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Paving the Way for E-books: How Embracing the SaaS Model for Publishers Can Increase Profits and Foster Reader Loyalty

Posted by Josh Wilkie ,
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I want you to close your eyes for a moment and visualize our modern world of entertainment — mobile phones and laptops, every piece of information and social connection only a click away. And sometimes, amazingly enough, they’re only one voice command away.

Now, replace those miraculous gadgets with typewriters and paper. Or better yet, replace those typewriters with the Gutenberg press. Why stop there? Let’s whip out our quill pens and ink bottles. Are we done yet? Not even close. We’re going to regress back to a time of stone tablets and chisels … all the way to the advent of human language, right after our evolution out of grunting.

We’ve come a long way haven’t we? For every one of these revolutionary developments, a few brave souls embraced change and the rest followed. Improvement in human communication and storytelling was inevitable.

Today, we’re at a similar intersection of change — the publishing industry wants to leverage the opportunity in digital, but the domain is dominated by uncertainty, fear and apprehension. Why is that? It’s a combination of a lack of technological know-how, the unknown variables of moving to a foreign toolset, an ever-evolving market landscape and, above all else, monetary cost.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A now ubiquitous technology — that’s been a staple in the tech sector for years — can actually launch publishing into its next phase. This hero is called Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and its robust components can be exploited to its fullest extent — allowing publishers to succeed in multiple arenas:

· Low upfront costs and maintenance

· Incubation and scaling of a loyal community

· Ability to push on-the-fly new editions

· Flexible monetization strategies (pay per unit, bundles or subscription)

· Gain reader and content consumer insight

Understanding how each component can work in the context of e-books is fundamental to the success of any publishing entity that would choose to integrate a new solution into their current workflow. Just staying abreast of what’s possible in tech can sometimes be an overwhelming task as the advances in information systems grow exponentially by the day.

My goal over the next several weeks is to shed some light on the elusive — and sometimes “magical” — world of cloud computing through a series of articles focusing on SaaS technology platform. Talking specifically in the context of e-book publishing, I’ll go through examples of publishers already leveraging the platform to distribute their reading content direct-to-consumer and open up some insight and learnings that have contributed directly to their success in the domain.

Today — let’s cut to the quick, and talk money.

Low Upfront Costs and Maintenance

The biggest bane and obstacle to any technology embrace is cost — money, labor, and time. The three are the lifeblood of any business, and one can never have enough of any one of them.

Technology solutions usually entail the purchases of new hardware and software; extra space for new equipment; talent to support tools; and downtime for your content creators to learn how to do things the “new” way.

Even in the most ideal of situations (hardware and software have become exponentially cheaper year-after-year; and creatives are akin to adapt to changing times for their respective mediums), there’s still the daunting task of hiring and retaining a technology support staff.

There’s already high competition for IT talent. It’s currently a near impossibility to hire someone with both technical skills and a firm understanding of a specific business domain. If an employer is lucky enough to find this “unicorn,” they should also be prepared to pay a premium. Then there’s also the reality of not having this rare, mythical creature be poached by other organizations offering a better deal.

Yes, starting your own technology department to embark on an odyssey of better tools and sleek content creation is difficult. However, if you know the tricks-of-the-trade, moving your publishing business beyond the demands of the 21st century is actually quite simple.

This is where SaaS becomes the “genie in a bottle” — granting the wishes of companies that want a cheap, quick way to empower their staff and modernize their processes. Requiring only a machine — something standard in every office environment today — to access the internet, companies and their content creators will have the latest tools and 24/7 support at their fingertips.

That sounds like a fantastic marketing spiel, but it’s reality — and it’s a reality that’s been embraced for quite a while in the technology sector. SaaS models allow for subscription-based access and no hardware or software infrastructure maintenance. Most of all, it’s cheap and ready at any time. No extra staff overhead or expensive equipment to purchase.

This allows publishing houses the freedom to focus on their original goals — create compelling content for mass consumption. The low barrier to entry and segregation of content from technology implementation allows publishers to concentrate on their core competence and stay ahead of the game for their respective audiences.

The low upfront costs were one of the foundational reasons why major comic publisher and early-mover on SaaS, IDW Publishing, jumped on-board and has yet to look back. They currently publish 5 separate mobile apps in the iOS and Android app stores, powered by the service model.

“IDW was the first major comic publisher to bring comics to apps and first in app purchase comic apps”, Jeff Webber, IDW Publishing’s Vice President of Licensing, Digital and Subsidiary Rights, adds. ”Over the years, we’ve worked with many technology models, from in-house development to white label integration with other app storefronts. We then turned to a SaaS solution with Madefire. This gives IDW complete control of our product merchandising, while keeping us at the forefront of the latest app development techniques.”

The strategy of establishing 5 separate, yet unified, routes to a broad digital consumer base has been a tremendous success for their e-book business — branding 4 of the 5 apps around highly recognizable franchisesTransformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek and My Little Pony. Thanks to the low initial costs to be in market, IDW has been able to embrace new digital media trends and open up new opportunities in a growing market. In their case, specifically shaping their brand strategy around organic search and discovery in regards to their native mobile apps (iOS App Store and Google Play Store) allows them to leverage the established characters and trusted brands as a mechanism for building new and younger audiences.



Going further — IDW’s approach to publishing direct-to-consumer through multiple channels has not only proven itself a positive revenue generator all around; but also — and increasingly more important by the day — a robust tool to establish and grow their own community. This trust-by-association proves invaluable in the case of a new customer that may have never heard of the publisher’s brand, or even knew that comics around these characters existed, yet encountered them through a My Little Pony or Transformers experience online and later became an IDW fan for life.

I plan to touch more on the topic of community and brand loyalty/trust in next week’s post and highlight some of the modern features of SaaS that can be used to facilitate the business-to-consumer “conversation” — now increasingly necessary in our mobile world.

Josh Wilkie is the current Director of Business Development at the digital publishing platform Madefire in Emeryville, CA.

Twitter — @wilks123

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