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"Highlights from FBF 2023"

The State of Automation — Part 2


Two weeks ago, we published the first blog in our The State of Automation series, which looked at what the experts are saying about automation and how it is likely to impact the job market, specifically putting the creative industries under the spotlight. This week we delve into how automation might affect those who work in the publishing industry, asking key questions such as: which roles could be most under threat? In what ways will automation likely help us or hinder us? And will it replace certain functions and tasks?

Many high-profile sources have proclaimed that the creative industries are among the safest sectors when it comes to the very real threat posed by automation. But that does not necessarily mean that we all have a hall pass and our jobs will be secure for life. The big differentiator here is that a “creative industries worker” is not the same thing as a “creative type”. While the latter will be far less likely to be replaced by bots, by contrast the former is just as likely as the next person to see their role affected by automation in the future in some shape or form.

Automation in publishing

The truth is we don’t know exactly how and when automation will transform certain aspects of publishing. In some areas it already has, such as the increased usage of Content Management Systems which provide simple formatting and publication. We can gaze into the crystal ball and speculate all we like, but technology evolves and accelerates at its own, often astounding, speed, and it can also be reined in and regulated in equal measure. However, what we do know is how innovations like machine learning are currently starting to be applied, and which kind of functions it is starting to assist and benefit on one hand, but supersede, replace and render superfluous, on the other.

Like any other industry, the work that goes on behind the production of a book, magazine, newspaper or journal involves a huge range of different types of people. The publishing ecosystem is made up of legal professionals, accountants, HR directors, marketing personnel, sales people, production and editorial staff, and C-level execs, in addition to those who originate the product (authors) and those who sell it (retailers). While publishing sets itself apart from many other industries in being very social and reliant on human-to-human dynamics and interactions, on the face of it, we are still looking at organisations like any in any other domain. So, let’s analyse how automation might impact key positions within a publishing house:

C-level and upper management: It might be easy to think that those at the top of the tree will remain largely unscathed by automation — these are the decision-makers whose leadership we rely on to run a company, after all. However, a report in the Harvard Business Review in 2016 stated that managers spend 54 per cent of their time on administrative tasks. Many of the managers surveyed welcomed AI as a means of reducing their administrative workload in return for more time spent on “judgement work”, strategic thinking and building deep social skills and networks. Although automation is likely to help managers cut out daily tasks considered below their pay grades, it may also lead to the consolidation of managerial roles, for example an organisation may not consider it necessary to continue employing COOs, COIs, CFOS, SVPs and MDs if the CEO is able to take a more active role.

HR: If there is one department within an organisational structure where the human element reigns supreme, it’s human resources. Jobs in HR will be hard to automate, yet it’s predicted that technological developments, particularly around AI, will end up benefiting the profession a great deal in the long run. With tech giants such as Slack already developing HR-dedicated Siri-esque chatbots to handle many of the more mundane daily employee queries, platforms such as Job Market Maker and Entelo providing ever more sophisticated ways of managing talent acquisition, and training and development increasingly moving into the digital sphere, the HR role will undoubtedly be changed for the better by AI…which will give them more time to focus on any organisational fallout generated by automation.

Legal/rights: Technology has long been eating into what were once considered core legal tasks. Interestingly, a study by Duke Law and Stanford Law School recently found that AI software was able to deliver a 94 per cent accuracy rate when reviewing legal documents, compared to 85 per cent by human lawyers. AI techniques such as natural language processing have already started to provide a great deal of assistance to those in the profession and increasingly AI contracting software is being used to help process more routine contracts. As due diligence and contract work becomes more automated, legal professionals are having to focus more on assessing risk and providing counsel, areas which are yet to be impacted by automation. Another development worth watching, particularly for rights professionals, is Microsoft’s new rights and royalties blockchain platform, EY, which, when it rolls out later this year, is rumoured to be a game-changer for managing complex digital rights and royalties transactions. Whether this becomes a force for good in publishing, a job threat, or both, remains to be seen.

Financial: While the financial industry itself is consistently earmarked among the top three sectors to be impacted by automation, finance jobs within publishing are less likely to be affected for the foreseeable future. Research by Bloomberg concluded that financial managers and advisors are among the lowest risk group in the sector. Meanwhile it is expected that roles in accountancy and bookkeeping will become enhanced and will evolve to incorporate aspects of automation which make the role less open to human error.

In our next The State of Automation post we will analyse how automation may affect other roles within the publishing arena, including editorial, production, sales and marketing positions. Watch this space!

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