Help me keep helping people tell stories
October 15, 2012 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I work at a publisher, in the production part of the business. I organise editors, designers and projects on the one side of things; printers, print runs and shipping on the other. It's clear to me that at least one half of these activities will soon diminish greatly, as paper publishing winds down and web / ebooks take over. So: What skills and talents do I need to develop to keep helping people produce and share content in the future?

I'm happy for this question to be kept as open as possible. A few vague examples that come to mind:

- If you work on websites, what basic standards / languages / things I don't currently even have a clear concept of should I be familiarising myself with?

- If you're in a project management / organisation-type role in a company that produces content online, what does your day-to-day involve? What software and systems do you use?

- If you *produce* content online, writer/blogger/cartoonist/photographer/whatever, what do the people who make the cogs run do for you? What do you *wish* they would do for you?

Thanks in advance; I'm happy to come back in and clarify anything you like.
posted by ominous_paws to Work & Money (8 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I have a very small amount of experience with publishing, but now work in software, where a set of practices and tools for managing change in code have existed for decades, but have lately been accelerating and standardizing in many ways. It seems clear to me that a lot of the workflow developing here will eventually extend itself into other domains. If you can hack all the terminology-laden nerdery, learning git and GitHub or one of its relatives would probably be well worth your time.
posted by brennen at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2012

This may not directly answer your question but is meant to assuage your fears - for the most part, print publishing isn't going anywhere. Unless you work for a technical publishers like Springer, your company will keep printing books. In fact there will be even more of a need to keep those things organized, since the giant print-runs of yesterday are over.

That said I would check places like the Publisher's Lunch job board and see what kinds of skills/technology are in the job descriptions.
posted by lyssabee at 11:13 AM on October 15, 2012

I have worked in digital information for over 15 years. I'm currently working on a digital publishing venture. I've worked for a blue chip publishing company too. The company I worked for was taking the hard step to eliminating paper.

First up - without knowing exactly what type of publishing you do it is hard to give an exact answer.

The single most important skill you need to foster is that your team recognise that future publishing is not just a case of taking hard copy to digital. We can talk about software platforms, content aggregation, HTML skills, design, UI, understanding the bewildering range of browsers and devices, development and software integration and so forth, but the classic mistake many publishers are making is just to digitise their operations, incur some short term costs and typically larger economies and then pat themselves on the back.

Getting rid of paper is a phase 1 process and can mask what really needs to be done, which is to take a much harder look at the business model and what the content model should be, and therefore what the impact is on production.

For example - if you work in a business that produced a newsletter, you go digital. You still produce your newsletter online every week. You still take adverts based on space, but they are digital. You put your content behind a paywall and subscriptions migrate online, probably with a dual print/online overlap for a time. This is a sticking plaster, IMHO. It fundamentally mistakes the speed of disruption and the commoditisation of huge tracts of the publishing space - news, opinion, reference, directories, niche trade, data aggregation amongst others.

You need to get your team to think about what the existing and future iterations of digital publishing look like - specifically what how your clients'/consumers' expectations have changed around issues such as:

- speed to market (of the information)/publishing schedules,
- content management,
- preferred media (i.e. text, visuals, video etc),
- use and integration of social media,
- integration with their own systems and devices (for corporates, things like their access management, information systems, devices; for consumers it's more about how and where they consume)
- translation and/or non-English content
- where your money is coming from and where it should come from - for lots of publishers the question is go behind a paywall, go freemium, or go advertising led.

Take Lonely Planet, for example - currently patting itself on the back for returning to profit on the back of a successful print-to-digital business model transition (although it still sells print titles)... but has it really embraced digital fully to the extent of limiting its exposure to disruption? No. Not IMHO. Still got a dog's dinner of a website and it's trying to be wikipedia, TripAdvisor and travel agent but excelling at none of them. It's done an interim job of taking publishing assets digital but could and should be doing a hell of a lot more to integrate its knowledge assets into a coherent offering, and should be learning much more about its customers.

So, in answer to your question: think through your strategy options first and think about some of the skills second - particularly when it comes down to committing to platforms and technical stuff. What you will probably find if you're like every other publisher is that you'll face a lot of organisational resistance and resentment - paying for the changes you need to make may well involve letting people go - and for the ones that remain their skills may attract a higher or lower premium: not in my direct business, but an example I've seen is a lot of journalists have to retrain heavily in things like data analysis. Their old research skills were still valuable, but often the story needed to be dug up from data rather than coaxed from a source.

In short: before you get your team to embrace the skills they need for the journey, tell them where they're going.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:36 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here's a very good intro to web usability, which will form the basis of anything you will do on the web.
posted by wolfr at 11:42 AM on October 15, 2012

I am a PM for a video CMS platform. The company I work for is more of a 'middleman' than a CDN like Akamai. Stuff I use daily at work includes

-REST queries (and sometimes SOAP if I have to dive into legacy systems)
-so much XML, not so much HTML (because I am dealing with data packages moving around, not site building)
-so much arcane knowledge of DRM

...all of these things will be useful for a wide range of 'big' back end web systems. Or web dev involving the use of an API. publishing can mean so many things, like MuffinMan says above, it's kind of a difficult question to answer without knowing more about what the model will be.

something that will ALWAYS be useful, though, is the ability to talk to both the technical and the non-technical teams. Gold stars for being able to talk to the customer too! People who can keep all the parties talking and keep the customer from freaking out are valuable in every industry.
posted by par court at 12:12 PM on October 15, 2012

As it was asked: I'm currently in Children's trade publishing, but am pretty flex about where I'd end up. Some really excellent stuff so far - thanks!
posted by ominous_paws at 1:34 PM on October 15, 2012

This may not directly answer your question but is meant to assuage your fears - for the most part, print publishing isn't going anywhere. L

This. One of my first jobs out of college was also as a book producer at one of the major publishing houses in New York. There was always talk of "the day when books are no longer printed—and what are we going to do." This was almost 15 years ago.
posted by violetk at 1:28 AM on October 16, 2012

Look up instructional design, e-learning. A lot of publishers are getting involved in this side of things as well as a service for educational institutions.
posted by ejaned8 at 10:17 AM on October 16, 2012

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