Fabian Kern from Germany is the Managing Director, Digital Publishing Competence. He has been working as a consultant in the area of digital publishing, including the implementation of publishing projects in Mumbai.
In a conversation with Kabuliwaala Kamal Pruthi, Fabian draws comparison between the German and Indian Publishing Industry, talks about the need of connecting traditional and digital publishing and Germany having an upper hand in terms of distribution.
Share your own untold story and journey into the publishing industry.
My first step into publishing was – as so often – a series of biographical flukes: During my study of history I always was working, mostly in publishing houses. And my last student job simply became my first full-employed job: I got the big chance to work in a big, long-running digitalization project covering the whole content and all production lines of a major legal publisher in Germany. Since then I went through different companies, but was always taking part in digital publishing projects in different positions.
About 5 years ago I was leading a project for eBook production in a large publishing company, and during this time I began to realize how ground-breaking digital publishing developed to be for the publishing branch. I suspected major changes coming and I wanted to take part in shaping them rather than being confronted by them. I took the chance and started a new business as a freelance business consultant and trainer, focussed on digital publishing – and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life!
How did your journey into the Indian Publishing scene start?
My journey to India began with a cooperation between a German digital publisher who did an offshore web programming project with a development company in Mumbai in 2014. I had the great pleasure to be there for a software consulting job. And since then, I have frequent and deep relation to the culture and publishing exchange programs realized by Max Mueller Bhavan in India – and so I got to become acquainted with a lot of publishers from India.
How have the Indian experiences been so far?
During all these projects in the last 3 years, I was happily surprised how relatively easy it was, to work together with publishers from India across the borders of culture and language. It was always a warm, respectful way of exchanging views and experiences on publishing. And, although the country and its’ publishing market are very different from Germany, I learnt that the challenges publishers encounter in terms of digital transition are very often quite similar to the ones we have in our market – but of course these questions have to be answered in a quite different way…
What is your role at Digital Publishing Competence?
I am a typical freelance business consultant for publishing in my country: Being a one-man-company, but often doing business in networks, cooperations and bigger project teams, together with customers, other freelancers and contractors of my customers. My jobs are always a mixture of pure consulting, taking part in the development of products and production lines, often combined with working as project lead or doing operative project work.
What keeps you busy other than consulting for publishing?
Apart from the consulting part of my business I do seminars and training, work together with several companies focussed on professional education for publishers. I teach at the university in Munich, publish about my expert topics online and offline, and I do a lot of talks and keynotes at publishing events. And, last but not least: since 3 years I have the great honour and pleasure to organize international publishers’ trainings in cooperation with Max Mueller Bhavan here in India.
What are the top two visions of your venture Digital Publishing Competence for the coming year?
First of all, I would like to develop and establish a model for publishing digital textbooks a.k.a. “reference book 2.0”. A few years ago I published a book on digital publishing together with Harald Henzler as a printed publication – and to be honest, it was a complete disaster: the format of a printed publication simply does not fit anymore into a business area where the world around us changes from week to week. The publication format I dream of would be digital-first, interactive, personalized, always up-to-date and will maybe feature print only a one of many export channels.
My second vision is to scale my business to the next step: during the last years the projects I am involved got bigger and bigger, as well as the demand for my consulting services. So I have the big target to grow in order to meet this demand, without lowering the quality of the service and without losing the personal freedom I have in my business right now.
How important is digital transformation for local businesses to grow in today’s competitive world?
I think it’s absolutely crucial to seize the chances the transition gives to us right at the moment. As we see in the digital markets, there’s always two kinds of companies who are favoured by the digital transformation: The big companies and the mobile ecosystems, who can address every challenge with more or less unlimited resources – and the small start-ups and business units, who can be successful finding their niche in the market by being fast, agile and innovative. There’s a lot of room for innovation still unused – so let’s use it!
You have been consulting publishing projects in Mumbai. What are your views on the digital publishing in India?
I think India has the big advantage to have a lot of very skilled professionals in digital publishing, in content creation and in software development. In the last years I got in touch with a lot of them and the cooperation was always productive and highly professional. But from my experiences with the print publishing houses in India, I have the impression, that the connectedness between traditional publishing and digital publishing is still quite loose. If the publishing industry is successful in creating a tight network between traditional publishing houses and the digital publishing scene, I think they have great chances to be successful in the future!
What are the two major differences do you see in the publishing scene of Germany and that of India?
From my point of view, especially the traditional print publishing houses have the disadvantage of not having a good, country-wide distribution infrastructure for their products in India. In Germany distribution services are provided by specialized companies, so that the publishing houses do not even have to care for a lot. Concerning this issue, digital publications could solve a huge problem: publishers are instantly able to distribute to everyone in the country, once their products are available in digital formats!
Another big difference between Germany and India is the issue of multi-language publishing: In Germany we have a “unified” market in terms of German as the common language. Providing the diversity of the huge number of languages in publishing is a big cultural value – but in terms of business calculation it’s also a challenge for the publishers. My hope would be that the possibilities of digital publishing also provide the chance to solve these issues in publishing and to enable publishers to provide this cultural diversity in their products.
What is the key message you would like to convey to the Publishing Industry through your talks at Publishing Next 2016?
These are interesting times right at the moment – and I think they will stay for quite a while. Don’t be afraid of change, embrace the digital transition as a chance, try new things and be curious what’s next!
What is your opinion about annual events like Publishing Next?
Of course, in advance I have not a deep impression how this conference will be like. But from my experience in Germany I can say that every possibility for sharing professional knowledge, for networking and cooperation, as well as for personal exchange will help you to get forward as a person and as an industry.
How has your experience of attending such publishing industry events in Germany been?
In Germany at the moment we have a bit too many publishing events, I would say – this is quite likely a problem you will not encounter in the near future. But a tendency that is maybe interesting for you also: there’s a trend away from the “classical” conference formats like the “expert shares his knowledge”-talks and a trend towards more interactive and participatory formats like roundtables, talks of best-practise (and, maybe also talks on project failures) or hands-on-sessions. And I think this is a good development: the more participants get the chance to actively participate, the more valuable experiences they will take into their business life.
Publishing Next is an annual gathering of publishers, authors, editors, translators, librarians, book retailers, printers, technologists, service providers and policymakers from all over India and abroad. The event is organized by Goa-based CinnamonTeal Publishing, since 2011.
Dates: 15th 16th 17th September 2015
Venue: Kochi, Kerala