“Digital Publishing: The Five-Year Plan” by Tom DeVries

Tom DeVries
Tom DeVries

Tom DeVries is the International Sales / Rights Manager for Eerdmans. Although his job title doesn’t mention it, he is also responsible for digital publishing. Outside of a love of books and reading (so far only old-fashioned printed books), he enjoys traveling, working on his house, and visiting every Thai restaurant in town. He is still waiting for his free iPad from Apple.


Day 1:

Begin preparations for long-term investments in digital publishing by drafting a comprehensive digital strategy that includes daring partnerships and creative initiatives.

Day 2:

Throw the entire plan out the window, because everything you thought you knew about digital publishing has changed.


Perhaps I could wait until Day 3 to throw the whole plan out the window, but certainly by Day 5 I’d have a brand new plan that could be tossed out by Day 8.

Pardon the slight exaggeration, but working with e-books and the digital world has made me realize the truth of the ancient philosopher Heraclitus’s quote about how the stream you step into twice is not the same stream from one step to the next.

Just three and a half years ago, when I started working with digital publishing, Amazon’s revolutionary Kindle device was still two months from launching. It would be another two years before Barnes & Noble launched the NOOK. Yet already today, both devices are so standard that we barely blink an eye when we see people reading on them. The Apple iPhone and Google Android have revolutionized how we see our phones — if they can really be called “phones” anymore. What’s more, although the iPad and a multitude of competing tablet devices have been out less than one year, many people at the Frankfurt International Book Fair I attended last October carried tablets around for taking notes as if they were the most obvious tool anyone would use.

Here at Eerdmans our goal with e-books is to be the second fastest company. What do I mean by that? Well, being the second one through the door of digital opportunity means that we can hopefully avoid the mistakes of those who push through first, while still taking advantage of the immense opportunities that digital publishing offers. In a publishing world where planning often takes a backseat to a kind of “kid in a candy store” giddiness over new technology, we believe that the right balance can — and must — be struck.

Just last week I attended the Digital Book World convention in New York City. This convention offered publishers the opportunity to plan creative, concrete digital strategies all while retaining flexibility — an absolute must these days. I was amazed to see what seemed to be an endless variety of new e-book devices and companies that promised to show the way into a bright and shining digital future for publishers. Multiple sessions introduced and explained terminology that wasn’t even terminology a scant three years ago. Workshops demonstrated how to create digital content and deliver it directly to consumers, who, we are told again and again, are clamoring for it. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the enthusiasm. “This is fun!” I thought.

A hundred questions about digital publishing beg us at Eerdmans for answers — and every day, new questions arise. I wake up each morning and wonder, “What email will I receive today that will change how I see the digital publishing world?” Is it intimidating? Yes! Confusing? You bet! Exciting? Without a doubt!