This week, I was fortunate enough to address a large group of publishing industry leaders at the IPG (Independent Publishers Guild) Spring Conference in a wide-ranging discussion about Artificial Intelligence and its impact on a range of industries, including publishing.
It was encouraging to see so many publishers unjaded by the AI hype which has taken hold over the years and still as eager as ever to debate and explore the merits and benefits these technologies can bring to their organisations.
Attendees were keen to understand the intricate details about the ways in which AI could change our day-to-day working lives and what potential savings on resources, efficiency and budgets could be made as a result.
It may not be all that obvious to many, but I’ve always felt the indy sector has the potential to be something of a hotbed for pioneering new age technology like AI. While budgets might be smaller than larger publishers who can afford to splash vast amounts of money on innovations and technologies, there are a number of reasons why the AI revolution in publishing could start here.
The small and medium size publishers who traditionally make up the independent publishing sector could arguably benefit more from AI embedded in the publishing workflow than any other sector. With tight profit margins, limited or stretched resources and manpower, and processes which often end up getting outsourced and freelanced out, AI can make editorial and production procedures far more efficient and cost-effective. For example, it’s now possible to take an unstructured manuscript as a Word document and run it through an ingestion process, which produces tagged and structured XHTML within a 5–10-minute period. This is a process which often takes publishers days to carry out and subsequently eats up several staff members’ time, time which can be better spent on other tasks, time which is ultimately money.
At the moment, most publishers, and especially those in the indy sector, are using human beings to carry out tasks which can be done by machine learning. Often, these tasks are off-shored to pre-press businesses, as I’ve mentioned, which result in a financial burden and significant overhead for many publishers. Automating these processes can help the conversion process from raw Word document manuscripts to tagged and structured XHTML, improving and enriching the metadata during this process. Once content is converted to XHTML, other previously manual processes can be carried out — for example, pushing the content into InDesign layouts removes up to 80% of manual intervention in this process.
When this is repeated across an entire list of books or journals, considerable cost and time savings can be made. We estimate that embedding AI in the workflow can free up about 40 per cent of employees’ time in production and editorial departments.
So not only can publishers recoup a lot of money spent with pre-press outsourcing, but they can also start to get the best out of their existing production and editorial staff who can let the AI do the heavy-lifting and mundane, repetitive work, and instead turn their focus to more business-critical, creative or higher-level tasks.
The indy publishing sector has a lot going for it. These scalable, dynamic businesses have all the potential to become innovators and forerunners in the AI race. The business case for incorporating AI and machine learning into indy publishing workflows is far stronger than the rationale for implementing most other technologies on the market. And it’s simply a matter of time before we see indies using AI in their workflows to become leaner, meaner, efficient and cost-effective organisations.