Monday, May 18, 2020

Transcribing History - The Amateur Historian

Libraries and museums are noting huge spikes in volunteers helping to transcribe documents in special collections.  Did you even know there there 'transcriber accounts' at the library of congress:
“I think we all expected there would be an influx with so many people staying at home,” said Victoria Van Hyning, who runs the transcription program at the Library of Congress.
But the number of new sign-ups has been staggering, officials said, and is growing exponentially. Teachers scrambling for engaging distance learning projects sign up their students, who in addition to learning about cool historical figures have also discovered something called cursive writing.
In Washington, the Library of Congress reports a fivefold jump in new transcriber accounts since mid-March. The Smithsonian has seen new transcribers jump from 100 to 200 per month in pre-pandemic times to more than 5,000 per month now. Organizations are scrambling to upload new documents to meet the insatiable demand.
Washington Post

Friday, May 15, 2020

Textbook Class Action Case versus Publishers and Booksellers

A six person Chicago law firm which engages in class action and personal injury cases has taken on the education publishing industry over the relatively new "inclusive access" programs which provide day one access of educational materials for students.
According to FeganScott’s managing partner Beth Fegan, who is representing the students, the agreements require students to obtain their required course materials from an “Inclusive Access” program by paying full-price for a digital access code from their official on-campus bookstore. When the semester ends, students lose access to the textbook, eliminating the possibility to resell to secondary purchasers.
“Textbooks have always been a major expense for college students, but for most, the free market allowed them to purchase or resell used textbooks to blunt the cost,” Fegan said. “These agreements rob students of that option, forcing them to play by the rules set by publishers and bookstores.”
Press release

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Bookstore Founder Sylvia Beach's Digital Archive

In Paris, during the 1920s and 30s, Sylvia Beach's bookstore was the center of English (and French) literary life.  When she died, Princeton University collected all her personal items from her apartment above the store and added them to their special collections library.   Princeton has just announced that some of this material (and presumably more to come) is now available digitally.
Visitors can search the website for a library member, such as Hemingway, to see which books he borrowed and the dates he withdrew them and returned them. Clicking “cards” reveals images of the handwritten notes kept by the store’s clerks who recorded his loans. Hemingway was a library member, on and off, from 1921 to 1938 and borrowed more than 90 books, including P.T. Barnum’s Barnum’s Own Story, which he kept for a few weeks in the fall of 1927, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which he kept for just eight days in September 1929. He borrowed Bull Fighting by Tom Jones in 1926. One also can view his purchases — he bought a copy of his novel A Farewell to Arms at the store — and the addresses where he lived in Paris. 
Fans of an author can use the website to “read the books they read and see who else read those books,” said Joshua Kotin, an associate professor of English at Princeton and the project’s director. “We hope this will be a resource for scholars and nonscholars.”
Hat tip Gary Price

Monday, May 04, 2020

Cengage McGraw Hill Education Merger is Abandoned

Announced early Monday, Cengage CEO Michael Hansen has told staff that the proposed merger with McGraw Hill is being abandoned.  As close watchers will know, this deal faced legal headwinds not just in the US but also in the UK, Europe and Australia. While that situation may be a mitigating factor - the deal close had been put off several times even before COVID-19 - it may well be that the impact of COVID-19 on the education market has raised so much market risk that the deal is no longer viable. Additionally, COVID-19 may well have significantly changed the enterprise value for each of the Cengage and McGraw Hill businesses units which was critical to the deal fundamentals.

[I actually wrote this post on Friday when there were some rumors going about.  The PR blames the regulatory hurdles]

This deal was sold as a merger 'of equals' but perhaps that has changed to much to justify completing the deal. Is it possible with this deal dead, will one will try to take over the other? There is no question both companies are going to know the intimate details of each business and that might create a deal scenario. Perhaps believing a deal needs to be done, will they turn to another company in an effort to achieve the scale they need? Macmillan or Wiley could be a 'safe-harbor' to steam into given the circumstances. The interim (and I bet soon to be permanent) CEO of McGraw Hill is the ex-CEO of Macmillan Education. Time will tell.

Where this puts both companies will be interesting to watch.  Hansen was set to become CEO of the combined company and McGraw's CEO has already left the business.  This was Hansen's deal and whether not closing it will reflect poorly on his leadership is debatable given the tectonic changes in the market. That said, some in the industry reflected early on that the anti-competitive issues the combination faced were always going to cause problems and believed that the deal should not have been pursued in the first place. As we all know, the justice department seems to wane one way or the other depending on administration priorities and this deal didn't look like it had significant opposition in the US. That was not the case in the other markets however.

Joining An Expert Network: Market Intelligence Report

Take a look at my quick survey of some of the expert network and consulting platforms which you may want to join.  See the link to the free report below.

Expert Joining In

So called ‘expert networks’ have grown substantially over the past fifteen years; so much so that the marketplace might be considered fractured. While there are some large, long-term players in the market including GLG (Gerson Lehman Group), which defined the segment in the early 2000s, there are now many more recent entrants.

With the rapid development of the gig economy there has also been a smudging of the distinction between ‘expert networks’ and ‘consulting marketplaces’. The ‘expert network’ typically addresses short, discrete business questions whilst the ‘consulting marketplace’ delivers longer-term, project-based engagements. Unless full-time work prevents it, there is no reason not to join the two types of organization.

Both support the matchmaking aspect of consulting by introducing specific expertise (from the consultant) to a particular business need (the project). When they first came on the scene, platforms providing expert network engagements tended to define them as brief, telephone-based interactions which were over and done with quickly.

If this is similar in concept to online matchmaking, perhaps I need to make my profile a little racier
That model is still relevant but, as more companies recognize the benefits of ‘on-demand’ experts, they are not always thinking in terms of one-hour increments any longer.

This is good news for consultants and business executives looking to leverage their skills, knowledge and expertise. I’ve participated in many “expert” engagements over the years and I’d like to have done more. So, to understand this market a little better, I undertook this research.
It is not a complete survey but for anyone (at least in my network) new to this industry, it will provide useful insight and links to some of the larger players.

Many of the expert companies – big and small – have obvious but self-serving objectives to unlock knowledge from around the world to help their clients’ businesses make better decisions. But individual experts can also benefit by extending their networks, building their reputations, and even conducting different types of work outside their specialty while still drawing on their skills and expertise.

In my own experience, several phone consults have resulted in short market research engagements. While many types of companies seek advice from experts, I have found they tend to be mainly investment banks and private equity firms seeking specific information to support investments under consideration.

There has also been a smudging of the distinction between ‘expert networks’ and ‘consulting marketplaces’

It can be difficult to understand the client’s context without a relationship and I’ve sometimes had difficulty understanding the relevance of a client’s line of questioning. That said, I have always enjoyed these sessions.

Most of the firms on the attached list are broadly international in scope, although some do concentrate on specific geographic areas (such as the Gulf states or SE Asia, for example). And many of the larger firms cover a broad range of industry segments, having a large inventory of varied experts to support that coverage.

While I have seen some fracturing in the market there is also a lot of overlap from experts joining multiple platforms. Signing on to additional networks was one of my objectives and I am sure many others have also followed the same strategy.

Occasionally, the expansion of membership on these expert platforms may not always be advantageous. While it may be ‘anecdata’, right after I joined GLG in the mid-2000s I had a regular stream of consultations but, over time, as GLG got bigger and bigger, my referrals waned. I have not done a GLG consult in more than three years.

If this business is similar in concept to online matchmaking, perhaps I need to make my profile a little racier.

Signing up

When a consult is undertaken, the timing is often very precise and the client will not ordinarily pay for any prep work. You should take that into account when you set your rate. Recently, one call I had was booked for 45 minutes (which is what I would have billed for); however, the call was logged on their network platform at 42 minutes and that’s how my bill was calculated.

The attached list includes ‘traditional’ expert network companies like GLG and also consulting firms like Catalant, which features longer-term engagements and projects which can take a few days to a few months.

If you are considering this type of work, and do not have a full-time job, then I encourage you to look into these networks and sign up.

The report is FREE for download via this link.  (And please check out my web-site).

Michael Cairns is a publishing and media executive with over 25 years experience in business strategy, operations and technology implementation.  He has served on several boards and advisory groups including the Association of American Publishers, Book Industry Study Group and the International ISBN organization.   Additionally, he has public and private company board experience.   He can be reached at

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

MediaWeek - Publishing News Roundup: Pandemic Books, Hate Publishing on Amazion, College Returns?

I pulled together a quick list of pandemic books a few weeks ago and here is a CNN article about a rejected book (by publishers) which is now getting a lot of attention from the market

Lockdown: the crime thriller that predicted a world in quarantine by [Peter May]A pandemic thriller, once rejected by publishers for being unrealistic, is now getting a wide release (Amazon).
The book, which was rejected by publishers at the time for being too unrealistic, was finally published on Thursday. The thriller is set in London, the epicenter of a global pandemic that forces officials to institute a lockdown. The story isn't entirely based on May's imagination. He used British and US pandemic preparedness documents from 2002 to make it was as realistic as possible. (CNN)

On Amazon and how they don't police hate publishing from their outlets:
Propublica: The Hate Store: Amazon’s Self-Publishing Arm Is a Haven for White Supremacists.
“Kindle will publish anything,” a third user chimed in. They were basically right. It takes just a couple of minutes to upload one’s work to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s self-publishing arm; the e-book then shows up in the world’s largest bookstore within half a day, typically with minimal oversight. Since its founding more than a decade ago, KDP has democratized the publishing industry and earned praise for giving authors shut out of traditional channels the chance to reach an audience that would have been previously unimaginable.

A crazy political 'dirty tricks' effort in Australia where a high ranking advisor to the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pirated the unpublished biography of the prior Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (Guardian)
Some of the biggest names in politics will be drawn into the controversy over pirating of Malcolm Turnbull’s autobiography after his publisher reached a settlement on the issue.  On Tuesday evening Hardie Grant reached a settlement with Scott Morrison’s adviser Nico Louw over claims he distributed unauthorised copies of Turnbull’s book, A Bigger Picture, before its formal release on Monday.
“An undisclosed sum was settled for and he’s given us where he got [the digital copy] from and where it went to,” the chief executive of the publishing house, Sandy Grant, told Guardian Australia Wednesday.
Also from Australia a state of the market from The Guardian

Interesting effort by Digiday to offer services to publishers challenged by todays events.

Joint announcement by the ABA, AAP and Authors Guild urging readers to help save bookstores:
“Sadly, after a decade of recovery and growth that affirmed the importance of reading, writing, and publishing, bookstores are suddenly facing a moment of monumental crisis at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the three women write. “In some instances, these beloved institutions, which mean so much to so many communities, face the very real possibility that they will never open their doors again.
“We cannot let this happen because we need bookstores now more than ever. As award-winning poet and writer Jen Campbell wrote in her book The Bookshop Book, ‘Bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places.’”
PEN America sends a letter to demand an end to access fees for eBooks in Prisons:
We, the undersigned, are a coalition of groups and individuals concerned with the rights and dignity of incarcerated people, as well as with their access to reading materials alongside other sources of information and recreation. We write to ask that you waive your fees for incarcerated people to access digital content on your tablets during this pandemic. 
As we speak, millions of Americans are confined to their homes in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet, they have a multitude of options to continue to engage with the outside world through educational and recreational access to information. In fact, several major companies that offer digital content–like Audible, JSTOR, and Cengage–have taken steps to make more of their content freely available during the pandemic, to help lessen the burden of isolation on readers.

Schools around the world are coming to the realization that things will never be the same:
From WAPO:
College students want answers about fall, but schools may not have them for months

From SMH:
Australia's school system will be forever changed and possibly improved by what we learn from the COVID-19 closures. Parents will develop a renewed appreciation for the critical role of teachers, and outdated educational practices will be questioned.
Worldwide, there will be a rethink of education when we come out the other side. We may discover through this process that there are other ways to better engage children and develop more attractive styles of learning in this technological age.
Do schools really need to operate from nine to three for 200 set days of the year? Do we still need to rely on the HSC as the major way of credentialing students for future pathways? I think this crisis will force us to think differently.

Flipboard Magazine

Michael Cairns is a publishing and media executive with over 25 years experience in business strategy, operations and technology implementation.  He has served on several boards and advisory groups including the Association of American Publishers, Book Industry Study Group and the International ISBN organization.   Additionally, he has public and private company board experience.   He can be reached at

Friday, April 24, 2020

Womp Womp

That crashing sound is the noise from Ingenta's share price falling through the floor.  

When I joined Publishing Technology – now Ingenta plc – it became abundantly clear that I could face a fraud charge if I signed off on the annual financials. Prior year revenues (reported by prior management) were based on a project completion basis and completely divorced from reality. At my direction, we restated and reduced prior year revenues by almost 25%. This financial issue was only one of a catastrophic set of issues and poor management problems – including the real risk of bankruptcy – the company faced. At one point the company floated the idea with trade publishers about launching an Amazon competitor while implementation projects with some of those same publishers were left unfinished. I could not shut that down fast enough. Then there was the joint venture in Beijing which became a time consuming and ridiculous side show which lacked any cohesive strategy or hope of benefit to the core business. No one spoke English making it impossible to share knowledge and project tasks. After almost three years teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, I not only completed a refinancing of the business but had begun a significant reorganization by combining staff teams, sourcing cheaper off-shore staff and defining an achievable market strategy. Only weeks after raising 25% more cash in our public offering than expected the board decided to go in a different direction: Seeing this share chart I am confident my way was better.