Publishing is going through a rapid and jarring change not seen since the introduction of the printing press. In all areas of the industry—from trade publishing to educational publishing— everything about the business is changing, from how we source, edit, and monetize content, to who the immediate customers are.

The good news is that this is a change, and not a terminal disease. For us to properly navigate this change, we must adapt and develop a new toolset. This new landscape will require that workers in all aspects of the business pick up new skills.

Skills Required for Business

The technological revolution extends well past the development and introduction of ebooks. For publishers to survive in today’s business landscape they will need to adopt new lines of revenue, additional tracking, and much deeper data analysis. Publishing has often been an industry in which many books do not earn out their advances, and in which publishers make their profits on a few blockbusters. Through increased competition and reduced price points, such a model will not be able to exist.

Publishers can reduce their misses and increase their hits by becoming increasingly data driven. Business analysts will need to learn how to map Google trends with sales of genre-specific books. Publishers will need to create daily pulse reports to identify press and social media trends and capitalize on them before it is too late.

Spreadsheet mastery is a must. Data sets will be large, and businesses large enough will want to have a database person on staff to help generate reports and analyze data. Competence with Google Analytics (or any other web-stats gathering software) is also a requirement for anyone in marketing, online or off. Simply being able to look at a basic traffic report is not enough either; these users will have to know how to create multistep goals, determine dropoff points, and create A/B split tests. The competitive landscape has reduced publishers’ abilities to leave money on the table, and they will need to do all in their power to optimize the purchase experience.

Landing page creation will be core to creating an online presence. While marketers may not need to write HTML and CSS themselves, they will need to be familiar with the tools that create them. Photoshop and layout/design skills are at the base of all these.

Publishers will need to learn to be masters of customer engagement. Through social media, cultivated communities, and customer service, publishers will need to build and use the tools to track customer satisfaction and customer engagement to determine how that leads to repeat purchases.

Skills Required for Digital Production

For most publishers, digital production is taking a finalized print file (in InDesign, Quark, or some word processing document) and turning it into an ebook that looks good on a bunch of different ereader devices. This works for now, but will not be enough in the future. As better and newer workflows emerge, creating these facsimile digital products will be straightforward, but for books that go beyond just text, a facsimile conversion will not be enough.

Digital Production Specialists will be required to know HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript. There will be quite a few development and design tools, but production specialists will do well learning how to use an IDE as well as the multitude of creation tools.

When it comes to CSS, Digital Production Specialists will be required to learn the nuances of responsive design, graceful degradation, and which platforms support which advanced features. Additionally, they will need to learn how to create content that is fully accessible and makes use of media overlays.

Interactive developers and designers will benefit from learning the common open source Javascript frameworks like jQuery, prototype, mooTools, Backbone.js, and any other framework that pops up. These will reduce development time and increase reusability.

Changes to the Organization

One of the biggest and most difficult changes for a publisher is an organizational change. The roles required and organizational structures of most modern publishers will not suffice in this new landscape. Digital production can no longer be a small subdivision of the production staff. To create new and value-add digital products you need to create reusable frameworks, which requires a staff of technical people. Additionally, development of a digital book should begin well before the print book design has been finalized—especially in the case of a complex enhanced digital version.

Along with adding a digital team, the engagement and customer insight teams will need to grow. At many small and medium-sized publishers, the entire social media division is a single person. The role, and metrics, around social media, customer insight, and customer service will grow—especially if an organization begins to sell direct. These teams will need extended resources to grow and serve the market appropriately.

A Note About Software

There are software solutions out now that won’t be around in a few years. Inversely there is software not yet on the market today that will be a powerhouse in the years to come. Avoid specific software solutions when possible as you develop your core skills.

What Now?

Build a top-down strategy and then an education plan. The senior management needs to have a vision. Will interactivity be part of your product? How will social networking feed editorial? These big decisions need to be made first and foremost. Once the vision is clear, take an audit of existing skills. From there, the endpoint and skill gap will be clear.

Once you know what skills you need, you can either hire workers who already posess those skills or you can train your existing workforce so they acquire those skills (or any hybrid of the two). Learning is amplified when there is purpose, and what better purpose than working toward a vision?


Nick Ruffilo (@NickRuffilo) is the Chief Technology Officer of aerbook and founder of ZenOfTechnology.com.