Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Dewey was a Racist (and that's not all)

Slate published a story about how the ALA has removed Melville Dewey's name from one of their most prestigious awards.  Since much of the behavior has been known since it was exhibited (by Dewey) it's a wonder the award was named for him in the first place.
In addition to Dewey’s sexism, the ALA resolution to drop his name, which was ratified unanimously by the organization’s governing council, also cited his anti-Semitism and racism. At a private club he owned on Lake Placid, Dewey did not allow Jews or blacks to become members or visitors. A club pamphlet read: “No one shall be received as a member or guest, against whom there is physical, moral, social or race objection. … It is found impracticable to make exceptions to Jews or others excluded, even when of unusual personal qualifications.” When news of the pamphlet became public, also in 1906, Dewey was forced to resign from his state library position. He defended himself, saying he had friends who were Jews, while also noting that a private club should be allowed to choose its members.
Slate article. 

And there's more:
Drabinski finds Dewey’s classification structure more offensive than any of his vices. “It’s all about white Christian power that has spread around the globe,” she said. “His personality pales in comparison to him as one individual dominating the structure of knowledge.”

Violet Fox, Dewey editor with the Online Computer Library Center, which owns the rights to the DDC, said the system is continuously updated, and editors are now “focusing on gender identity and sexual orientation as well as providing new options for classifying works about Indigenous peoples.”*

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

MediaWeek: Merger News, Mega-Journals, Bookstores and Alexa.

Opposition to the McGrawHill Cengage merger is taking form with the DOJ:
In its section titled “The Textbook Market is Broken,” SPARC explains that college textbooks are sold in a “captive market” because students are forced to purchase the materials selected by their professors. This system “effectively hands the three major companies who currently dominate the market a blank check to develop expensive materials without regarding the preferences, needs, or financial circumstances of students. The textbook industry’s current state of dysfunction results from years of consolidation, unsustainable practices, and lack of price competition.” SPARC points to textbook pricing as an example of this dysfunction, as prices “have increased 184% over the last two decades — three times the rate of inflation.”
In a separate letter sent to the DOJ at the end of July, U.S. PIRG Education and student leaders from colleges across the country raised similar concerns. Specifically, the students explain they have “directly felt the impacts of skyrocketing textbook prices, further exacerbated by Cengage and McGraw-Hill’s efforts to remove cost-cutting options for students by undermining used book markets,” and that “[t]o maintain profit margins, publishers have put out custom or frequent new editions to make it difficult to find a used book for our classes ….” Citing a rather shocking statistic, the students claimed that “65% of students have skipped buying a book at some point in their college career because of cost despite 94% of them knowing it would hurt their grade.” (NatLawReview)

Open Access Mega-journals Losing Momentum:
Based in San Francisco, California, PLOS ONE grew to become the world’s largest journal, publishing more than 30,000 papers at its height in 2013 and spawning more than a dozen imitators—but megajournals have fallen far short of Binfield’s aims. From 2013 to 2018, PLOS ONE’s output fell by 44%. Another megajournal, Scientific Reports, surpassed PLOS ONE in size in 2017 but saw its article count drop by 30% the next year, according to data in publisher Elsevier’s Scopus database. Growth in new megajournals has not offset the declines. In 2018, PLOS ONE, Scientific Reports, and 11 smaller megajournals collectively published about 3% of the global papers total.  
PLOS ONE and Scientific Reports have also slipped on other measures of performance. Publication speeds, a key early selling point, have fallen. And a study published in August showed that by certain citation-based measures, the journals’ connection to science’s cutting edge has frayed. (ScienceMag)

Online bookstore to benefit Independents:
The creators of Bookshop have worked with ABA, independent booksellers, Ingram, and book and magazine publisher partners to launch a site that will provide websites, authors, indie stores, magazines, and bookstagrammers an easy way to promote and purchase the books they love online without driving sales to Amazon.
Bookshop, a B-Corp business, is targeting online customers who are not currently buying books on indie bookstore sites by creating a national platform that allows socially conscious consumers an alternative that supports their values while offering one-click purchasing; an easy, intuitive interface; and two-day shipping. Bookshop will also guide book buyers with human recommendations and personality, not algorithms. (Bookweb)

Amazon's Alexa platform is introducing an education "skills" API:
Amazon has introduced the Alexa Education Skill API, a new application programming interface that gives developers the ability to integrate Alexa skills into their education technology services. The skills range from K-12 (allowing parents to check in with teachers about their child's grades and behaviors in school) to higher education (enabling students to ask Alexa questions about assignments and check their overall progress in courses).
Developers will be able to incorporate Alexa skills into their learning management systems, student information systems, classroom management tools and massive open online course platforms. Students and parents will be able to retrieve information from multiple skills at the same time by only making one request.  (CampusTech)
 According to 3.5million books women are beautiful and men rational (theswaddle)

Pearson's share price fell after announcing textbook sales were lower than expected (Barron's)

Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:

Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Exclusive Access Comes to Campus: Interview with UC Davis Store Management

U.C. Davis has seen textbook sales to students fall from more than $16mm per year in 2008 to less than $6MM in 2018. While some of this decrease may be due to sales moving from the campus store to Amazon and other online outlets – even piracy – it is the belief of many faculty and administrators that students are forgoing the purchase of required textbooks in increasing numbers.  Non-purchase, second-hand or rental have been tactics used by students for more than 20 years to reduce their financial outlay, but to faculty and administrators, the non-acquisition of texts appears to be getting worse.   As a result, costs accrue to the university: More students who don’t purchase texts are unprepared for the first weeks of class, drop more classes and are less likely to graduate.  And there are other costs which could be mitigated if all students had the materials they need for class.

Historically, institutions do not negotiate directly with publishers over the price of their textbooks.  Some might suggest that institutions are motivated not to do so because the college bookstore was (and is) a profit center but macro changes in the retail market may be changing this dynamic for the better.   (In the case of U.C. Davis, the store is not run by a third-party corporation but as a non-profit).

Most education professionals are familiar with ‘inclusive access’ which provides textbook and/or publisher content at discounted prices to students in specific courses.  (This idea of a ‘lab fee’ first showed up on PND back in 2008).  U.C. Davis was one of the first schools to pioneer this approach in 2014 and most publishers today offer some version of this digital offering for students.  Now U.C. Davis is promoting a different version of an all-access model whereby all campus students pay a set fee irrespective of their class load or textbook needs.

The school has begun negotiating directly with publishers to sell this concept to them.   With estimates of annual textbook purchase costs for students running anywhere between $500 - $1,000, why would a publisher be interested in a program whereby the student pays $199 per semester?  Well, it’s math:   With student purchases falling below 25% of enrollment, if all students pay $199 semester publishers may end up doing far better financially.   Under this program (in test at U.C. Davis) all students get all assigned course materials they are assigned on the first day of class which makes the faculty, students and administrators happy.  And when publishers do their math, it makes them happy too.

I recently spoke via email with Jason Lorgan, Executive Director, U.C. Davis Stores, about the
Equitable Access program they have rolled out…

How did the program come about and did you consult with publishers about the program?  If so, how receptive have they been and do they have any objections/reservations?
This program came about because more and more students are lacking access to their course content and this lack of access for some students has created a significant equity issue on our campus.  Past attempts to deal with the pricing issue over the last several decades at mitigating textbook costs (used books, rentals, price comparison services, partnering with Amazon) are no longer as effective as our efforts need to be.  Additionally, past efforts did not take into account how financial aid works as it relates to course materials and so we came up with this comprehensive approach that addresses financial aid and access.
We have been holding meetings with publishers to inform them of the program and to invite their participation in it.  Some publishers have some reservations about the low unit costs we are asking for.  We are trying to get them to focus on the overall revenue to their organizations.  If a book is currently $300, but only 10% of students can afford it, it really does not have a $300 value to 90% of the students not purchasing the material.  Publishers have been very receptive to the Equitable Access concept, but negotiations are ongoing.  A complete paradigm shift is not easy to achieve, but I believe most of them see value to increase access to their content and to create a sustainable future for students and publishers.
What are the differences between all access and equitable access programs?
If you are referring to Cengage Unlimited type programs, this is very different.  Those programs require an institution to use a publisher’s or group of publisher’s content.  That may work well on private or for profit type campuses but, for public institutions, academic freedom makes those programs unattractive.  The EA model is attempting to allow academic freedom in a subscription like context.
You mention in your deck that this program will significantly increase revenues for publishers.  Could you put some numbers to that statement?
I will give you some real estimated examples of publisher revenue change pre- and post- Equitable Access.  One for a large publisher, medium publisher and one for a smaller publisher.  Numbers were developed using exact adoptions and enrollments from the most recent full academic year (2018-2019)
Large Publisher A
2018-2019 Estimated Revenue from UC Davis at current pricing $399,195.79
2018-2019 Estimated Revenue if Equitable Access was in effect at $20 per enrolled student $545,540.
Medium Size Publisher A
2018-2019 Estimated Revenue from UC Davis at current pricing $42,117.00
2018-2019 Estimated Revenue if Equitable Access was in effect at $20 per enrolled student $223,780
Smaller Publisher A
2018-2019 Estimated Revenue from UC Davis at current pricing $0.00 (all sales were used copies)
2018-2019 Estimated Revenue if Equitable Access was in effect at $20 per enrolled student $1,480.
This happens because of the very low sell through currently happening because of a student’s inability to afford their materials at current rates.
Do you see your type of program opening up the market to other publishers beyond the top 5-6?  Perhaps giving the smaller publishers more opportunity?
This program is designed for all publishers, including OER publishers, and we hope smaller publishers will see value in the program.  There is some concern that some smaller publishers may have less ability to lower pricing due to our desired range, but several have expressed interest.
What is the role of the bookstore in this program?  Do they get a cut of the revenue and, if so, what is the basis of that?  What services are they performing in the transaction which necessitates a fee/payment to the store?
The bookstore manages the entire program, collects adoptions, negotiates with publishers annually, works with the actuarial sciences firm annually, processes invoices, handles student billing and opt outs, manages LMS integration, student technical support, etc.  The bookstore will cover its costs but will not take profit out of the fund.  In other words, staff salaries, equipment, etc., will be covered from the fund, but funds will not be removed for other purposes.  This can happen because our campus does not have a contract with a for profit corporation to run our bookstore.  Our store is owned and operated by the Division of Student Affairs and profit is not taken from textbook sales.  Access is our goal.  For-profit operators might have a challenge with this cost-recovery model but independent, institutionally owned stores are well positioned to manage a cost recovery textbook program.
What plans do you have for expanding the program?
We are currently working with several universities who have interest in developing a similar program and we also have the support of two associations- NACS- the National Association of College Stores and ICBA- the Independent College Bookstore Association.  Our goal is to export this program nationwide to provide benefits to many more students, as has happened with the Inclusive Access program we developed in 2014.  That model has rapidly expanded to over 700 campuses in the last 5 years.
Jason and his team have also prepared a discussion document to be used as they speak to publishers about the program.  You can find this here.

This interview grew out of my earlier education post:

Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)

Friday, September 06, 2019

Digital Is Coming for Your Textbook

I did an interview with CCC's Beyond the Book podcast talking about digital textbooks.

Here is the link:

And from the summary:
In July, Pearson announced it would end the longstanding practice among textbook publishers of revising all active titles every three years according to a printing schedule. Instead, the British-based education publisher will employ a digital-first discipline for its publishing program. As textbooks give way to courseware, publishers will be looking for an education in 21st century business models.
Publishing analyst and Michael Cairns recently examined the latest developments in the creation, sourcing, and delivery of textbooks. Administrators, instructors, and students, says Cairns, will increasingly demand all-inclusive and unlimited access to online educational materials (think, Netflix for textbooks). Such an all-access model naturally favors global players who already have won prominent positions in university library systems. Meanwhile, a fight looms over control of usage data.
“It’s long been prophesized that the print textbook would disappear, but it’s actually taken quite a bit longer than I think people would have anticipated, especially when you look at the growth of eBooks on the trade side, or if you look at the transition from print journals to online databases that has taken place over the last 20 years now,” notes Cairns.
“As it turned out, the textbook is a very, very reliable medium to educate students and to facilitate the distribution of content to students. They like the package that it’s in – the functionally works very, very well for students,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
“But I think what we’re starting to see now is that more and more content, generally, is available, and students are starting to be much, much more comfortable with it in electronic from. And the products are starting to get better in online from versus what might have existed previously as printed material.”

This interview grew out of my earlier education post:

Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)
Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

MediaWeek Flipboard Magazine: Trump Book Slump, Textbook Transformation, Mind the Gap + Others

View my Flipboard Magazine.

Book Publishing's Trump Slump
The Radical Transformation of the Textbook
Amazon's Plan to Conquer the World of Publishing
Mind the Gap
A Database of Six Million Syllabi


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)

Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Media News: Amazon Juggernaut & Dilemma, Open Source Publishing, Digital Textbooks, Elsevier

The Amazon Publishing Juggernaut: What does the e-commerce giant want with the notoriously fickle world of publishing? To own your every reading decision. (Atlantic)

"Founded in 2009, Amazon Publishing is far from the tech giant’s best-known enterprise, but it is a quietly consequential piece of the company’s larger strategy to become a one-stop shop for all your consumer decisions. As Amazon Studios does with movies, Amazon Publishing feeds the content pipelines created by the tech giant’s online storefront and Amazon Prime membership program. At its most extreme, Amazon Publishing is a triumph of vertical engineering: If a reader buys one of its titles on a Kindle, Amazon receives a cut both as publisher and as bookseller—not to mention whatever markup it made on the device in the first place, as well as the amortized value of having created more content to draw people into its various book-subscription offerings. (One literary agent summed it up succinctly to The Wall Street Journal in January: “They aren’t gaming the system. They own the system.”)

The Amazon dilemma: how a tech powerhouse that fulfills our every consumer need still lets us down. Despite increasing criticism, Amazon refuses to acknowledge many of the unintended consequences its rise to dominance has spawned. (ReCode)

"Let’s start with Amazon’s power. Its roots can be traced back to a potent cocktail of vision, fortuitous timing, relentlessness, and a knack for exploiting loopholes — from state tax laws to a dearth of regulation that could have prevented it from acting simultaneously as retailer, retail platform, and consumer brand kingmaker."
Fake Journal publishers: OMICS, Publisher of Fake Journals, Makes Cosmetic Changes to Evade Detection. Following a public outcry over their proliferation, paralleled by a media exposé together with regulatory pressures in some countries, fake journals have appeared to be cleaning up their act. (TheWire)
Mind the Gap: The landscape of open-source publishing tools (report)
The number of open source (OS) online publishing platforms, i.e. production and hosting systems for scholarly books and journals, launched or in development, has proliferated in the last decade. Many of these publishing infrastructure initiatives are well-developed, stable, and supported by a small but vigorous distributed community of developers, but promising new ventures have also recently launched.
The notable increase in the number of OS platforms suggest that an infrastructure ‘ecology’ is emerging around these systems. Distinguishing between systems that may evolve along competitive lines and those that will resolve into a service ‘stack’ of related, complementary service technologies will help potential adopters understand how these platforms can or should interoperate.
Hummm, The radical transformation of the textbook (Wired)
“Digital text, digital work, is often engaged with at a lower level of attention. By moving everything online, it’s going to become even more decontextualized. Overall, I think there’s going to be less deeper learning going on,” Trakhman says. “I believe there’s a time and a place for digital, but educators need to be mindful of the time and place for using these resources. Rolling out these digital suites is not really the best for student learning.”
Battling Elsevier:  University of California’s showdown with the biggest academic publisher aims to change scholarly publishing for good (The Conversation)
The UC-Elsevier showdown made headlines because it’s symptomatic of the way the internet has failed to deliver on the promise to make knowledge easily accessible and shareable by anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s the latest in a succession of cracks in what is widely considered to be a failing system for sharing academic research. As the head of the research library at UC Davis, I see this development as a harbinger of a tectonic shift in how universities and their faculty share research, build reputations and preserve knowledge in the digital age.
Inclusive (textbook) access at the University of Arkansas (News) and at Austin Peay (News)

Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)
Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Peak Media acquires F+W titles

Peak Media acquires F+W titles. 
It has been great to be a part of the establishment of Peak Media through due diligence and now operations. 
(In fact this press release was written by me).

Friday, August 02, 2019

Kara Swisher interview with Pearson CEO John Fallon

The $300 Textbook is dead.

"One of the biggest challenges I think America has, we have something like 30 million working adults who have paid for some form of university education, but have nothing to show for it, so a lot of it is around how do you help people to complete the university education, have the credential and badge that enables them to progress. So we do a lot of that. We work in 70 countries around the world, 24,000 people, big digital transformation. So we’re investing about a billion dollars a year in the research and development of things that help people to learn more effectively. That’s essentially what we do."

"Exactly. So if there is a ... We are in the 14th edition of Philip Kotler’s Marketing, the bestselling marketing textbook in the world. There won’t be a 15th edition. Think of it more like FIFA 18, FIFA 19, FIFA 20. It will be Marketing 2020 version one, version 2. Digital first, designed for a mobile world. You update for when there’s changes in the field of study, scientific breakthroughs, new case studies. You update for advances in AI as we think of new ways that we can provide more personal adaptive learning. And because you’re breaking away from what was a very expensive and time-consuming analog-led model, it’s not just much more effective, much more personal, much better outcomes, it’s much lower cost, so the $300 textbook is dead.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Moon Memory

Originally posted on 7/20/2009

Siam Intercontinental 1970.  Now demolished.
I always remembered the moon walk occurring during the daytime, and it wasn't until recently that Mrs. PND happened to recall 'staying up' to watch a couple of guys walk on the moon. My memory was captured in brilliant white sunshine and air conditioning because in their early twenties in mid 1968, my parents had packed up the family and moved to Thailand where my father took his first management role at Intercontinental. Out of England, Thailand was a magical place but also often fetid, smelly and unbearably hot; however, living at one of Bangkok's few luxury hotels - one also that had created a sort of garden oasis out of the surrounding slums - eased the transition considerably. I had the run of the place since both my brothers were much too young to get out by themselves and while I didn't get up to too much mischief I did have my moments.

My mode of transportation was my peddle car US Army issue Jimmy's Jeep (all green) in which I tooled around the open air corridors of the hotel. This was especially fun during the rainy season when the corridors became particularly conducive to skidding. As three blond haired kids, we were a somewhat unusual commodity to the Thai especially the women and whenever my youngest brother went out they always wanted to touch his blond hair. From my perspective this attention was often unwanted and one particular room service waiter teased me mercilessly, and I had just had enough when on one occasion he snuck up behind me and took my hat. When he refused in the face of my demand to give it back, I took a run at him in my Jeep and rammed him. Catastrophically, he was also carrying a lunch tray which went flying in a cascade of crockery, food and glass. I remember him looking at me half laughing while I was immediately mortified that my father would find out. Needless to say he never bothered me again and I got my hat back. No one ever mentioned it. I always wonder what he told HQ when he had to return with a tray full of debris to replace the order.

There were no televisions in the hotel rooms at that time mainly because there was only one state television station in Thailand which broadcast in Thai. On the morning of July 21st, 1969 (evening of July 20th on the east coast), my mother took me to the hotel lobby vowing to me this is something you will always remember. I suspect if we were still living in England that I would not have seen the moon walk live because of the time difference. As I recall, there were only a few people gathered around the TV which was sitting unceremoniously low to the floor on a chair. In contrast to the crowds gathered in public places in the US, I was left to recognize the importance of what I was witnessing without the collective endorsement of the crowd, but I am sure our little group clapped and sighed with relief just like everyone else. We also didn't have the benefit of Walter Cronkite's commentary and in the last several days having watched some of the CBS broadcast, he did indeed sum up the penultimate moment brilliantly when he takes off his glasses and just says 'Wow'.

In the forty years since the landing, I am indifferent to the manned space program and I don't see the value of spending billions just to prove we can do something that has no recurring benefit. The Apollo program was important but everything we do in space can be replicated down here and down here we have more than enough problems to contend with.  Nevertheless, walking on the moon was a miraculous achievement.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Questioning My Education: Five Strategic Trends Changing Higher Ed

Perhaps the only surprise in the fact that major changes and dislocations are taking place in educational publishing is that they took so long to exhibit themselves.  The more recent change is the aggressive growth of all-access textbook deals sold to students – frequently via the institution – which provide students access to the entire content catalog published by a textbook publisher.   Cengage put the wind up most educational publishers two years ago when they launched their program, which they now claim has been sold to more than one million students.

Other publishers (including Wiley, Pearson and others) have followed Cengage and that company’s very public proselytizing about the model is a strong validation of the strategic importance that digital delivery and subscription models have to the future of this market.   While the Cengage business model represents a fundamental market change it is only one of several strategic interrelated changes now affecting the market for education content.  The infrastructure supporting the way textbook and educational content is sourced, delivered and developed is heading for significant disruption which will displace some current market incumbents and fortify others.

Here are five trends I see driving the market:

First all-access products developed by publishers are unlikely to be widely adopted on an exclusive basis by institutions.  Just as there has never been a requirement for academics to source print textbooks from specific publishers, faculty independence will continue.  However, this is likely to necessitate interoperability across textbook database products.  Publishers with a poor user interface and experience, unable to support single sign on, remote access will be at a disadvantage especially compared to more experienced database vendors.   This suggests there will be a bias towards aggregation as dealing with multiple, non-compatible products can be complex for administrators, faculty and students.

Second, aggregators are already a significant presence on campus via the library.  EBSCO, Proquest and Gale, for example, already support student development and include textbook content as database products.  Textbook content is a natural product extension for these companies and they operate a business model very familiar to campus librarians and provosts.  Aggregators act as wholesalers of textbook content which can be a valuable market channel for many textbook publishers.  Notably, there is no reason to believe that textbook sales will eventually not be subject to the same type of consortia price negotiation which governs other academic content sold to universities.

Three publishers in particular – Wiley, Taylor & Francis and WoltersKluwer – may have advantages because they publish academic (journal) products sold directly to campus libraries.  Their advantage over aggregators and other publishers would be to integrate this content effectively to enable the delivery of comprehensive educational products.  WoltersKluwer has long hosted their textbook content on OVID (their online product) for example.

Third, the global textbook market is dominated by large publishers and represents an aggregation of sorts, although many publishers retain distinct ‘franchise’ products supporting specific content disciplines.  While publishers are selling all access to all their products, smart publishers will also attempt to ‘carve out’ branding opportunities around these franchises and create online ‘centers of excellence’ which extends the branding of these franchise products.  This trend is important because creating an all-inclusive all-access product may level set all author brands to the detriment of the publisher’s strong legacy author franchises.

Four, it is hard to see where the traditional on-campus bookstore fits in to this paradigm.  College stores are a profit center for the institution and most bookstores are operated by Barnes & Noble, Follett or independent operators under contract from the institution.  The relationship these retailers have with the publishing industry diminishes in importance as more content is delivered online and, as these stores are disintermediated, bookstore contracts become a diminishing asset for bookstore managers.  As these store contracts come up for review, more institutions will be rethinking their entire retail strategy and will invite more general-purpose retailers to compete for these contracts.  Importantly, most college bookstores already sell far more general merchandise than textbooks.

Fifth and last is perhaps the most contentious issue: Who will ‘control’ the valuable data “exhaust” which is produced by students and researchers interacting with online content.  This data about students, faculty, research activity and other collectable information represent a significant competitive asset.  Institutions are slowly awakening to the inherent value in this information and are being chased by innovative start-ups to gain access to the data.   While individual institution data has value, more value may be gained by aggregated data from multiple intuitions and these “cohorts” may become data sharing collectives.  In turn, these institutions may sell data to publishers and other parties for their use.  Naturally, there are concerns about how this data is collected and leveraged and industry groups are calling for governance in this area.

Strategists have long anticipated the death of the print textbook but we are now finally in the midst of a massive transformation of this market.  Some textbook publishers have positioned themselves to take advantage of these changes; however, no publisher is guaranteed a successful outcome given the comprehensive challenges they face.  Some big-name publishers will exit the textbook market rather than gamble that they can make these transitions successfully.

 Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)
Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

BISG Webinar: Pubishing Technology Spending and Vendors

Check out this link to a webinar I did for BISG several months ago reviewing technology spending and the vendors which support publishing companies.

The presentation covers some of the same ground as my research report: Global Publishing Software and Services Report 2019.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

MediaWeek: Wiley, Indian Tariffs, UK Textbooks + More

Wiley buys Zyante Books for $56MM in cash (press release)
Zyante was founded in 2012 and its zyBooks platform has served over 500,000 students across 500 institutions. The company targets some of the fastest growing and in-demand STEM disciplines, bridging the gap between classroom and career, and enhancing lifelong productivity and employability. Degree demand in these disciplines has grown by 8% between 2013-2017 according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and jobs in Information Technology and Engineering have grown by 17% and 14%, respectively, since 2016 according to Burning Glass. Revenue for 2019 is expected to be $14 million, a 37% increase over 2018.
India's new government has imposed a 5% tariff hike on imported books to 'encourage domestic publishing and printing' IndiaToday.  There are skeptics:
"I don't think levying 5 per cent custom duty on imported books is going to benefit our local publishers. If one really wants to help publishers here, the rising costs of paper should be brought down. The scarcity of paper should be addressed and removed," he said.
The Publishers Association reports that UK textbook sales declined 6% last year despite some strong promotion (TES)
Sales of school textbooks in the UK fell by 6 per cent in 2018 despite a drive to increase their use.  The Publishers' Association said "the continuing squeeze on school budgets" had resulted in teachers not being able to afford "the learning resources children need”.

The slow death of the Hong Kong independent bookseller (Asian Review)
When Bao, 52, entered the book-publishing trade in 2005 it was still crowded with competitors. Now he is a lonely holdout with dwindling revenues, still publishing books critical of the Communist leadership of China and touching on mainland political taboos such as 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
His most recent book, "The Last Secret: The Final Documents from the June Fourth Crackdown," unearthed speeches by 17 top Communist Party leaders and elders at a secret internal meeting 30 years ago, discussing the aftermath of the violent suppression of unarmed students and citizens in Beijing.
India is addressing the predatory journal issue (again) (Nature):
Last month, India launched its latest salvo against the ‘pay and publish trash’ culture that sustains predatory journals. Over several months, more than 30 organizations representing universities and academic disciplines have vetted journals to release a reference list of respectable titles. Predators sabotaged our last attempt. We hope this better-curated list will help to cut off the supply of manuscripts to the unscrupulous operators that profit financially by undercutting academic quality.
 Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)
Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

MediaWeek: Universal Music archive in flames, No law in the Amazon, Bad data, Faber&Faber

From the NY Times magazine a cautionary tale about managing archives via the experience of Universal music which saw an entire warehouse of music archives go up in smoke.  The Day the Music Burned
Eventually the flames reached a 22,320-square-foot warehouse that sat near the King Kong Encounter. The warehouse was nondescript, a hulking edifice of corrugated metal, but it was one of the most important buildings on the 400-acre lot. Its official name was Building 6197. To backlot workers, it was known as the video vault.
Before long, firefighters switched tactics, using bulldozers to knock down the burning warehouse and clear away barriers to extinguishing the fire, including the remains of the UMG archive: rows of metal shelving and reels of tape, reduced to heaps of ash and twisted steel. Heavy machinery was still at work dismantling the building as night fell. The job was finished in the early morning of June 2, nearly 24 hours after the first flames appeared.
These reassuring pronouncements concealed a catastrophe. When Randy Aronson stood outside the burning warehouse on June 1, he knew he was witnessing a historic event. “It was like those end-of-the-world-type movies,” Aronson says. “I felt like my planet had been destroyed.”
No law in in the Amazon:  How rampant is book counterfeiting on Amazon? And it doesn't stop there. NY Times 
But Amazon takes a hands-off approach to what goes on in its bookstore, never checking the authenticity, much less the quality, of what it sells. It does not oversee the sellers who have flocked to its site in any organized way.
That has resulted in a kind of lawlessness. Publishers, writers and groups such as the Authors Guild said counterfeiting of books on Amazon had surged. The company has been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with the issue, they said, often taking action only when a buyer complains. Many times, they added, there is nowhere to appeal and their only recourse is to integrate even more closely with Amazon.
Hey Jeff, in college they have this thing that can check whether a paper has been written by the student in question.   Think about it.  Turnitin.

A history of Faber and Faber one of the UK's most iconic publishing houses in The Guardian:
All publishing houses have archives, but for anyone interested in 20th-century literature the archive of Faber & Faber is a fabled treasure house. This is the firm that was, as Toby Faber puts it, “midwife at the birth of modernism”. In 1924 Faber’s grandfather, Geoffrey Faber, aspiring poet and fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, had been installed as chairman of the Scientific Press, recently inherited by another All Souls fellow, Maurice Gwyer. It published mostly books and journals for nurses. Geoffrey Faber renamed it and started making it into a literary publisher. Within his first year he had installed TS Eliot as a fellow director and acquired his backlist.

Tracking the results of bad data.  A report from Dun & Bradstreet:
A new report from Dun & Bradstreet reveals businesses are missing revenue opportunities and losing customers due to bad data practices. Almost 20 percent of businesses have lost a customer due to using incomplete or inaccurate information about them, with a further 15 percent saying they failed to sign a new contract with a customer for the same reason.

The way that data is structured appears to be a significant barrier in many organizations, with indications that data is often poorly structured, difficult to access and out of date.
"Businesses must make data governance and stewardship a priority," said Monica Richter, chief data officer, Dun & Bradstreet. "Whether leaders are exploring AI or predictive analytics, clean, defined data is key to the success of any program and essential for mitigating risk and growing the business."
Winning bidders were announced recently for the remaining assets of F&W Media (Folio)

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Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)
Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

PW Article: Publishers invest in marketing technology

From Publishers Weekly an article written by Bill Trippe:  Keeping Up With Tech Should Be a Publishing Priority- Publishers should invest in the marketing technology that will help them reach their audiences

He quotes me:
Michael Cairns, CEO at strategy firm Information Media Partners, points to another aspect. “The thing I see the most is a lack of consistency in approach: marketing may be using one tool such as MailChimp; sales may be using another, like Sugar; and even editorial may be using its own tools to reach out directly to consumers for newsletters and other supplementary content. So I think I would invest in trying to implement uniform tools and solutions with perhaps something like Hubspot as a core application.”

Friday, June 14, 2019

MediaWeek: Publishing News - B&N bidding, EBSCO, Follett, Axel Springer, Paper Shortages, University Presses

Seoul, Korea: Book store
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Investors believe the recent bid of $476mm for Barnes & Noble by Elliot Management under values the business (Reuters).   Additionally, ReaderLink - the largest distributor you may not have heard of - may enter the bidding (WSJ).  Investors want the B&N board to consider more options.

EBSCO is moving in to the textbook hosting game with this announcement that they are creating a solution specifically for faculty which will make it easier to select materials for their courses:
EBSCO Information Services (EBSCO) announces the release of EBSCO Faculty Select™ (Faculty Select), a single interface for library staff and institutional faculty. Faculty Select makes it easy for faculty to explore Open Educational Resources (OER) and purchasable DRM-free e-books to support their courses. The interface provides the highest quality, affordable course options that drive textbook affordability, access and usability for faculty and students alike.
Follett has also launched a campus 'all access' solution for educational content:
Follett ACCESS is an evolution of delivering over seven years of affordability programs for campuses.  The powerful new program delivers all required print and digital course materials to all enrolled students at a campus as part of their tuition, or course charges, on the first day of class—resulting in lower costs, reduced stress, and greater student preparedness.  By serving over 1,200 campuses in North America, Follett is experiencing demand shift from a course-by-course solution, to a broader full campus participation with Follett ACCESS.
Equity firm KKR really wanted a piece of Axel Springer and have announced a tender offer for all outstanding shares other than those owned by the Springer family and management.  The deal values Axel Springer at just under EUR 7Billion.  The deal is expect to allow Axel Springer to speed up their digital transformation without the constricts of a public (reporting) company (PR):
Axel Springer aims at becoming the leading global provider of digital content and digital classifieds. KKR has significant expertise in the digital and media sectors, an impressive track record of successful investments in Germany and across Europe and will be a strong strategic and financial partner for Axel Springer. KKR supports Axel Springer’s strategy of investing in further growth projects to generate long-term value. Furthermore, the parties are in agreement that Axel Springer will remain a leading voice in independent journalism across all channels, nationally and internationally alike.
 If you attended the BISG annual meeting you will have heard the fireside chat about the state of the printing and paper industry.   Not great is the short answer: Consolidation has resulted in fewer print options for publishers together with capacity issues and in addition paper is becoming more expensive and harder to resource.  Here Forbes takes a look at the paper shortage from the publisher perspective:
Where did this paper shortage come from, and how long will it last? To find out, I asked Danny Adlerman, Director of Production and Manufacturing at multicultural children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books, who’s been with the company since its founding in 1992 and works on 200 active titles, including front and backlist, at any given time. Adlerman said that while the paper shortage was most acute about six months ago, its effects are still being felt, though he’s hopeful it’s closer to being resolved than it was at the start of 2019. While Lee & Low hasn’t seen any significant delay in sending out ARCs and galleys, the shortage has yet to be fully resolved. I asked Adlerman about the causes of the paper shortage and what the possible solution could be.
Troubled university publisher Melbourne University Press has announced their new publishing director Nathan Hollier (SMH):
Hollier, the director of Monash University Publishing, has been named as successor to Louise Adler, who resigned along with five directors in January after MUP turned its back on its previous policy to be a more commercial publisher of books in order to focus on academic work and introduce an editorial board to approve publications. He will start the job on July 1.  Speaking to The Age from Detroit, where he is attending a conference of university presses, Hollier said he didn’t expect the approach he adopted at Monash would differ massively at MUP. "I’m going to try to publish books which are the most relevant and important for our times," he said.
Another University Press in the news recently for the wrong reasons: Stanford University Press was the main subject a recent Stanford faculty meeting.  Leaders want a press that is "healthy and excellent" (Stanford)
The Press moved into the spotlight in April when Provost Persis Drell announced that, while Stanford would continue to support the Press with base funding, the university did not intend to fund the Press’ request for five additional years of $1.7 million in one-time support.
Following faculty concerns, Drell clarified that the university had no intention of closing the Press and that she recommended the formation of a faculty committee to develop a long-term plan to strengthen the Press’ financial and operational model. The provost made additional one-time funds of $1.7 million available to the Press for fiscal year 2020 to assist with this process.
The Press received about $900,000 annually in institutional support from the university’s base general funds and income from a small endowment, and at the senate meeting Thursday, Drell said that support would continue. The Press also receives about $5.1 million in revenue from book sales and other sources; however, that income does not cover its annual expenses
“The challenge we’ve been confronting is that the Press is operating with a structural deficit, which was $1.7 million in 2008, and that has motivated a succession of requests for one-time funding,” Drell said. “There have been attempts to address the structural deficit that have not been successful in the past. We need a strategy and a plan to ensure that our Press is excellent and supported over the long term, and we will be working with the faculty on that.”
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Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)
Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Mediaweek: BookExpo, Elsevier, Viral Books, Bennington College, Magazines and Print.

From this past weeks BookExpo conference, the Washington Post reflects on publishers concerns about the future.  (What would the business be without concerns?)  Personally, I found BookExpo dismal.
At the same time, publishing faces troubling unknowns and adjustments. Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest physical book retailer, has been struggling for years and is considering a sale of the company. One of the largest distributors, Baker & Taylor, is ending its retail business, forcing some stores to find new ways to keep books in stock. And publishers again face a potential shortage of printing capacity that resulted in two future Pulitzer Prize winners, David Blight’s biography “Frederick Douglass” and Richard Powers’ novel “The Overstory,” being among numerous releases unavailable for extended stretches late last year.
But the most immediate concern is President Donald Trump’s threatened 25% tariff on some $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, including those from the country’s printing facilities. For years, U.S. publishers have relied on China for low-cost, high-capacity printing of four-color books, coffee table editions, Bibles and other standards of the trade and education market. The new tariff would almost surely result in higher prices, with publishers saying a hike of 50 cents or more is possible for a given book.
Elsevier announces a national agreement in Poland to enable access to their academic content:
The Polish consortium for higher education and Elsevier, the information analytics business, today agreed on a national license agreement for access to critical academic research, while advancing Poland's open access objectives. The new three-year national license is based on a thorough analysis of the Polish requirements for access to research, the country's publishing choices and its focus on research quality. It provides over 500 universities and research institutions across the country with access to ScienceDirect, Elsevier's leading platform of peer-reviewed scholarly literature, as well as SciVal, the research performance tool, and Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature.
In the Columbia Journalism Review and discussion of the 'viral book'
Traditional publishing, among the slowest of all media, and social media, the quickest, are working together more often. A search of the Publishers Marketplace database for the word “viral” turned up 14 non-fiction books in the first five months of 2019. Seven were sold from viral articles, and six were sold on the basis of another “virality”—for instance, a viral photo or a viral Facebook broadcast. In comparison, 11 books were sold in conjunction with viral media in all of 2018, six based on articles and four on other online media (including a “viral cooking technique”).
Digital media is not an industry known for its profitability. However, the uptick in publisher interest in viral work indicates a hope that publishing can capitalize on an internet-tested zeitgeist: presumably, publishers believe that those viral articles will turn into bestselling books. Is this a legitimate hypothesis? Can publishers forge a solid link between the fast pace of the internet and the very slow business of book publishing? What can authors hoping to garner a book deal learn from this newfound interest in virality?
From Esquire, Bennington College has some literary chops:
A new freshman class arrives at arty, louche, and expensive Bennington College. Among the druggies, rebels, heirs, and posers: future Gen X literary stars Donna Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jonathan Lethem. What happened over the next four years would spark scandal, myth, and some of the authors' greatest novels. Return to a campus and an era like no other.
Folio magazine takes a look at three magazines which have ditched print and still survived (and thrived):
As consumers and advertisers continue to shift their attention to digital media platforms, traditional print publishers are increasingly coming to the difficult decision that their future doesn’t include a print publication at all—or at least not one with a regular frequency. 
In the last month alone, ESPN The Magazine, Money, Brides and Beer Advocate announced plans to end their print runs. And they all intend to continue producing content for their digital platforms.

Once considered a death knell for a brand, the print-to-digital transition has proven for some publications to be more of a rebirth, especially when they diversify to additional channels, like events and TV. With that in mind, here are a few brands who have shown there is life after print—a good life.
And the counter discussion: Keeping with print:
And yet, even in 2019, a diverse set of both new and traditional publishers continue to invest in the medium despite its inherent financial challenges, begging obvious questions about how, specifically, a new media brand stands to benefit from producing an expensive print magazine at a time when the barriers to entry in digital media are seemingly nonexistent.
Brazil's publishing market is not doing well at all.

Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)

Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Media Week: The Week In Publishing - Vanity Fair Archive, LA Bookstores, Big Deal Subscriptions

Bondi Digital a NY based digital publishing company announced the launch of the full Vanity Fair magazine archive:
We are thrilled to share that Vanity Fair launched its Bondi-powered and collaboratively designed digital archive yesterday. For the first time, every photo, article, and issue is accessible on computers, tablets, and phones from 1913 to the present on
Other Bondi deployments include Aviation Week, Playboy, Maclean's, This Old House and others.

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at the LA independent bookstore market and asks "why are so many longtim LA bookstores closing?"
Despite the recent shuttering of Circus of Books, Caravan Book Store and Samuel French, bookstore experts say the end for the city's brick-and-mortar stores isn't nigh: "There is a sea change happening, and it is noteworthy."
A recent report by the European University Association (EUA) estimates that European libraries spend more than E1B per year on "big deal" subscription agreements wiht the largest scientific publishers (ScienceBusiness):
European universities are paying more than one billion euros per year for access to journals run by the leading science publishers, according to a new survey from the European University Association (EUA) of ‘big deal’ contracts for access to large bundles of journals.  The survey, published this week, looks at 167 contracts made by groups of universities with Elsevier, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, Wiley, and the American Chemical Society, finding that the cost for universities is already high and rising by an average 3.6 per cent a year.  The annual outlay, “Is fully paid by public funds and the bulk of these costs fall on Europe’s universities,” said Jean-Pierre Finance, former president of Henri Poincaré University, who led the study.

The magic of notebooks (mine excepted) from The Economist citing an exhibit at the British Library
NPR's Book Concierge on the best books of 2018 

Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)
Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.