digital media

Digital Transformations in the Publishing Industry

Everything digital fascinates me. We're living in such a fast-paced technological world, it's hard to keep up as individuals with what's new and what's hot. Can you imagine what it's like to undergo these changes as an institution? As an industry?

The publishing industry has been shaken up by new technological advances and media hype has even threatened its very existence. I recently had the opportunity to interview freelance editors Britanie Wilson and Jeremy Lucyk who have recently penned a new ebook series on breaking into this industry in an uncertain environment. The bulk of the interview is covered in TalentEgg and discusses educational training, internship, resumé, and networking tips. But here's a snippet that deals exclusively with the digital face of the publishing industry  

Why did you decide to publish your book electronically as opposed to print? 

Jeremy: Part of it is practical, part of it is ideological. What really appealed was that given our working schedules, we knew we wouldn’t have the time and freedom to sit down and go through a classic book writing schedule. We’re doing is drawing out the normal process. We’re putting out what would be normal individual chapters in a full book. In a few months, once we get all the topics we want to talk about, we can create one giant e-book and potentially print. E-books are easy to edit and revise as you go. One of the things we’re focusing on is how quickly things are moving in the industry so it would’ve been out of date by the time it hit print.

Britanie: It takes about a year to produce in print. By the time you add in the production schedule, manuscript,’re always a year behind. In publishing right now, it’s not possible to keep up. It’s changing by the month. Copyright is changing right now, digital is changing, some of the middlemen are being taken out, some added. It’s constantly in flux and trying to catch up with that in print is really tough and it arises in educational publishing a lot, which is kind of what we’re doing. It’s a bit of a hybrid trade and educational series because it’s for people coming into university who may have this career in mind or they’re not sure of what to do. It’s also trade because it’s also interest-based. It’s a look into the industry. There’s not a lot out there that shows you the innards of publishing, especially in Canada.

Jeremy: The idea was that it would be equal parts textbook and for general readers so we tried to write it and market it that way. We’re trying to reach out to people who are like us a couple of years ago, flailing around not quite sure of what to do. If we had something like this at our fingertips, it probably would have made the decision easier if not immediate.

So what's your take on the whole debate about the publishing industry's future in this digital era?

Britanie: There are people so stringent on keeping print that they ignore digital completely. One of our major points in this digital series is that it’s not that there is no place for digital or print. There’s a place for both. The industry just hasn’t discovered which is which yet. There are certain books that should be digital and should only be digital. There are other books that cannot convert into digital. Like coffee table books. You want to be able to hold that in your hand and see those colored pictures. There are children books that have felt in them and that just can’t be replaced. That physical experience. This is all happening so fast that the industry just hasn’t quite caught up on how to market them and sell them differently. Instead, they put out a copy of both and let the consumer decide, which is a bit inefficient when you think about it in terms of cost. But it’s all they can do to keep up with everyone else. Publishers haven’t had time to sit back and question if this really makes sense.

Jeremy: The other thing is that publishing is, by nature, very conservative and that mostly comes down to the people that work in it. It’s partially a generational thing and partially an attitude. Those who get into publishing obviously love books so there’s a tendency to idolize and fetishize the book as an object. There’s also the generational aspect because we’re right on the cusp of the digital transformation. But we’re at the point now where the people who have the decision making powers either don’t have or don’t want to have any experience with the digital world. They just naturally resist it. So it’s very difficult to convince them of the switchover. That’s going to ease up in the coming years but it’s a major bone of contention right now.

Britanie: We want to stress that coming into publishing right now is not a disadvantage. You’re very much in an advantage in that you see the market differently: how we can market these books, how we can reach different audiences with different platforms. Executives in publishing companies have been in this for so long that they’re trying to squeeze new ideas into old models and it’s not something that can happen. It’s a clash. The whole process of publishing needs to be reformed.

You're both graduates from the post-grad certificate program in Book and Magazine Publishing at Centennial College. Have you been given digital training as part of this program?

Jeremy: As much as possible. But there's a lag time between reality and teaching. Rather than teaching us directly how to use digital platforms, it was more of a philosophical stress. Be aware that you are in a time of massive change. Be ready for it as needs require.

Britanie: They were very honest. If there was something that they weren’t very sure of, they told us. In terms of actually creating the e-books, like coding, it’s not even at the point where they’re offering that ability. It’s mostly because there’s no standard to teach a student. So for example, Apple has different standards for an iBook than Amazon. Amazon has different standards for the Kindle. Kobo has different standards for it's e-reader as does Sony. So you’ve got four different platforms and on top of that, each one is constantly updating their standards. To try to formulate a program right now and teach a student on how to code an e-book would be near impossible and I assume that’s why it hasn’t happened yet.

Jeremy: I do some digital production work for an educational publisher and every single book project is completely different. There’s much more emphasis on being trained in-house by the publishing company than a universal way to do things across the industry. This can be very alarming to some people if they don’t want to be off on their own accord and they want to be told exactly what to do every single time. But it’s a huge advantage for self-motivated, self-starters because they have all the freedom in the world. 

The first two titles in Britanie and Jeremy's eBook mini-series, A Very Brief History of the Book Publishing Industry and The Editorial Department are now available on

Read more about how to break into the publishing industry by reading my interview with Britanie and Jeremy on TalentEgg

Roots & Shoots: A Social Media Workshop with the Jane Goodall Institute

I quietly snuck into the James Room at the Delta Chelsea downtown where I was giving a social media workshop for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada's Youth Leadership Council (YLC). The small but energized youth were in the middle of a networking activity assigned to them when I first walked in but I was happily greeted by a friend and old co-worker of mine from Journalists for Human Rights, Carissa. We'd worked closely together giving workshops on how to use social media to spread human rights awareness and it was nice to reconnect again.

The room was filled with the 12 dynamic members of the YLC who act as ambassadors of JGI's Roots & Shoots program, a network of youth creating positive change in the environment and fostering respect and compassion for all living things. We jumped right into the workshop by discussing the significance and magnitude of social media and how to communicate effectively on these platforms. Talking social media to youngins is one of my favorite things to do because they just get it. They are the digital natives and our conversation yesterday proved that.  I was struck by their depth of understanding and critical thinking when interacting with social media.

One of my activities for the group was to deconstruct Facebook posts from various non-profit organizations and to determine which ones effectively engaged their audience, which one's didn't and how those one could be improved. I was happily surprised when the group began debating what exactly constituted an engaging post anyway. Does a "like" or a comment constitute deep enough engagement? Or does it just represent another classic case of slacktivism (or as one participant referred to it: clicktivism)?

It's a question I've struggled with while working for different NPOs and it's one that I don't readily have an answer for. For NPOs (and for businesses too), a "like" doesn't really mean much if it doesn't translate into some sort of deeper action...whether it's a donation, signing up to get involved, or spreading the word and raising awareness. Unfortunately, most interactions on social media are shallow acts under the guise of true and deep activism/involvement.

I showed a couple of posts from NPOs that encouraged their audience to "like" a post or tag themselves in photos (you'll catch 'em in the slideshow above) and one participant expressed her disdain for "cutesy" and "cheap" posts like that. I agree with her and was so happy that someone brought this up. But I do think that NPOs need to find a balance between these kinds of posts and serious messages with specific and impactful calls to action (like donating, volunteering, etc.). Although it might not seem to mean much, the act of "liking" a post can have important ripple effects. That post could show up on a friend's Facebook feed and lead them to click on that organizations' page and learn more about their projects. Maybe that friend is someone who actually wants to get more deeply involved and ends up signing up to volunteer for a local initiative. It's not easy to track or measure things like that but leveraging word of mouth and increasing brand visibility is one of the key opportunities that NPOs really need to take advantage of. 

All in all, it was really a lively workshop with a lot of healthy debate and valuable insights to draw from. It was refreshing to see a group of youth critically assess social media and consider ways to make something as seemingly simple as a Facebook posting into a conduit for deeper social engagement. Looking forward to seeing what the YLC gets up to this coming year!

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