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Time to Take a Fresh Look at Mining Your Backlist for Incremental Revenue

Wednesday, April 12, 2017  
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Advances in digital services offer new options for established publishers

If your company’s been in business for more than two decades, you may have more hidden value in your intellectual property than you realize.  Most of the houses who have been publishing since the "good old days" of the pre-digital age have many backlist titles that have not been available to readers for ten, twenty or thirty years.  And while some of the best of the back list is occasionally brought back to life, many publishers still have a wealth of titles where, until recently, a relatively small market potential couldn’t justify the high cost of recovery.  However, with recent advances in digital technology, established publishers are getting a new perspective on the value and viability of bringing back their out-of-print works. 

While the digital printing of books got its start in 1993, it took the introduction of Ingram's Lightning Source division in 1997 to create a meaningful business opportunity for most publishers.  As print-on-demand grew and print engines became more and more efficient (reducing unit costs along the way), many houses began to rethink their print strategies, using POD and short run digital printing to extend the life of their older works.  The “infinite shelf space” and international reach offered by Amazon and other online retailers extended the market for all books far beyond the traditional brick and mortar storefronts.

Seeing the new opportunities, the larger publishers with extensive blacklists undertook a thorough inventory and cost-benefit analysis to determine the viability of using scanning to bring back out-of-print titles.  Some of the savvier smaller houses quickly followed suit, and today POD is a standard practice for just about everyone.

Even though eBooks had been around for a while, the launch of the Amazon Kindle in 2007 (which sold out in just five-and-a-half hours and remained in short supply for the next five months) began the second wave of back list revival.  By 2010, three major competitors, Apple, Nook and Kobo, launched their own eBook stores and, as the market grew, the large trade publishers, with literally hundreds of thousands of backlist titles, undertook even more detailed cost-benefit analyses.  They calculated that they could go even deeper into their backlist to add eBooks versions of titles that were available only as print and to consider bringing back some more out of print titles that had been passed over earlier.

Further advances in digital technology now offer publishers multiple options when evaluating the potential to generate incremental revenue and margin from archival content. For example:

  • Scanning an existing hard copy to create an image-based print file.  This is similar to creating a simple PDF file.  It cannot be used to create an EPUB file, just a simple print file.  It cannot easily be easily modified to update the text.
  • Scanning an existing hard copy with OCR to create an HTML-based file, from which a print file and a fully searchable EPUB can be produced.  Text can be updated as needed.
  • For both of the above options, it is possible to clean up signs of aging in the scanned book. 
  • Creating new print and/or EPUB files from old (pre-InDesign) source files- this can be done from Quark files, PageMaker files, MS-Word files, WordPerfect files, film and even microfiche. 
  • Depending on budget, EPUB files can be image-based, which means non-searchable and with no links. Or they can be HTML-based, with full search functionality and links from the TOC and/or index to the appropriate locations inside the book. MOBI files for Kindle can be produced from the latter, but not from the former.
  • Also depending on budget, EPUB files can be reflowable, meaning you can change the font size in the reader and change the orientation; or they can be fixed layout, which is usually less expensive, but for most books, less user-friendly.
  • Finding the right approach (at the right price) makes all the difference.

At Nord Compo, we have worked extensively with InterVarsity Press and Ligonier Ministries to help them mine their backlist to take advantage of incremental revenue opportunities.  In the case of IVP, at their behest, we created high quality HTML-based EPUBs by scanning some books and using old source files (Quark, Pagemaker) for others. 

What’s the first step?  Start by reaching out to an experienced service provider who will work with you to analyze your backlist and develop a strategy, including a budget and a timeline for bringing your older works back to life.


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This article is sponsored by ECPA business solution provider, Nord Compo. For more information on their discounted services to ECPA members, click here.

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