved in creating a digital project. There were roles on her list which I didn’t even know existed. I am not sure what assumptions I had about the process before the talk but I am now aware of the full weight of digital products. There are so many different people involved that things could get a little confusing, communication is key!

Translating the needs of your target market into an attractive solution

The best way of finding out what your market needs is by asking them. A simple concept that may sometimes pass by unnoticed. However, it is not just what they think they need that should be addressed but also what they don’t know they need. For someone like me, who is new to the bustling world of publishing, this concept is a little daunting. Predicting what consumers need before they know themselves is something that I think can only be developed by practise. The more you get to know your audience, the more you can anticipate their needs and Marchant’s presentation backed this up.

A big part of this process is the pricing strategy, as mentioned above there are a lot of different strategies to consider and the one you go for depends both on the consumer and the product itself. How much is it worth to consumers? How relevant are the features as a solution?

They key to this section is in the testing. Giving customers an early look is bound to build up excitement as well as iron out those creases you may not have noticed. Even with in-office testing, not all bugs will be discovered; digital products have different functions depending on who is using them.

Digital Business Case (vs. Print)

I have to admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what was meant by the terminology here. From what I understand, the Business Case is what is used to convince the rest of the company that the product is needed and worth investing and will be beneficial to the company. It also assess the risks.

Things to think about when creating the Business Case included:

  1. The wear of the product. Digital does not wear out and therefore needs to generate other reasons for repeat purchases.
  2. Pricing policy. How do you define users? Whole school vs. individual students.
  3. Security.
  4. Ability to attract its own revenue or support the revenue of existing products.
  5. Loss leading.

Success

What defines success? In digital publishing it is simply that the product:

  1. was delivered on time and to budget. (Especially important in the educational market.)
  2. created a high quality experience with clear benefits that match the needs of the consumer.
  3. was presented with effective demos.
  4. worked together with all other components (such as a print expansion).
  5. delivered what was promised and is easy to use without long-winded training.

This aptly marked the end of the talk where we were then invited to ask questions.

Before the talk, I was thinking about possibilities for our New Product Development module (NPD), particularly the digital opportunities therein and Marchant’s talk definitely gave me a lot to think about when forming ideas. Even with project work, which will not be released into the wild once it’s finished, it is important to follow these processes (which is something I think I need to do more in my own projects). While we may not have the resources to fully adhere to them, now is the best time to practise.

And with that triumphant return to the blogging world (hello, blogging world), I am off to warmer climes (which should be read as either, the world of creative writing or the world of research, I’ve not yet decided which). Until next time.

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One thought on “Digital Publishing, a view from an Educational Publisher

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