knk recently interviewed publishing consultant, Bill Rosenblatt as part of knk’s continuing series of interviews with thought leaders serving the book publishing industry and its supporting communities. Mr. Rosenblatt is a globally recognized authority on intellectual property and technology issues in the digital age. Bill’s breadth of experience on matters of intellectual property and technology extends well beyond the challenges facing book publishers.  

We asked Bill what he regarded as the most significant challenges currently being faced by content industries today, and he observed that generally, there has not yet been sufficient pain to cause publishers to make real changes to their business models. He offered the music industry as an illustration, where severe pain led to enormous innovation.  “The publishing industry hasn’t done enough to counteract the forces that have disrupted the way the industry operates”. Music converted to access-based services like Spotify while, for example, trade publishing hasn’t been willing to undertake the changes to restructure author contracts that would be necessary to support business models other than standard retail.   

In stark contrastHigher Education publishing is undergoing major changeswith more likely to follow. That’s because the traditional business model isn’t working anymore and publishers are losing money, a fact borne out by recently published statistics from the Student  Monitor (read more here). Significant pain increases the tolerance for greater risk and innovation.   

Talking specifically about rights and royaltiesMr. Rosenblatt believes the biggest challenge is understanding the business case for improved processes.  Rights management in the Internet age is an ongoing challenge. Rights and Royalties are still being treated as back office clerical functions rather than top line opportunities”.  Bill sits on the BISG Rights Committee and speaks with many publishers; he says it’s challenging to get senior management to focus on the measurable ROI from improving the way rights and royalties are managed, particularly on the revenue sideOnce a publisher has understood the business case, they need to consider what changes they need to make to the organization chart, processes and systems, to enable those opportunities that cannot be realized with the current technology and infrastructure.  Only then does it make sense for publishers to implement standards and taxonomy among the different entities in the value chain 

This led us to a discussion of the most significant unrealized Investment opportunities in rights and royalties – the proverbial “low hanging fruit.  What Mr. Rosenblatt sees in his business are most often requests for increased operational efficiencies. Bill is frequently asked, “Can you help us find a new (fill in the blanksystem.  But it’s always about increasing efficiency and rarely about new lines of revenue  streamlining what’s there and not doing the big, bold, and innovative things.   

Mr. Rosenblatt believes that streaming audio is emerging as a significant area of opportunity for publishersHe sees lots of startups and some big names like Spotify and Audible investing in their own spoken-word audio content.  And this interest is only just begun. 

He predicts the audio revolution will be big in most publishing segments (with the possible exception of STM).  20 years ago, there were just two ways of consuming audio – one was radio and one was vinyl or CD.  The ondemand music model changed all that and eventually caused a huge shift in consumer behavior. Bill sees much the same thing happening with spokenword audio on demand. Podcasting, smart speakers and the mainstream smartphone will enable the broad penetration of all kinds of audio content. And it’s likely there will be a big market for spoken word audio that consumers will pay for rather than free with ads. 

Mr. Rosenblatt adds that licensing issues for spoken-word content is the subject of one of the sessions at his Copyright and Technology conference in NYC (copyrightandtechconf.com), on January 15. “Podcasting in particular has been a Wild West, with just about everyone distributing their podcasts wherever they can without worrying about licensing,” he says. “Compare that with the tightly controlled, heavily licensed world of audiobooks. I think we’re at the beginning of a major change in the way spoken word audio is treated as a licensing opportunity, and we discuss that at the conference.” 

We moved on to discussing the next thing in technology for Rights and Royalties.  Bill believes that  automation is something that a big part of the industry is looking at and no one has got very far.  There are good systems out there, but in general they don’t deal with how you communicate across the value chain.  Again, he points to the music industry as the leader here. They’re at least a couple years ahead. That’s not necessarily because they are smarter; it’s because they have simple units of commerce that everyone agrees on, even across geographies: songs, recordings, albums. Publishers cant agree on what a chapter is.  Its difficult to license something that we cant agree on.  There is very little standard terminology in books.  Can a professor put together content from modules from multiple publishers Not easily.  Rights issues and system difficulties all follow on from that.     

Finally, we asked about the potential application of blockchain in publishing systems, as Mr. Rosenblatt is an expert in the use of blockchain technology.  His first comment was, “It will be a while coming”.  Areas where apps may be useful are in rights and royalties, ebook sales, general supply chain management tracking, and in piracy trackandtrace applications. Block-chain is already seeing significant adoption in the general supply chain world outside of publishing (e.g. the Walmart app to isolate the origin of tainted greens after a national scare, which cut the time it took to isolate the source of the problem from days down to minutes).  He believes that it needs to be proven in other industries first.  Publishing is just not there yet. 

Bill Rosenblatt is President of GiantSteps Media Strategies, (https://giantstepssmts.comsuccessful management consultancy focused on the content industries.  Bill has over 20 years experience in media consulting, and prior to that was an IT exec at Mc-Graw-Hill and Times-Mirror, and a software engineer at Motorola.  He is the Program Chair and co-producer of the annual Copyright and Technology conferences (copyrightandtechconf.com), author of the blog Copyright and Technology (copyrightandtechnology.com), and a contributor to ForbesHe holds a BSE in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Princeton, an MS from University of Massachusetts and is a member of BISG, the Copyright Society of USA and The Open Music Initiative. 

knk Software is a software solutions provider solely focused on the publishing and media industry with about 450 clients on three continents. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash