For this week’s BookBrunch interview, I spoke with Ed Marino, Executive Chairman and codeMantra about publishing’s very technological future and the benefits of real collaboration. For the full article, visit the BookBrunch website, or get started with the excerpt below…
There have been a lot of claims over the past year that digital sales are down and print is on the rise, but according to Ed Marino, Chief Executive and part-owner of service provider codeMantra, publishing’s phase of uncertainty is far from over. In our trans-Atlantic chat, we discuss the definition of true collaboration, the role of service providers in the industry, and our very technological future.
Marino came on board with codeMantra in February 2014, after he and a group of colleagues acquired the business. In his classic US accent, Marino describes it as “a technology-enabled services company” that offers content production and software platform services to major publishers, primarily in the STM and Academic space.
Their services range from manuscript composition to printing and digital formatting, alongside a publishers’ services platform that includes workflow management, storing and distribution of content. What’s more, the platform is stable and had already been in the market for ten years before Marino and he colleagues came on board.
Every industry needs its service providers but things are moving particularly fast for publishing right now, making the need even greater. “It’s not possible for publishers to keep up with technology because their job is to acquire and market content,” says Marino. “A lot of the things that are done back-office should be done by service providers because it’s a much more efficient model for the publisher.”
As such, there is an increasing dependency on service providers across the industry and many operations that used to be performed in-house are now done externally. However, says Marino, with the transition towards digital, a lot of service providers have also had to fill in gaps to provide technology services that publishers simply didn’t need in the past.
“Digital has changed everything!” Marino says. “As the industry has evolved and become even more dependent on digital, we’ve seen an explosion in the complexity of content, not only in its preparation but in its delivery as well. For example, the range of metadata that’s required to manage even a small number of assets is enormous. It can no longer be done manually, you need technology to really help you with this.”
How soon is now
Using automation, codeMantra has managed to significantly speed up the content creation process, in line with the expectations for instant delivery that digital has brought about. “There is no long cycle to producing and delivering content any more,” Marino says, “everything is on demand.”
Though some have expressed fears that these new digital requirements are squeezing traditional publishers out of the game, Marino remains adamant this is not the case. “Service providers just allow publishers to think about their businesses differently,” he says. “What we’re talking about is not unprecedented and it’s not a negative for the publisher, it can be a positive! Just like any other business, publishers need to think about how best to distribute their resources and one of the ways to do that is to find the most capable service providers you can, so you can deploy a model that allows you to be as efficient and concentrated on your core competencies as possible.”
Others have cited concerns that contracting in service providers instead of keeping skills in-house could contribute to the industry’s ‘skill drain’. Marino disagrees with this and indeed he hopes that these skills are not transferring from publishers over to service providers. “That would just be reshuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. It doesn’t really change anything.” What service providers should offer are new skills the industry desperately needs.
Think global, go global
CodeMantra prides itself on being a very international business, with large operations in India, the US and the UK. That global reach is increasingly important: according to Marino, it’s no longer a case of if you need to reach everyone, it’s when and how. “It’s now a global market, there’s no question about it, so a global delivery and services model is what you need to compete.” Businesses should set themselves up internationally and globally from the start, he asserts.
“Technology is part of what makes the world smaller. You have to be independent of where the publisher, customer, or even author are located,” he continues, saying that the right communications model can broaden you reach enormously. Though codeMantra has a large permanent staff in Asia, North American and Europe, it also brings in freelancers around the world for specialised participation. This potential for localised communication is just as key to a successful business.
It isn’t just communication with customers that’s key, but also between businesses. Marino says the classic vendor-client relationship, where a company hired a services provider to do specific jobs then broke ties, needs to be replaced with the more collaborative strategic alliance.
“Client-vendor relationships work in areas where you don’t have some major challenge which you have to overcome,” he said, “but today those problems and challenges do exist in the publishing world.” He cites Lightning Source as an example of a product that “was never going to work” with just one company trying to create it.”
“Alliances work in areas where you need to make a quantum leap of some type,” he says. “It’s a passion for us. We do believe that in many cases publishers are far better off if they become closer to their service providers through an alliance rather than a classic vendor-client relationship.”
Though communication is key to these relationships, the right kind of engagement is just as important. Businesses in alliance need to be talking to each other productively at every level, from the ground to the executives. “What that means from a service provider’s standpoint is that you can’t have hundreds and thousands of relationships out there,” says Marino. “You have to choose the customers that are best for your model and that allows you to participate with that client and engage with them meaningfully…”[READ MORE]