Growth and the Need for Automation
A children’s book publisher based in the U.S. has five major imprints (divisions) and many online databases that serve as eBook platforms. They publish approximately 2,000 titles per year and used to distribute the eBook formats of those titles through six resellers. Recently, they’ve increased distribution to closer to 30 resellers and started distributing ePub files in addition to the PDFs they’d already been distributing. Manually pulling and distributing metadata—information about each title, including things like: page count, author, promotional copy, and Dewey categorization—and images for those titles was taking 20-25 hours per season, making the increase in reseller partners impossible given the current level of staffing.
Jack daSilva, Senior Director of IT at this publisher, recognized the need for automation when they initially started distributing ePub files. Previously they had been distributing only PDFs, which took a lot of time on its own. The company’s production team comprises seven people who work together on different aspects of the eBook production process. When there were only six eBook vendors, an eBook coordinator could triage all the metadata, images, and files, and manually send the material along to the vendors; however, that wasn’t possible with the expected growth. With a new, additional file type for every eBook, daSilva had to take on a pseudo-production role in addition to the rest of his responsibilities in IT. It was taking up a lot of his time with just a small number of vendors. With the distribution growth on the horizon, it would be nearly impossible without extra staff.
The time needed to compile the files and wrangle metadata would tie up employees who had other responsibilities, but it also would make time-to-market much longer. Without a solution to help relieve the burden, it would take an additional two months to get the books listed with distributors. And they would have had to prioritize which distributors got the metadata and files first.
That’s why daSilva started looking for an automation tool. It was really important that the solution have a quick launch time as well as enough out-of-the-box functionality to start realizing value right away. That’s why Automate Plus was the right software for this children’s book publisher. They could get to work automating these tasks without needing to spend a lot of time figuring it out.
Data Extraction and File Transfer Automation
eBook distributors provide spreadsheets detailing the metadata they need from each publisher. Each distributor has different requirements for how the data needs to be formatted and what field they need. This is a tedious process for publishers, requiring a lot of manual data extraction and reformatting. In addition to the metadata, the distributors require images for each title, each needing a different combo of front covers, back covers, and spreads.
With Automate, daSilva can use a list stored in SharePoint of eBook distributors with details of what each distributor gets in terms of metadata, image type, and file type. The Automate bot takes the list of titles that need to be distributed, goes into an ERP system (Ingenta Commercial), reads through the list and parses it out by imprint, combines all the material by imprint, and sends it to the distributor.
Not only does Automate extract the product metadata, but it cleans up special characters that would render incorrectly in a different file format. Automate goes through and reads the files that have been added or modified on the server and keeps an index.
While eBook distributors need metadata in order to sell the titles, they need the eBook files as well in order to distribute them to customers. A similar bot pulls the titles in the formats each distributor needs and sends them over FTP or SFTP to the appropriate distributor. This bot will save hundreds of hours each season as the list of distributors grows.
Automating Report Delivery
One of the ways daSilva convinced leadership to buy Automate was that the CFO used to spend three to four hours a week pulling sales reports out of Peachtree, their accounting software. But now, since each imprint has its own Peachtree file, with Automate he was able to get each database file put it into one Excel file and automatically emailed to him each week.
Moving Forward with Automation
Not only has automation helped this company’s production and IT teams with tedious manual tasks, but it also helped them to support business objectives. Growing the numbers of partner resellers would have been impossible before Automate, but now they can grow without worry. One of the things daSilva likes best is that he can reuse tasks and doesn’t have to start from scratch every time. He’s also created tasks for database maintenance.
daSilva’s been a big fan of automation for a while, and he likes that he doesn’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to do something with Automate. He says, “With a tool like [Automate], it’s just a matter of someone requesting help. And it’s like, ‘Okay, we’ve got this.’” IT is equipped to help people in their organization save time and improve business processes, and a lot of what they’re doing with Automate they could do right out of the box.
A possible candidate for automation in the future would be to use Automate to replace a PowerShell script to examine audio files to find out how long the audio file is. The possibilities are endless for this children’s book publisher and Automate. daSilva has approval from leadership to examine business processes to find ways they can improve or replace them with automation this year.
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