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10 Tips for Migrating Technical Content from Print to Digital - 5/8/2012 -


Here are some things to consider when beginning the digitization process of lengthy scientific and technical books, standards, proceedings, and journals.

By Jack McHugh

Association in the scientific, technical, and medical fields are often publishers of books, monographs, standards, symposia, conference proceedings and scholarly journals that need to transition from print to a web-based delivery system, including mobile apps. However, as the demand for digital products varies from publisher to publisher, there is no single formula for planning your digital future.

Two important ideas emerge when planning for the digitization of content. First, take the time to understand your members’ needs. Second, do not risk falling for the latest and greatest new technology without understanding where your members are on the technology curve. Here are some things to consider when beginning the digitization process of lengthy scientific and technical books, standards, proceedings, and journals.

  1. Think strategically about the transition to web-based delivery. Many association publishers are still in the exploration phase, waiting to see which will become the next-generation platform before investing. You need a strategy. For a while PDF was the only game, but now as technology evolves there’s just so much more to take into consideration—conversion to XML, mobile delivery, the requirement of new editorial processes and publishing systems, etc. There are a lot of moving pieces, so develop an overall strategy for what you want and how to get there.
  2. Proceed cautiously in any major transition to web-based delivery of content. Technology changes rapidly and time is needed to make the transition to a publishing system designed to support not only web-based delivery, but also multiple current and future platforms for content output.
  3. Plan a time frame for transferring existing technical publications from your current print/PDF program to the new web-based system; depending on the number and variety of technical books and publications you have to migrate, this could possibly be a three- to five-year transition period. If it is a complete migration to digital, communicate to members and customers the date that print versions will no longer be available so they can prepare.
  4. Keep print products available while your member and customer base transitions, and use a print-on-demand system (POD) to help do so economically as demand for print products diminishes. POD has proven an effective way of controlling inventory costs for small printings and helping publishers maintain margins on individual print orders. You can manage the financial ramifications of print to digital migration by moving the bulk of your print products to POD. Some associations price POD products higher to help maintain margins.
  5. Review your current intellectual property policies. Ensure that adequate digital rights management (DRM) is in place for web-based publications.
  6. Don't abandon PDFs, as they will continue to be the best digital delivery method for some types of standards and specifications. You might be surprised how easy it is to work with PDF for both text and graphics. PDFs offer bookmarking, links to other documents and external sites, cross-referencing, and the ability to annotate. You can develop a very robust PDF program.
  7. Try not to make decisions in a vacuum. Research, talk to members and customers, sit them around a table. Don’t just do surveys, but also talk to them—or rather, let them talk to you. Do prototypes and beta tests so they can give you hands-on feedback throughout the developmental process. Beta testing will take time, but the investment will be worth the return; namely, that you get web-based delivery right the first time. The alternative is a less than robust product that could be rejected by your members.
  8. Design your website around your user experience. One suggestion is to use XML and make content reflowable, and then you have no need to redo content for every new app—you only have to redo the style sheet. Invest in flexible formatting now, even though you may not be planning any apps for the near future.
  9. Understand what the customer service and staff training implications are for new web-based publishing and plan accordingly.
  10. Formulate a multipronged member information/education program for the web-based products before launching them. Explain pricing policy, benefits, features, licensing options, and the fact that they can still order print copies.

John B. "Jack” McHugh is a 30-year veteran of the publishing business and author of the McHugh Publishing Management Series.


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