Desk with glasses resting on a laptop with a vase of pink flowers to the side.

How Technology Improves the Publishing Business

Steve Jobs in 1990

There’s something more going on, there’s another side of the coin that we don’t talk about much. We experience it when there’s gaps. When everything’s not ordered and perfect, when there’s kind of a gap you experience this in-rush of something. It’s the same thing that wants people to be poets instead of bankers. I think that same spirit can be put into products.

Hardware to Software to Market Trends

Industries change when technology improves and when gaps are filled. Publishing is no different. From ’80s desktop hardware to the overwhelming number of apps and sites today, innovation isn’t slowing down. To be a successful business, a publisher needs to keep up to date.

Our current audiobook situation is the best example of innovative technology changing the publishing industry. Technology has allowed the average global citizen to carry a library of audiobooks on their phone, and according to Forbes they are the fastest growing sector of the publishing industry: “US publishers reported audiobook sales in 2018 that totaled $940 million.” Hindsight allows publishers to see what’s on the horizon. We can’t be scared of the ones and zeros.

DTP: Hardware that Streamlined Publishing

Desktop publishing, or DTP, reinvented the day-to-day work of a publisher. Before Apple Macintosh (1984), Hewlett-Packard’s LaserJet printer (’84), Adobe’s PostScript (’85), or PageMaker (’85), publishers used typewriters, hired career typesetters, and even managed entire type shops despite their additional overhead. Layout and design on a computer took years off lives. Being able to print galleys at the office saved time and resources. Publishers didn’t cut and tape paper to print images and words on the same page. DTP meant publishers could create a printable document and have ten copies of it in one sitting. That’s something we all have today and it has improved alongside digital communication efficiency.

Task Managers: Software that Improved Publisher’s Communication

Every business is run through the internet by increasingly updated software. Many modern companies rely on the internet to promote their stories, often through apps that manage their tasks and information—task management software. A team proficient in Mailchimp, Trello, Monday.com, Hootsuite, or Slack has a better chance of succeeding.

Today, teams can be spread out in varied time zones and countries. Freelancers are more prevalent with sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and PeoplePerHour. Teams with members spread out across the globe make video chats less practical and miscommunications more costly because they can take hours of emailing and waiting. Hootsuite allows an account holder to schedule social media posts and Trello makes it easier to move projects from team to team. Learning to use these systems can feel like a time suck, but with a dedicated team a press will benefit as much as the first press to take a risk on desktop publishing products.

Where to Look

Hindsight only takes you so far. With AI, changes in metadata management, SEO, personal data mining, ad blockers, and increased voice searching, all potential influences on the industry looking forward can be overwhelming. There are some projects out there worth paying attention to.

Technology for Publishing has a Publishing Innovations newsletter that compiles articles touching on everything listed above. It’s worth checking for news about multimedia conglomerate buys and the Big Five if you don’t already get that from Publishers Weekly and the Bookseller.

In November 2019, a new browser called Brave launched it’s 1.0 stable version. Brave Software was founded in 2015 by Brendan Eich (creator of JavaScript and former CEO of Mozilla FireFox) The browser is working to solve the problem of ad blockers, which are so widely used no business can trust that their ads are being seen. Brave pays users to view ads, incentivising digital publishers, advertisers, and anyone off the street to use the browser. At launch they had eight million monthly active users. A month later they had ten million. Innovations like Brave have the potential to change the way publishers advertise. They are one example of what to keep your eye on as a publisher.

If you want to outsource your digital work, you could reach out to Publishing Technology Partners and search for articles with their names. I’ve found timely articles by all four partners on Publishers Weekly.

Whatever changes, we know from history that technology will play a large part. Spending the time to learn new technology will allow publishers to work smarter, instead of harder.

What’s All the Hullabaloo?: A Perspective on Trigger Warnings

We at Ooligan press are incredibly excited about the recent release of The Gifts We Keep by Katie Grindeland. This is the book my project team has worked to publish. It’s set in the Lake Oswego, Oregon, area and follows various members of a family struggling to deal with their grief over past tragedy. The book struggles with topics of mental health, sexuality, family dynamics, and suicide. As our team has worked to bring this beautifully and deliberately conceived piece of fiction into the world, we have wondered what readers will take away from the novel; what they’ll enjoy; and how they’ll feel about what happens. Every person bringing a story to life wonders how the audience will react, but do they all think of the possibility of a bad reaction to their work? I don’t mean a bad reaction like, “Gross, I hated it.” I mean a reaction like, “This brought back traumatic memories or thoughts in a way that affected my mental and emotional health.” Do we, the storytellers, have a responsibility to warn our audience about subject matter that could cause that kind of distress?
That’s right. I’m talking about trigger warnings.
What is a trigger warning? What does it do? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a trigger warning is “a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content).”
Trigger warnings have been surrounded by a lot of controversy as they’ve been adopted by various institutions and media. Much of this controversy has approached trigger warnings as an example of political correctness run rampant, such as the widely read Atlantic cover story “The Coddling of the American Mind” or the Vox story “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me.” These responses see trigger warnings as a tool for people to use to avoid ideas and values that they don’t agree with and demonize them as a form of censorship.
According to the article “A Short History of Trigger Warnings” by Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology at the University of Melbourne, the concept of a trigger warning has evolved from its original intention, which was to protect vulnerable people who have experienced trauma, such as violence or sexual abuse, from material that might trigger intrusive thoughts and flashbacks that they quite literally have no control over. He claims the concept of a trigger warning has expanded to anything that might cause offense, disgust, or feelings of discomfort, such as “vomit, spiders and insects, slimy things, food, eye contact, pregnancy.” Whether material like that requires a trigger warning is a debate for someone else another time. However, it’s important to remember what and who trigger warnings existed for in the first place—people who have experienced trauma or mental illness for whom being unexpectedly confronted with certain materials may put them in danger of a harmful psychological response that they are not in control of. The issue is one of accessibility. To someone who has not experienced trauma or mental illness, a quick note before a movie or in the front matter of a book stating that viewers should be aware of sensitive material may be an annoyance, but to someone who has, that warning could, figuratively or literally, be a lifesaver. It allows someone who might be affected by the material to either prepare themselves or remove themselves from the situation. Is the minor inconvenience to one group more important than the well-being of the other?
I hope that readers of The Gifts We Keep by Katie Grindeland appreciate the elegance of the writing, the nuance of the characters, and the effective use of atmosphere. I also hope that our readers have the opportunity to enjoy this and other works we produce in a safe and informed way. And I, personally, don’t mind a little inconvenience if I can help make that happen.