Most publishing companies have one of those folks on staff who is intimate with the content. Someone who knows all the images that were used in a previous edition or which drug monographs couldn't fit into the printed product in time for publication. I used to be one of those people..ask me the ghost words embedded in Tabers' Cyclopedic Dictionary, 18th edition*. Even with a photographic memory, today's proliferation of content makes this skill nearly impossible. I also like to bring up the lottery scenario risk: "what happens if Jim in Production wins the lottery and all that knowledge leaves your organization?"
To effectively manage content, organizations need a handle on what they have. Publishers using a Word document system simply can't be agile in today's environment. Think about a document sitting on some file server, with all its attendant assets—images, charts, chapters and paragraphs—buried within it, and the only way to know what content is in there is for someone in your organization to remember that it’s there.
Without enriching your assets with metadata and storing them in a repository that allows you to search and find content relating to a specific topic—say, tennis elbow or the Higgs boson—you could be duplicating work recreating assets you already own, wasting time searching for those assets, and missing huge revenue opportunities to sell content granularly as a custom bundle or a focused derivative e-product.
At this year’s MarkLogic World conference, Nature Publishing Group (an RSuite CMS customer) presented an explanation of how they support what I would call ‘virtual journals’. There are very specific segments of the scientific world that would not possibly justify the creation of a full-blown journal, but when you start to realize, ‘Hey, we have this very large repository of existing journals with some articles across all of them that appeal to this market, and if we gather these articles up from all these other journals, we’ve got enough content to be of interest to this marketplace.’ Suddenly you have the option to create an online-only product (for example) with very low internal costs that is of specific interest to this niche market that previously was too small to be worth going after. It’s a long-tail concept but without applying metadata consistently and systematically this simply couldn't happen.
Metadata isn't magic and it really isn't all that complicated---you need the proper tools, workflow, and people in your organization. And once you have that set up, the fun begins---new product development, automated distribution to new licensing channels, multi-channel output.
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*While I no longer work at that publishing company, I won't ever tell!