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Back in 2005, we were asked by HarperCollins to undertake a feasibility study into something very exciting: customised books.

The idea was, and remains, simple and yet highly compelling. Using emerging web and print technology, allow visitors to a web site to design, preview and create their own individual editions of HarperCollins titles.

We researched the existing (non-book) customisation market before making a presentation to the executive board with our findings and recommendations. The presentation identified key industries in which “mass customisation” – unique products designed by and for their target audience “markets of one” – had created significant value, and revivified “mature” and competitive markets. It also showed where it had failed expensively and publicly.

After completing the presentation, we then undertook quantitative research into the viability of the idea from a consumer’s perspective. Heavy book buyers were questioned as to what they would want to be able to see in a customised book; the variables they would want to be able to change; the types of book they would want to do it with; and the premiums they would pay.

The results were staggering, and a proof of concept was commissioned. The proof of concept took the form of a two-tier prototype: a back-end system, tied to their existing workflow, allowing the publisher to set the variables in any number of templates; and a front-end web application, which allowed the user to add, edit and preview their “book” before sending it to be printed and shipped on demand.

On pressing “OK” the customised assets (for example, front jacket, back jacket, correct width spine, internal boards, plus dedication page) were then output in industry standard JDF/PPML XML, integrated with the existing XML workflow of the publishing house, and combined with the “vanilla” edition of the book to create a unique, printable file. Both sets of XML were then converted to print-ready PDF, and set to the printer via EDI.

More projects like this: Consultancy & Planning, Publishing

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