Keep Your Head in the Clouds: Publishers, SaaS, and Cloud Services

Yesterday, I tuned in to a Publishers Launch webinar, titled An Introduction to SaaS and Cloud Services for Book Publishers. If you found yourself scratching your head in bewilderment at more than one word in that title, you’re not alone. The term “cloud computing” is often spoken at conferences these days (including one coming up later this month), and it’s time to unpack the jargon and look at the key points of the webinar: the benefits and challenges of cloud systems for publishers.

The pace of change in the publishing industry has been dizzying (yeah, yeah, we all know this), but a quieter, equally dramatic change is happening behind the scenes around systems and workflows. As the industry grows more digital, there are more data pieces to manage; management of these pieces will become increasingly important as publishers move from B2B to B2C relationships. Enter cloud computing, a tool well suited to help publishers increase their agility to meet these new relationships. Aye, but here’s the rub: how can publishers manage the transition from in-house, legacy systems to outsourced cloud systems?

SaaS and the cloud: pardon my jargon

SaaS, or Software as a Service, is a delivery system where software and its related data are centrally hosted on cloud servers remotely instead of in-house. Application software and databases are then rented to end users. This probably sounds familiar. (Email, Dropbox, anyone?). It isn’t a new concept, but publishing has been slow to identify and take advantage of the perks of SaaS and cloud systems, though many exist. Some familiar examples of SaaS are (ahem) CataList, BiblioShare and NetGalley. So many of you are already using SaaS.


  • Agility will improve if publishers can outsource systems outside their core competencies. Or, as one speaker put it, everything boils down to a rather simple question: What do you want to be excellent at? I’m willing to bet most publishers would not clamor to answer “systems management”. So why not outsource to pros?
  • Lower barriers to entry (read: bottom-line savings). In the not-so-distant past, midlevel and large publishers used expensive in-house systems operated by significant IT departments, while smaller publishers made do with less sophisticated/capable systems and fewer staff to support them. Cloud systems can now be accessed via desktop computers and at a fraction of the cost, making the playing field more level.
  • Reduced reliance on IT department and the accountability of SaaS. Service standards are a key component of SaaS, taking the burden off of IT departments for extensive customer service.
  • Growth without large investment. Initial start-up costs and regular upgrades and improvements rest with the cloud system, not with you. You just pay your subscription fee.


  • If your data and in-house systems aren’t in some kind of working order, the transition ain’t going to be pretty. As one speaker put it in the webinar: putting in an inventory management system is similar to a heart transplant. Mess up in the transition process and the patient is going to feel it. Not to fear though—with a focus on the “Service” in SaaS, there are resources available from cloud systems to help.
  • Shaking up IT departments. Larger publishers will need different skill sets from their IT departments than before, with a new emphasis on understanding the new systems and using them, rather than controlling and managing those systems.
  • Straying outside the comfort zone. For most of us, the natural inclination is to stay within our comfort zones, keeping as much in-house as possible. As one speaker pointed out, this kind of thinking is a trap. You can’t really gain a dramatic competitive advantage by doing systems management well, but you can sure destroy yourself by not doing it well.

Checklist: what to look for when shopping for a cloud system

  1. Know thyself: Do you have your house in order? Do you have your content organized? Is your metadata clean? Do you have the skillset you need to evaluate systems, use them, and get the most out of them over time?
  2. Do you have the mindset to take advantage of these things? To keep it simple? To look at existing best practices and adapt?

Well, then—go on now!