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The Difference Engine in Digital Time:
Tools and Strategies for Selling Content on the Internet

Part II

Online Publishing Success Stories: Some Examples

Let's explore some examples of this kind of successful process publishing in the PSP environment, and discuss the software that makes it happen. We will see how some forward- looking publishers have committed to online publishing as a means both to enhance the competitive position of the publishing company, while identifying and serving the needs of readers. What began four years ago here as the age of evangelism is over; the age of implementation has begun in earnest. The Internet today is being successfully used as a commercially viable publishing platform in its own right, one which opens up for customized access the full spectrum of the publishing process.

The two publishers I'll discuss, Gordon and Breach, publishers of over 2000 books and journals, and Springhouse Publishers, the nursing arm of Reed Elsevier, both are using online as a supplement to and not a substitute for traditional activities of publishing books and journals. These are hybrid approaches, with the terrestrial publishing operation integrated with and overlapping the online in the areas of content acquisition, editorial, production, marketing, and sales. Economies are achieved not only from the intranet or internal uses of the networked environment, but also from sales of content generated from the web site. OBS has built and is hosting both web sites, and both have been in production for less than a year at this point.

All the publishing specific software I talk about is software OBS developed to answer the online publishing needs of these and other publishing clients. Like all software, this custom publishing software is a form of thought itself, the codification of repeatable processes. We start with the basic publishing resource: authors whose works sell. The online environment gives the publisher immediate and direct access to authors --- and vice versa. A publisher becomes an author magnet by offering authors a more rapid, refined, and wide-wide reaching path to the marketplace of ideas, immediate access to his peers, and online tools to work with and think by.

Gordon and Breach (http://www.gbhap.com) attracts its authors through Author's Offices which feature OBS SUBMIT IT software, among other resources and services. SUBMIT IT enables online submission of files, either in HTML form or via FTP, in any kind of file format. The online submission generates a ping to the editor, also notifying the inhouse production and administration departments of the submission. If the editor is online at the time of submission, he may choose to accept the manuscript for consideration and post the abstract immediately, cutting this initial phase of the publication process down from months to minutes. This immediate publishing is part of Gordon and Breach's Communications program. Following posting of the abstract for the manuscript under consideration, the paper then progresses through the traditional peer review process, itself facilitated by the online environment.

The SUBMIT-IT software serves both publisher and author in this case, offering the author immediate access to his audience, through the initial mediation of a Gordon and Breach editor; the online submission capability makes the publisher attractive to authors. To an author who, for example, has just discovered cold fusion, time matters, and it will make a big difference to him when his article is accepted for review by a leading peer-reviewed journal. By publishing the abstract practically on submittal, the publisher is enabling the author to put his stake in the ground of the intellectual turf he calls his own, offering him immediate access to his audience and peers and a competitive edge. SUBMIT IT constitutes the first step in publishing the publishing process.

Once a manuscript has been accepted for publication, and exists as an online document, version control becomes the key means of publishing the process. OBS built POSTMAN software to enable editors and authors updating capability to their files. A simple HTML form requiring only basic computer knowledge in order to initiate, and accessible through a username and password, POSTMAN can be used as an Intranet function for inhouse use, or as an Internet update function to enable authors to make changes to their posted manuscript online in response to peer review critiques. The online text may be supplemented by confidential online forums or chat sessions, so that the peer review process becomes an environment offering close to real-time refinement of an author's ideas, with the publisher building an environment fostering a community of mind, rather than focusing only a product-driven business.

Once a paper has been accepted for publication, Gordon and Breach uses OBS SUBSCRIPTION software to make the full-text journal articles available to subscribers online. Now in PDF format, but potentially in any web-readable format such as HTML or TechExplorer, this online supplement to the printed journal serves as an expansion of the paper and contained publication. Further synergy with, and potential income sources from online publication of content come also in the area of building a bridge between existing resources on CD-ROMS, such as in the example of Springhouse, their reference library on a Silver Platter CD-ROM, and the web. Putting this resource online and linking it to the web site have proven a successful traffic generator for the publisher.

Open Book Systems (OBS) acknowledges that the book or publication is never complete while it is still being read. In this sense, the process of publishing --- kinetic, recorded, and online --- involves not only the author and the publisher, but also of course the reader. Each reading of an article may involve a change in state of knowledge on the part of the reader, which change in state may be measured by a test.

OBS's AUTOTEST software, self-correcting multiple choice tests linked to real-time, online credit-card authentication and clearance software, offers pluses for both readers and publishers. Using AUTOTEST, publishers begin to realize income from their web sites, moving beyond yesterday's notion that the Internet can only be used for marketing existing products and that "giving content away for free" calls for sacrifices on the bottom line.

Springhouse Publishers uses AUTOTEST in the context of continuing education, enabling readers to fulfill their professional requirements through taking continuing education tests online, and receiving their certificates through email in the privacy of their own homes. The Springhouse CE program builds on an existing base of continuing education articles and tests available in its printed publications, and through using the web, the testing procedure that used to take weeks or months is reduced to a procedure measurable in minutes. Serving the readers in this manner can prove profitable for both the publisher and the reader.

The change in state referred to in this example involves the application or absorption by the reader of the ideas contained in a given publication. So we see that the Internet enables the change in state not only of the publication itself, as we saw with SUBMIT IT and POSTMAN software examples, but a change in the knowledge state of the reader who is accessing and reading the publication. AUTOTEST chronicles the difference between read and unread texts. This testing functionality fulfills many of the basic tenets for successful online publishing: do on the net what can only be done on the net; synergize; hybridize.

Such functionality available for sale on the Internet draws traffic, appealing to advertisers in a highly targeted market such as nursing. An ancillary income stream for the publisher can be derived by selective inclusion of advertisers, whose products or service offerings tie in directly to the subject matter and the audience, and who might make creative use of the BUY functionality of the CE tests. On a business-to-business level, such functionality supplements existing relationships publishers have with corporate sponsors or advertisers.

A living and evolving web site requires monitoring and response from the publisher. OBS built QSTATS , a password-enabled, U-Drive Internet software offering key publishing personnel access to traffic reports from their site at any time. Whether monitoring the success of a direct mail piece which featured a specific URL or Internet address on the site, or monitoring where the hits are coming from on a new publication just posted, QSTATS puts the knowledge of the site's status in the hands of the people who know what to do with it --- the publisher. OBS-built software gives publishers' personnel --- from editorial to marketing, administration, and sales -- the immediate feedback and control mechanisms they need to direct and assess the success of their online efforts.

Internet publishing also takes the "post" out of "post-publication". As long as a publication is being read and thought about, it continues to live and the publisher may enjoy an income stream facilitated by the Internet. In the scholarly environment, frequently, the value of a published article is determined not simply by the number of copies a journal issue has sold, but rather from acceptance of an author's work by his peers, as evidenced by scholarly citations. This footnoting effect builds a context and adds value to an author's work, and a well-structured web site facilitates the publisher's building of a community of mind around an author's work by virtue of such an external link library.

Conclusion

Clearly, there is unmined value for publishers, authors and readers in the publishing process itself, as made possible and accessible by the online environment. And it is the act of selectively making public the evolving content states of the publishing process which constitutes the promise for electronic publishing in 1997. By using the Internet as a supplement to existing publishing programs, we approach the well of ideas, and we get closer to the sweet water which is the immediate output of engaged minds. Our job as publishers in this environment is less to produce, than it is to enable, to refine, and to structure the conduits of access to ideas and information. The challenge this medium offers to publishers is not that of building crypts around mummified content. Instead of such retrofitting, we are beginning to build a different kind of engine, one which fosters and tracks the evolution of ideas. Successfully encoding this architecture of free thought, we might allow the emergence of a meritocracy of mind, and a publishing model for the coming years.

| - PART I - |


The Difference Engine in Digital Time: Tools and Strategies for Selling Content on the Internet
Copyright 1997 by Laura Fillmore; written permission required to reprint.
laura@obs-us.com