Toward a content experience

Head-to-head interview with Frank Salliau, iMinds Senior Researcher and former BOEK IT-Manager

First of all, what’s your job?

I’ve been working for the past 5 years with the Flemish sector federation as IT-manager where I was involved with several digital aspects within the book profession, from metadata to digital book promotion to distribution of educational digital content. What I found most interesting is being able to play a role in a changing industry, as publishing becomes more and more digital.

Just a few days ago, I took up a job as Senior Researcher at iMinds, Flanders’ digital research center. The coming months I will primarily focus on managing projects within the book publishing industry, such as Publishers of the Future, in collaboration with, Edutab (focusing on tablet use for educational purposes) and TISP.

What does ‘innovation’ mean for you?

Innovation for me is progressing towards a better world, doing things differently and better, for both consumers, authors and publishers. In an increasing digital world, with the rise of e-books, on line retail and self publishing, the publishing industry feels the pressure for change.

In Flanders, we already see innovative projects emerging, like the e-comics platform and the educational content distribution platform (Knooppunt). Publishers of comic books working together on introducing digital comic books in the market, educational publishers collaborating on distribution of digital educational content.

The collaboration of iMinds and within the Publishers of the Future project is fostering innovation within the publishing industry.

Of course, no one knows what the future will bring. Disruptive innovative players will probably emerge, it will be very interesting to see their effect on the publishing industry and the entire book profession. But, in general, I believe in evolution instead of revolution. I just hope the industry will evolve fast enough to keep up with the changing world.

What can publishing and ICT learn from each other?

ICT is a young industry, whereas publishing has been around since the invention of the printing press. As they both talk quite different languages and have different backgrounds, getting both sectors to understand each other’s nature is not an easy task. They are both ‘doomed’ to collaborate though.

Publishers will need to make use of ICT skills and know-how. They will feel the need to hire qualified staff or team up with ICT partners in order to meet the changing needs for their businesses. As publishers will need to abandon their print-first workflows, they will need people with know-how of HTML5, Scripting languages, EPUB, XML. Also, big data will be an opportunity for publishers in getting to know their customers, so skilled data analysts will also come into the picture. Of course, not all these skills need to be in-house, outsourcing is always an option.

ICT companies need to take into account that it is not so easy for publishing companies to change the way they do business. Since publishing hasn’t basically changed very much for several decades, change is not that easy. They must also be aware that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. There is no such thing as ‘the’ publishing sector, there is a lot of difference between trade publishing, educational publishing, scholarly publishing. Each one has his own properties and distinctive needs .

The ICT sector must take into account that technology is a means to and end and not a goal in itself.

What do you think consumers want an e-book to be in 5 years-time?

Consumers will probably want ease of use. They will want to read their books on paper or on any device of their choice, without any hassle with DRM or different formats. They will also expect to pay a fair (read: low!) price for e-books or expect their e-books to be included with the paper version of the book.

Depending on the genre they will expect the book to be enriched with a certain experience, such as multimedia, gaming or other interactivity.

What do you think will an e-book be in 5 years-time?

I hope the industry e-books will be made in a standard format, EPUB 5 or so!

Interactivity will become more and more important, publishers will also look for synergies with other creative industries, such as gaming, tv, film and music. One, although limited, example is the app with extensive background information for the Game of Thrones book and television series.

The e-book will transcend reading and evolve towards a ‘content experience’.

What would you recommend to a ICT start-up willing to provide services to publishers and the publishing industry?

I think that empathy is one of the key ingredient for both parties to collaborate. Both parties should try to understand each other’s mindset and business challenges and opportunities.

Another key ingredient is to think consumer centric, not technology centric. Don’t use technology for its own sake, but as a means to an end. For example the Flemish educational publishers put students and teachers first providing them with a simple platform and a single login, making it easy to access their digital educational content.

What can a publisher do to adapt to a fast changing digital world and how can ICT help them?

Rethink the core of the business: it’s not about making printed books, it’s about bringing creative content to an audience. The publishers should consider how the audience wishes to consume this content, be it on paper, on a device of their own choice.

Streamlining this new approach has a profound impact on the publishers’ workflows, business models etc.

Workflows will have to be adapted, the print-first approach will have to be abandoned in favor of more layout-independent content creation mechanisms. Providing tools to facilitate these new workflows is where ICT can and will be of service.

As consumers will be reluctant to pay twice for the same content on different devices, publishers should also think about new business and pricing models.



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