Publishing Word of the Day: Repurposing

20 Nov


The process by which content is reformatted for distribution via widely varied delivery systems.

(From the forthcoming TSTC Publishing Glossary.)

. . . . . . . . . .

I’m not convinced that that’s the most elegant wording above to define “repurposing” but that’s our working definition for the moment. Although this is a term has yet to show up—as far as I can tell—in Wikipedia or other formal publishing glossaries and/or dictionaries, it’s all the rage these days for publishers and other media types.

Basically, in ye olden days (that is, pre-1990 or so), once you published a book that was the sole format for the delivery of the content contained within it. Sure, you might have moderately different versions of a book show up—book club editions or paperbacks and so on—but these were all essentially moderate variations in its hard copy delivery system. But, with the advent of two technological advances—digital book design/typesetting and the Internet—this all began to change (and continues to evolve).

First of all, once the move away from hot lead and phototypesetting to digital typesetting was complete, all the content for a book (or any other “chunk” of information) is now stored electronically which means it becomes much easier to manipulate this content for delivery in different formats. A simple example of this process in action is a recent article by our editorial intern Nathan McCoy about Dr. Otto Wilke and his book Contemporary Math I Using MAPLE or TI-89 that we recently published. The original article was posted here on the publishing news page at our official TSTC Publishing site; it was reprinted in the November edition of The Tech Times, the school’s newspaper, in both hard copy and the PDF made available online; and Todd posted it to our blog a while back as well.

So, in terms of multiple delivery formats, Nathan’s article is a good example. On the other hand, the ability to deliver content in radically different ways is not an end unto itself. Rather, it’s all about new sources of revenue being generated by the same content. At the most basic level, this means it becomes much easier to produce a hard copy of a book, an ebook version, and an audio book. This process is aided by the use of XML (Extensible Markup Language) in tagging information digitally. An excellent introduction to the use of XML in book publishing can be found in The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing, one of the best books I’ve come across that provides an industry-wide perspective on publishing. Anyway, as far as revenue goes, most publishers know that no one point of distribution alone is going to generate a profit all by itself. Instead, it’s the combination of multiple sales/distribution points—hard copy, paperback, ebook, foreign rights, book clubs, online sales—that will eventually make it possible to turn a profit.

But, to take all this a step further, repurposing can also mean breaking up and/or combining different discrete chunks of content for multiple audiences/markets for even more potential revenue. We have several projects like this in the works that will come out in the near future: a hand tools book that will also be revamped and/or expanded to cover automotive repair as well as series of technical career guides and a college orientation textbook where different sections will be broken out into stand-alone booklets for recruiting and student services purposes.

In the end, as always, book publishing is a cash-poor business for sure. To combat that eternal dilemma, publishers always have to be on the lookout to utilize—that is, exploit—as many different ways and means as possible with their licensed content to stay afloat. So, while a book is a book is a book, how many different types and kinds of books you produce from one piece of “content” is a key strategy to always keep in mind.


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2 Responses to “Publishing Word of the Day: Repurposing”

  1. Stephen Tiano November 24, 2007 at 8:14 pm #

    And now, add into the mix repurposing for Amazon’s Kindle.

  2. Mark Long November 28, 2007 at 11:22 am #

    The Kindle–Amazon’s new ebook reader–has certainly been the topic of discussion around the office lately although I’m not sure we have anything new per se to add to the ongoing blogosphere conversation. Mainly, I think it’s a device still in search of a killer app . . . after all, I’m not going to pay $400 to read $10 mystery novels or $13 a month to read NY Times content I can currently read online for free.

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