As students prepare to head back to UK colleges and universities, London-based Bloomsbury Publishing is keeping a careful eye on the fortunes of its Academic & Professional arm. Fewer overseas students attending UK institutions this year could mean fewer sales in this category, Bloomsbury's founder and CEO Nigel Newton has warned.
That said, the company best known as the publisher of the Harry Potter series has so far weathered the Covid-19 storm pretty well, buoyed by sales of books to bored readers under lockdown. That applies, too, to its academic and professional titles: in the four months to the end of June 2020, sales in this category rose by 4% to £11.8m. Digital books and resources, meanwhile, accounted for almost half that revenue, up from 30% for the year to February.
These products include digitalized versions of academic encyclopedias, monographs, studies, ancient manuscripts and very old printed books, as well as images from museums and private collections, explains Pedja Pavlicic, head of digital at Bloomsbury. They are typically sold to universities and other academic institutions, who then make them available to students and staff for a wide range of research and educational purposes, mostly in the social sciences and humanities fields. It's a relatively new area of business for Bloomsbury Publishing and one that comes with very specific digital asset management (DAM) needs.
We required a new platform to serve this content to a variety of users. We wanted something that would allow Bloomsbury to simply choose a content type, upload the XML and content, press a button and have the product ready - but we were on a tight turnaround to launch the platform and didn't have the time available to develop it in-house."
We were also concerned that a homegrown solution would be extremely work-intensive for our editorial team, requiring them to learn how to size, resize, transcode and manage images, which would extend the time it took to digitize each project."
With that in mind, Bloomsbury went on the hunt for a DAM solution that could meet its very specific needs. For example, images of books, manuscripts and museum collections would need to be used as thumbnails for search results, merged into book views so users could digitally turn the pages and zoom in and out.
Another big requirement was security: some images would be freely available to the public and used by Bloomsbury for marketing purposes, while access to others that are part of published content would be restricted to purchasers and authorized users.
Finally, the platform would need to present products to users in a responsive way, so that they can view them from PCs, laptops and mobile devices.
The search led it to Cloudinary, a cloud-based DAM provider born in Israel in 2011 and today headquartered in Santa Clara, California, which also includes among its customers travel specialist Lastminute.com, sportswear company Under Armour and US broadcaster NBC.
Bloomsbury's work with Cloudinary began with a collection of rare manuscripts from a private collection, which needed to be digitalized in high resolution. That went extremely well and use of the platform has quickly accelerated, says Pavlicic.
Currently, we have about 660,000 images in Cloudinary - and we will soon have about 800,000, because we are migrating our main Bloomsbury.com website onto Cloudinary as we speak. We perform about 1 million image transformations per year and serve about 30 million image requests. Bearing in mind that most of our products and these images are not accessible to the public at large, but served in a secure way to academic institutions that have subscribed to or purchased the product, this level of views is quite huge.
A big bonus, he adds, has been the automation of image transformations, including format transcoding and quality compression. For viewing books with images, for example, Bloomsbury's team can set the parameters for how much space an image should take up on screen and then wrap the text around it.
I think the auto-transformations enabled by Cloudinary are absolutely fantastic. We simply leave it to Cloudinary to come up with the right image. And the ability to automatically center and crop the image properly around an object is particularly helpful within the context of our use case."
But the best thing about Cloudinary is we can set it and forget it. Once we load an image, we don't have to worry about it. It's always available and it's always optimized.