Digital product capabilities strive to evolve, at least you’d hope so. In the instance of academic publishing, the snails of the publishing world, the conversion of academic books to websites and services is still an arduously long, tedious road that produces an end product that sits quite comfortably covered in digital dust.

Why is this? Well, one reason is that these products are very expensive to make, a basic companion website for a large reference book can cost up to £250,000 alone. As print rambles along its uncertain path, particularly in recent years (and since the decline of print in 2007), publishers have less budget to play with and more concern about where they put it. The market isn’t screaming for digital e-books and academic professors aren’t either. That’s the belief anyway. From communicating with authors and the market at ground level I’ve developed a different image.  Exploring the reasons why technology hasn’t gone hand in hand with publishers going forward I’ve come up with some general influences.

These are:

  • The mindset that digital is just a ‘phase’
  • Publishers can’t afford to explore digital opportunities
  • The conversation isn’t agile and it takes a long time to decide on a new venture, during this technology has waltzed on by and publishers either go back to the drawing board or continue to lag behind
  • Conversion to e-books/sales/ the online market place has proven difficult for publishers to navigate

Much of this I put down to tradition, workflows and processes that haven’t changed in decades exist, still. We’re making an e-book now, what more do they want? The answer, products that compete with those of other markets. You can easily search a popular brands website for a specific piece or category and be rewarded with a host of choices and related suggestions. Created by savvy algorithms, good SEO and engaging content, identified as valuable to the target market. So why can’t we do that with books? Publishers are only just coining onto SEO strategies and the idea of putting real effort into building an online audience base in order to increase sales and traffic. As mentioned before, the content of an e-book isn’t easily digitalis-ed, for example building a taxonomy is a little more tricky when you ask a bot to differentiate between the tuberculosis disease referenced to in a chapter about dysentery disease and the actual chapter on tuberculosis. It requires human intervention, someone to physically go through the text and acknowledge what belongs where and how it can be searched for in a digital copy. Thus the high cost. With the decline in print sales the ROI from e-books isn’t enough to cover large scale digital investment. This is obviously a huge problem for print across the board and with little resources given to explore the possibilities of getting round it we continue to shed out for these products to be made. The reality is that they are clunky, unpopular and don’t fulfill their potential as new revenue streams.