Publishing Success with Digital First Publishing

Arvinder Sharma August 1, 2019
While the paperless world imagined by George Pake in 1975 is still to emerge, digital first publishing has steadily evolved, creating a radical disruption of business as usual for the publishing industry.  Innovations in technology, decreased cost in publishing and purchase, and user demand for multimedia and immediate gratification are greatly responsible for the rise of digital first (Gutenberg, 2018; Filigheddu, 2018). As the world moved from the static world of print to all things digital, publishers tried to cope in basically three ways. 
  • Making print products digital 
  • Publishing print books with supplemental digital products
  • Publishing print and digital products in parallel
While these moves staved off a major publishing disruption for a few years, they have ultimately created a solution that is akin to making a silk purse from a sow’s ear. A variety of factors have rendered the moves ineffective, including user demand for connectivity and interactivity, a glut of quality content, self-publishing, and AI.  Gutenburg’s blog entitled “What is Digital-First Publishing?” offers two significant reasons why digital first has overtaken print publishing. The first is the widespread public embrace of mobile devices (tablets, iPads  ereaders, etc.). The second is that “the digital platform offers the same information sooner and can include all sorts of interactive features, that are particularly useful in a learning environment. The opportunity to include on-line components like audio and video files, and even a form of virtual tutoring, also add to the experience” (Gutenberg, 2018). Digital first demands a total rethinking of publishing processes, beginning with content development workflow. However, digital first content development is just the first wave of disruption as publishers grapple with how to offer quality content from a variety of sources and media. In the past, quality content and high-profile authors were a mainstay and key to value propositions. The publishing world is at a point where it’s not the content that is most precious but its interactive features that drive users and revenue. “Over the last two years alone 90 percent of the data in the world was generated” (Marr, 2018). Let’s take a look at the landscape.  
Stanford University Press and the Evolution to Digital First
Gutenberg’s digital first blog reminds us why education publishers adopted the new paradigm: “…textbook sales have decreased dramatically in recent years. This, in turn, has had a tremendously negative impact on publishers’ profits, in many instances turning them into substantial losses” (Gutenberg, 2018). The Stanford University Press was one of the first houses to create digital first publications. In 2016, Alan Harvey at Stanford University Press announced he wanted to “break the box of publishing.” His goal was to start publishing digital only projects that featured assets such as interactive maps, audio narration, photography. Quickly his publishing team recognized that creating digital first content called for a creation and review process that incorporated at a minimum the following requirements: 
  • Content validity 
  • Interface and navigation
  • Accessibility
  • Discoverability
  • Visual and audio aesthetics
As a frontrunner in the Digital First wave, Harvey and his team helped apprise other publishers of challenges in the creation and review process as well as copyright challenges and the need for new processes and platforms for archiving and accessing assets. “There is no doubt that technology and new resources are transforming the learning landscape, and digital-first publishing is playing a vital role” (Gutenberg, 2018).  
Complexity of Digital First Content Development Workflow
In the past, the content development workflow centered around an ongoing search for new authors; a cycle for popular authors that required creating first editions and then next books; and a cycle for textbooks wherein authors created first edition and then new editions to supplant the old. For digital first content, the workflow can begin in several ways: a search for open content and an international search for a collaborative team of writers, artists, UX designers, technologists, audio specialists, musicians, programmers, and project managers. Up front, publishers must be ready to provide templates, standards, branding as well as tools for content management, authoring, archiving, tracking, and more. Digital workflow follows roughly this process: 
  • Conceptualization of learning medium ( epub, media, animation, AR/VR, App, virtual lab etc)
  • Storyboarding and Visual Design 
  • Design Assets authoring/creation
  • Review and revise assets
  • Publish assets to digital and conversion to print 
  • Distribute assets to multi channel delivery
  • Archive assets or put through cycle again
In terms of process and financial outcome, Digital first can be a threatening and unstable path for authors and publishers moving from print to digital. Look for our next blog To the Rescue:   Content Authoring Tools to see how publishing entrepreneurs and innovators harnessed the power of technology to smooth the path to a digital first future.  For more information on how MagicEdTech can get you on the right path to digital first, contact one of our consultants at  

Arvinder Sharma

Arvinder is a solution architect with more than 15 years of experience in building/designing processes and develop solutions by using wide range of cutting edge technologies for end to end digital publishing.