by Tyler M. Carey, Chief Revenue Officer
It has been longer than I would have liked since I last shared a post-conference blog post. I am glad that NYC’s Digital Book World (DBW), held January 16-18 at the Sheraton on Seventh Avenue, afforded me the opportunity to reconnect in person with many of Westchester’s partners and those of our clients who were able to make the trip to New York for the meeting.
As noted by Lorraine Shanley in her coverage of DBW in MPI’s Publishing Trends newsletter, the attendance was a bit upside down with far more vendor and industry types than publishers, it appeared. That said, the panels presented provided more than a little food for thought on topics ranging from the role of AI in publishing, to how to market books effectively online in the current landscape, to where we’re all headed as an industry.
It was on that latter topic that Margot Atwell, the executive director and publisher of The Feminist Press, provided an insightful session. She revisited a presentation she had shared at London Book Fair in 2019, in which she had identified a number of trend lines in the industry – including equity, consolidation, and the financial health of the industry – and updated her analysis and predictions for 2023. Whether you were representing a vendor, a large publisher, or a start up, her insights on how to foster equity, continue to adapt to a distributed workplace, and navigate the financial and societal challenges in our industry resonated.
Aligned with another one of Westchester’s core principles was the panel on accessibility hosted by Bill Kasdorf, who was a panelist on our September 2022 webinar about accessibility and sustainability. Joining Bill were Michael Johnson from Benetech, Madeleine Rothberg from WGBH, and Richard Orme from the DAISY Consortium. As a Benetech GCA-certified partner, Westchester is keen to help amplify the messaging around not just the needs for accessibility but also the best practices that publishers can adapt into their workflows. Each panelist shared a headline and several discussion points with one another to help further discussion about the needs for publishers to accelerate their adaptation to support readers requiring accessible content. As the coverage of Day 1 of the conference in Publishers Weekly emphasized, Michael Johnson laid out numerous examples of the prevalence within the population of individuals who need or use adaptive technology to consume content. With an estimated 20% of the world’s population having a need, this isn’t a nice to have, it’s a necessity for ensuring as many readers can consume your content as possible.
Bill Kasdorf put perhaps the finest point on the subject by pointing out that due to the European Accessibility Act, if you plan on selling any ePub content in Europe by 2025, that content has to be created accessible or converted to accessibity standards – including backlist content – or it will be illegal to sell within the EU. But, to the point of everyone on the panel, that doesn’t necessarily mean a gigantic investment of resources or a total revision to how you create content. Micromoves internally and with partners can help pick away at the pile quickly and affordably. One key topic that seems to frustrate many publishers is that of alt text. While there are commonly accepted practices, the ‘right’ alt text is not codified the way that say metadata rules might be. As Michael Johnson pointed out, the same image could have different tags depending on its use. An image of the Eiffel Tower in a cookbook about crepes may be ornamental – not relevant to how to make a crepe – so it could just be labeled as “Ornamental” in its alt text entry. In a book about Paris, perhaps a few brief sentences describing the image of the Eiffel Tower would be appropriate. In an engineering book, the Eiffel Tower image might be being used to augment some content about the tensile strength of steel so a different, brief entry would be called for. But in none of these instances is a thoroughly written, revised, and breathtaking narrative called for – alt text entries are there to tell a reader what is in the image, not replace the content that is already in the text that the image is intended to augment. And to Madeleine Rothberg’s point, there is a metadata field called “Accessibility Summary” in each file that allows you to make notations re: pieces that are works in progress, absent, etc., understanding that there will be exceptions and things that may need further attention after initial creation or conversion. We’re all learning new things regarding accessibility – even those of us who are deeply involved in accessibility – and this field serves as a placeholder to indicate where we think something may need to be revisited.
To help us all navigate the world of accessibility, and better plan for the looming EU deadline referenced above, a number of resources were shared by the panel that Bill Kasdorf consolidated here. I highly encourage you to review these resources and share them with any of your team involved in working with authors, editing content, and producing digital files.
Other excellent sessions included Ingram’s presentation about its Ingram iD platform, which allows for direct-to-consumer marketing, sessions from Scribd and Spotify about different revenue models for content distribution, and sessions from AI firms showing how audiobooks and more can benefit from AI.
Westchester’s Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Deb Taylor, attended DBW as well, and provided this commentary about ChatGPT coming out of a session hosted by another vendor in our space.
DBW’s sessions were typically not company/product commercials, although like most conferences, a few did lean that way. When the Trends in Content Creation Using AI and Smart Technology session by PageMajik started, I think most expected it to be a carefully disguised commercial about their services. It turned out to be a micro master class in how to think about AI and, in this case, the “controversial” open source AI, GPT3 (or ChatGPT). Keep in mind, PageMajik wasn’t the only one discussing AI and how it has many places in publishing – we learned about interesting uses of AI in audiobook production workflows, and in the use of synthetic voice, too.
So while ChatGPT has been banned on some school networks due to fear of plagiarism, this session reminded us that this is just technology – clever technology, mind you – but still just technology, and we, as humans can make a choice in terms of how to use and deploy it.
“We can be lazy, or we can be productive. The choice is ours.” And yes, we should be mindful that clever technology like GPT, does need some guardrails so it can be harnessed with positive productivity, not laziness or malintent.
For those who are wondering how ChatGPT can be purposeful in the publishing industry, here are a few thoughts:
1. One potential use case is for content generation, where the model can be trained on a specific topic or writing style, and then used to generate new articles, blog posts, or other written content. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used for editing and proofreading by identifying grammar and style errors in existing text. It can also be used for summarizing long articles or books, creating headlines and summaries for news articles, and even writing personalized responses to readers’ questions or comments. Overall, ChatGPT offers a powerful tool for automating and enhancing various aspects of the publishing process.
2. Another area in the workflow that often requires much back and forth with authors and copyediting teams is the reviewing, checking, and correcting of references and citations. ChatGPT can help with reference citation checking in manuscripts by using natural language processing (NLP) techniques to identify and extract citations from the text. Once the citations have been identified, the model can then compare them to a database of references to ensure that they are accurate and properly formatted. Additionally, ChatGPT can also be trained on specific citation styles, such as MLA or APA, to ensure that the manuscript adheres to the appropriate guidelines. It can also be used to check for missing references or duplicate citations in the manuscript. Overall, ChatGPT can provide a powerful tool for automating the reference citation checking process, which can help to save time and improve the accuracy of the final manuscript.
I’ll leave you with this final disclosure: Both the paragraph on use cases and reference citations were written by ChatGPT, in seconds. Would that be categorized as lazy? No. I believe it was incredibly efficient, however, the best use may be more in the middle. Let ChatGPT be the tool to help you formulate your idea but perhaps not be used verbatim. After all, it’s just technology, and it’s using what it has access to. You still need to validate the information. Try it out for yourself here. And then make sure to ask what its limitations and challenges are.
In general, these new aspects of technology are exciting and ones that we should not be fearful of, but figure out how to use to improve and advance our industry as a whole.
While there was a bit of humor artfully weaved into Book.io’s session, Digital Ownership, NFTs and Revenue Streams for Publishers, there were some interesting things to think about as it relates to the personalized marketing opportunities and the new potential revenue stream that blockchain could offer. eBooks, as we know, are meant to be licenses to the individual to “view, use and display” without any permissions to sell, rent or distribute otherwise. Digital books on the blockchain change that paradigm, and also enable the publisher to experience an ongoing revenue stream from books sold here. Per Book.io, it will increase the intellectual property value of the content. There is also the opportunity for the publisher to direct market the owner since there is more visibility in the digital ownership – think here about gating content with permissions, and even price points to owners vs non-owners. There are efficiencies (multiple languages), interesting design opportunities (different cover designs), unique targeted marketing ideas, and more here. As with all new technology, let’s not dismiss or fear it, but rather let’s get to know and harness it to continue to advance our industry.
Further coverage of DBW 2023 is available in this post from Publishing Perspectives that provides thorough coverage of keynote speaker Karine Pansa’s presentation about her mandate and expectations for her term heading the International Publishers Association, as well as this article from Publishers Weekly highlighting information for publishing start ups.
As always, US employee-owned Westchester Publishing Services is keen to learn more about which portions of your book production workflow you are navigating, in the hope that we can help. Over 500 publishers rely on Westchester for services ranging from manuscript preparation to editorial services to quality, on-time printer file production and accessibility remediation. Contact us today to talk about your publications and how we can help.