It is often said in sales and marketing circles that a vendor’s greatest threat is not the competing companies in their space, but rather inertia. Tendering processes often end not with good news for the successful vendor and bad news for the others, but with the announcement that the potential customer has decided to stick where they are for the time being.

It’s not difficult to see why this might be. We all feel comfortable with the familiar – the towns and streets where we live, our neighbourhood shops, our local pub, in the company of our families and our friends. ‘Stranger’ starts with ‘strange’ for a reason – being among strangers can be unsettling. Whereas the people and things we do know are accepted, often welcomed – crucially, despite whatever faults they might have.

With publishing systems it’s often no different – we know that they might not be the most user- friendly systems in the world, they may fail to deliver what we need and be a lot less user friendly than the systems and devices we use in our free time – games on our tablets, apps on our phones. Yet we accept them because they are familiar and change is unsettling.

This is only half the story, however. If it was the whole picture then nobody would change. Diktats from on high – the senior management of a company or organization – sometimes make it clear that change must happen, and for very good reasons – perhaps the company is losing money, or is in danger of losing ground to the competition. In these situations a choice must be made – but which? Publishing staff must ensure that the choice they make is a milestone in the company’s history which is looked back on as the point when its fortunes improved, and not a millstone round their necks where they are blamed for a poor decision which results in diminished trust, and maybe even some cases dismissal.

Solving this may sound quite daunting – equivalent to setting off on an orienteering weekend without map and compass. So let’s have a look at the signposts which can help in the decision-making process – these can be boiled down to three core questions.

The first question is: can everyone use it? You probably don’t want to be adopting a system where you need to take many hours out of your daily routine to learn to use it, then repeat that process all over again, this time as teacher, when new staff need to be trained. Your system should be intuitive, without the need to learn complex tools.

The second question is: how will it help? Every company or organization has certain challenges and for publishers, one very common one is that not enough people are using the content. Will the search and browse facilities be better in the new system? Will the user experience mean that fewer mouse clicks are needed to find what users are interested in? Will the reporting functions help you target new customers and increase your revenues?

The final question is the one that many people will ask first – what does it cost? Everyone has a budget and nobody wants costs to spiral out of control. The bottom line is important, but maybe the question to ask is what does it really cost? – for two reasons, one internal, the other external. The internal part is that you should consider the costs of not adopting the new system and whether you are currently making false economies, like employing someone to spend half a day entering data when purchasing a system with an automated upload is possible. The external one is where the onus is on the vendor – is the pricing structure simple and straightforward? What is included in that price and will there be additional on-costs which were mysteriously omitted from the price proposal you received?

I end with an invitation – one you can pass on to your friends in the industry – which is to come and talk to us at Ingenta, tell us about your exciting plans and what is making it tricky to realise them. Let’s start a conversation so we can help you ensure your next purchasing decision is a milestone not a millstone.

Mark Hester is one of Ingenta’s resident experts on digital hosting systems.

With years of experience at leading publishers, including Elsevier and Blackwell, Mark now uses this industry knowledge to help publishers maximise and optimise opportunities for their digital content

You can email Mark directly at or telephone +44 01865 397876