Using AI Tools to Supercharge Your Publishing Work(flows): Top tips from book industry pioneers

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Artificial Intelligence has shifted from the sidelines to the forefront, reshaping industries like publishing seemingly overnight. From refining editorial processes to pioneering marketing strategies, AI tools can offer unparalleled opportunities. However, AI’s profound impact on creativity, IP and editorial decisions, calls for a balanced approach and considered steps forwards.

At our recent event, Using AI to Supercharge Your Publishing Work(flows), we delved into the transformative impact of AI in publishing, aiming to inspire with practical tips for those new to AI, while focusing on ethical and safe practices. The session explored how AI optimises workflows, enhances efficiency, and unlocks new avenues. Alison Coles, Data Manager at Boydell & Brewer and Lee Dibble, Digital Marketing Director at Pan Macmillan joined our host Emmanuel Kolade, MD of Shulph, to share insights into how they are integrating AI into their work. We’ve combined their insights below to offer some key considerations and starting points for your own journeys.

The case for AI in publishing

AI can really shake things up by taking over those boring, repetitive tasks like generating Excel formulas and writing scripts. But let’s be real – AI isn’t a magic fix for everything. Before jumping on the AI bandwagon, it’s important to figure out exactly what problems or inefficiencies you want to tackle with it. By playing to AI’s strengths in the areas where it shines, publishers can boost efficiency without sacrificing quality. Imagine AI handling all the routine stuff so human editors can dive into the more creative and complex parts of their work.

Keep it ethical and smart

There’s a lot of buzz around progressing with AI tools in publishing, however Alison and Lee suggest taking a careful and thoughtful approach. AI tools like text summarisers can save a lot of time, but they need to be checked thoroughly (by humans!) to make sure they’re accurate and reliable, especially for things like subject coding where mistakes can easily happen. Setting up clear guidelines and policies is a must, and getting input from a diverse group of people can help make sure AI is used ethically and in line with company procedures. Being open and transparent about these guidelines ensures AI is used responsibly across the business, keeping up the quality standards and avoiding shortcuts that could set things down the wrong path.

Start with what works

AI is having a huge impact on marketing strategies, and can be used to allow for hyper-personalised messaging based on consumer behaviour data. It should be noted that while it has huge transformative power, it’s important to handle consumer data responsibly. This means creating targeted marketing campaigns that resonate with readers while maintaining their trust. 

On the metadata side, Alison shared how Boydell & Brewer tackled a huge backlog of titles missing information by using AI tools to efficiently add ONIX keywords and improve data quality, going on to win a Book Industry Communication Silver Excellence Award. Spend time on crafting prompts for AI tools, like Alison did with her keyword generation prompt using ChatGPT, as it requires a bit of trial and error. Be specific with components like data sources and task instructions to get the best results. This success story shows just how effective AI can be in handling repetitive tasks, freeing up time for more creative and strategic work. 

Other tasks that are well suited to using AI include legal reference extraction, comparative legislation analysis, and enhancing discoverability through keyword optimisation. 

Proceed with caution

AI-driven changes in search algorithms are reshaping how books are discovered online. To keep up, publishers should look to adapt their digital marketing strategies to optimise book visibility. AI can even help generate basic image descriptions, making content more accessible to users with disabilities – though it’s crucial to have human input to provide that all-important context. This “human in the loop” approach ensures that AI-generated content is kept accurate and meaningful. 

AI editing tools offer efficiency but come with challenges. These tools often struggle with grammar and nuanced context, necessitating substantial human oversight to ensure quality. Particularly with complex texts, AI’s contextual comprehension remains a work in progress. When it comes to translation, tread carefully with AI tools, and acknowledge the intricate artistry and complexity of human translation. Quality disparities persist, especially in non-English languages where data points are fewer and linguistic subtleties abound. 

In enhancing discoverability, keywords are big players on platforms like Amazon. Regularly updating and refining keywords is essential for maintaining relevance and improving search rankings. While AI tools can suggest and refine keywords, human judgement is indispensable in fine-tuning these strategies to effectively reach audiences. 

Implement AI gradually, focusing on quick wins in areas like marketing and metadata management. Tools like ChatGPT have options that can help create custom solutions internally, ensuring both data security and cost-effectiveness compared to relying on external vendors. Maintaining ethical standards in data exchange and fostering trusted relationships with third parties are vital for responsibly enhancing AI capabilities in personalised content delivery.

How to get started

To effectively bring AI into your publishing workflow, start by:

  • identifying existing processes where AI can boost productivity
  • look for team members who are enthusiastic about AI – these “super users” can help lead the way
  • collaborate with them to create and showcase use cases within your organisation
  • think about enhancing marketing strategies, improving metadata management, or streamlining content updates
  • explore tasks like rewriting, grammar checking, translation, and image description, setting the stage for long-term improvements.

Additionally, starting small with AI projects allows you to experiment and understand the tools better as you go. Consider the costs before investing in AI licences, ensuring they align with your team’s skills and needs, and develop frameworks and guidelines to support the effective and ethical use of AI throughout your organisation. By starting with manageable projects and scaling up, you can integrate AI smoothly and start to see tangible benefits to your publishing efforts.

Embrace the human 

As well as taking a cautious approach to AI adoption, involving a steering group to oversee its integration can ensure it develops smoothly within the organisation. Educational initiatives are key to building AI literacy within publishing teams. Regular training sessions and feedback mechanisms help employees feel confident and competent in using AI tools to boost productivity without sacrificing quality. Starting with manageable projects and gradually scaling up allows teams to adapt and grow their skills alongside the technology, ensuring a balanced and effective implementation.

As AI tools become more prevalent in the publishing industry, they are reshaping the skill sets required within our teams. For instance, enhanced data literacy and analytical skills are now crucial for interpreting AI-driven insights effectively, requiring us to develop future-ready skills and processes to keep pace. After all, AI is here to stay.

As our panel highlights, it’s through encouraging a company culture that promotes innovation, thoughtful experimentation and the shaking up of traditional workflows (with that all-important company steerage) that the successful adoption of AI tools can truly come to the fore.

The full, live event, Using AI to Supercharge Your Publishing Work(flows), is available via the BookMachine Campus platform for our subscribers. Find out more about joining the community to catch up with the recording, and gain access to 100s of industry resources, perks and discounts.

Many thanks to our wonderful speakers and contributors to this panel: Alison Coles, Lee Dibble and Emmanuel Kolade.

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