“Gray Publishing” Disappears as Barriers to Entry Fall

A clear boundary used to exist between publishing houses and everyone else–government agencies, not-for-profits, schools, corporations, and membership organizations. These “gray publishers” produce books, booklets, pamphlets, three-ring binders of conference proceedings and the like, usually given away and not for sale in bookstores. Books published by traditional publishers like Simon & Schuster and Random House generate higher expectations. Their reputation rests in large part on the editorial and production processes behind them. The book-buying public expects a certain level of quality or truth from mainstream publishers, and trust that their content has been carefully selected and authenticated during the publishing process. The Internet blurs this boundary between “traditional” and “gray.”

Our industry used to have a high barrier to entry, requiring large investment in trained staff, typesetting and printing equipment, and warehousing. Traditional publishers had a lock on production, manufacturing, and distribution. As a result, they controlled access to the global market of readers. But today’s global service economy, powered by digitized and distributed editorial and production processes, enjoys largely unrestricted market access. Today, thanks to the Internet, launching a state-of-the-art publishing company can take a few weeks, for a relatively low capital investment.

For example, in January we helped our client, a research-based, global healthcare organization — a typical “gray” publisher in yesteryear’s terms, serving a small niche, operating in relative obscurity outside of their discipline — develop a 2008 Action Plan for an online portal from which to publish their content in multiple languages and formats to a global market.

Instead of continuing to distribute content to customers in Word files behind the scenes, they can now brand and publish their content worldwide, adopting industry-standard publishing processes to offer custom-made books to all who want them. They plan to contract for professional publishing services to do the work that has been done by their volunteers over the years — translating, editing, typesetting and design. Additionally, we identified a few key strategic partners for Print on Demand, e-commerce, sales, marketing, warehousing and distribution services, giving them a global presence with ability to ship books in Europe, Asia, and North America. The Internet-based portal software we selected allows customers to browse or purchase branded content, either as existing books or as custom publications. Barriers to entry? Remarkably low, and achievable in a very short amount of time, for a budget comfortable to a nonprofit.

With this new mainstream publishing system, here are some benefits our client expects to enjoy:

  • Maintain control of their intellectual property
  • Monetize content
  • Offer their audience content tailored to its needs
  • Facilitate a global community of users through one portal
  • Free up their researcher staff to focus on the core mission instead of publishing services
  • Low-investment, low-risk access to a complete publishing infrastructure

Thanks to the Internet, plans for this virtual publishing operation were accomplished almost overnight, relying on our known and trusted network of resources and vendors. A breathtaking leap that would have been impossible as little as five years ago!

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