There’s little more to say about eBooks these days: The migration is now embedded into business operations across the industry. Yes, there remain some issues and problems day-to-day but it would seem that the issue of most concern to publishers for the past five years (trade particularly) is now subsumed under business operations as usual. And that bores me.
Sure, we could argue about the future purpose and value of a publisher but most (if not all) the big trade houses are doing better now than they were three years ago and continue to sign the big authors and sell lots of units. The amount of attention given to the self-publisher model is disproportionate to its viability as a solution better than that delivered wholesale by a traditional publisher. Yet, to some, the counter argument or disruptive solution is always more interesting and therefore garners more attention. There will be more big success stories in self-publishing but the larger point isn’t about replacing the old model with the new—it’s more about incorporating the new model into the old. Where self-publishing was derisively termed ‘vanity publishing’ 10 years ago, it could now be considered a vital component of a better, more efficient publishing industry.
This set of predictions was harder to conceive that those in prior years and I am not sure why that it is. I’ve been going through this exercise since 2007 (the year I started this blog) and so went back over some of the things I suggested in years past. For example, in 2007, I said:
- Several major US colleges will teach various social science courses entirely in simulation. The courses will not be taught in traditional lecture form but entirely within the software simulation.
Now, five years later, there have been some experiments in this area but my comment was uttered in a time when everyone was building a home in the simulation game world and, at the time, it seemed inevitable we would all be spending half our lives in SecondLife. Clearly that never happened, and on the other hand, during 2011, I spent many weeks looking into the medical simulations ‘business’ which is very impressive and continues to push the boundaries of real simulation in education and training. What’s important here is that simulations solve several business, operational and administrative issues for schools and hospitals which drives the business case for their adoption. That might not have been the case for SecondLife (at least in a comprehensive sense).
The anticipated benefits of simulated learning will only be realized if they solve a business problem(s). As I saw during my short research project, in medicine and especially nursing, there are very real addressable problems that simulations solve for educators and administrators. Some of the simulations centers I visited are almost exact replicas of hospital wards and operating theatres. It is quite incredible. The money poured into hardware at these centers is significant (and growing) but the next big change in simulations training will be how traditional medical content is integrated into delivery in the simulations context. No easy thing, but the merging of the practical and the theoretical is viewed as critical by educators and practitioners. The medical segment is representative of how education publishing in particular still has significant challenges to address as their industry deals with changes in technology, delivery and performance measurement.
The following year (2008), I incorrectly predicted “McGraw-Hill will reorganize its business much as Thomson [Cengage] has done. MGH education could be sold to private equity.” The impact of the sale of MGH in 2012 is unlikely to drastically change the publishing landscape in the short term, but there may be larger structural changes across the entire business that will be more interesting. As we know, Apple is set to make an announcement soon which is rumored to be about educational publishing. If that’s true, it might stimulate some fundamental changes in education similar to the impact iTunes had on the music business.
Sticking with education, in 2009 I suggested that the Obama administration would make wholesale changes in education policy and become more ‘federalist’ in approach. As some ‘celebrate’ the ten-year anniversary of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ the administration is pushing more (or allowing more) responsibility to the states for education policy while at the same time providing more assistance to ‘failing’ schools so they can improve. If anything, the Obama administration may be more ‘activist’ with their assistance versus the prior administration and this policy (or set of policies) is likely to aid education publishers in the provision of the next generation of assessment tools, which will be oriented more toward remediation and intervention (and which I touched on in 2010).
Last year, I focused my prognostications on the concepts of curation and community:
The growth of intimacy assumes that users will seek closer relationships with their core community of friends, workers or communities of interest in order to make decisions about the content they access, the products they use and the entertainment decisions they make. Book publishers, retailers and authors will need to understand how to actively participate in these communities without ‘marketing’ or ‘selling’ to them. Facebook is obviously the largest social community but, within Facebook, there are a myriad of smaller ‘communities’ and, within these communities, the web becomes highly personal. The relationships among the participants becomes ‘intimate’ in the sense that the participants share knowledge, information, even personal details that in a traditional selling or marketing environment would never be breeched by the vendor. The dynamic of selling becomes vastly different in this context and publishers must find a way to understand these new communities, the influencers that dictate behavior and the motivations that contribute to selling products (and services potentially).
I still believe the above to be a trend even though it hasn’t developed as quickly as we might have expected. I fully expect the concept to mature over the coming years.
Which suggests a lead-in to a theme for my 2012 predictions: Where 2011 was about the community providing a filter for its ‘members,’ 2012 will be more about the community helping focus/apportion the attention of its members. In a screen-based entertainment world, publishers will struggle to assert their right to a user’s time against competition that includes every media option out there from games to TV to social networks. This is different than the former paradigm because all media usage is rapidly migrating to tablet and applications-based consumption. And this includes television.
With both major book retailers actively engaged in the tablet wars, it seems inevitable that tablets will be the predominant delivery mechanism for publishers’ content, including trade and education content. So, if our content is delivered on these devices, how do we establish and hold the user’s attention in an environment where the user can skip from media to media with almost no friction whatsoever.
The answer to this question is partially reflected in last year’s post regarding community and curation. The most significant challenge publishers will face is getting their content shared and linked to and powerful social network marketing programs will be at the center of this effort. This doesn’t only apply to trade content--‘communities’ organized around ‘influencers’ such as academics/professors, institutions, specific courses, etc. will also drive the sharing and linking of educational publisher content. For example, an individual interested in business entrepreneurship might ‘friend’ the Harvard class ‘Entrepreneurship 101’ and use the reading list to guide his or her personal reading.
Another key aspect of the quest for attention revolves around the metadata and the supplemental content publishers produce for all their content. Most of this remains either dis- or un-organized. A lack of depth and accuracy of meta-data is still a deficiency shared by most publishers, even as the need for more meta-data expands. On the whole, publishers are probably getting further behind. The thing that will help publishers win a larger share of attention will be multiple ‘entry points’ that enable the user to interact with their content and allow influencers to share and link to it. Not only do meta-data files need to be robust and detailed, but users need to be able to easily find references, indexes, TOCs, links, etc. and reviews as well as alternate views of the content (audio, video, even perspectives). Not only do these various elements provide ‘hooks’ which users can grab in multiple ways, they will also serve to build loyalty and authority for the content itself. And this could ‘index’ the content so that it scores high-ranking positions when consumers seek the content you are selling. Thus, the entire process feeds on itself.
Searching for Attention will represent a significant challenge for all content owners but particularly publishers, as content amalgamates via the tablet platform. Not for nothing, I think I’d rather go on that journey with B&N and Amazon versus Apple or Google because at least they are booksellers. Whether that’s enough remains to be seen.
Here are some additional trends to watch for over the next year or two:
- The MGH deal aside, there’s a good chance we
will see additional movement in the ownership of segments of the education
business. Cengage will have little
difficulty with their refinancing (doesn’t mean there won’t be any pain) but
educational units on the periphery (medical, legal, etc.) may witness more consolidation
in the coming year.
- With the ‘settling’ of eBook content and
processes within many publishing houses, we’ll begin to see more
experimentation from publishers especially with expanded definitions of
traditional book content. We’ll see eBook
content – the ‘book’ part as a component of something that looks more like an
issue of an online magazine. Obviously,
an ‘issue’ where the ‘book’ part is the focus but ancillary material (in the
magazine sense the supporting articles) lend deeper meaning, context and even
leads to obvious tie-ins and sequels.
Essentially, I think we will begin to see the beginnings of the renaissance
of the ‘book’ that everyone has been moaning about.
- In an area that I am focused on, we will begin
to see a rapid movement towards atomizing educational content. Apple may well announce an educational
publishing version of iTunes where content is such as chapters, cases and
articles are sold in parts as songs are sold versus albums. Watch for a painful realization about
pricing. The al a carte approach for
content purchasing is something educators and institutions are looking for and
initiatives similar to the iTunes model are being welcome
because they empower people to make better choices.
- In sport, it will be a tight run thing at the top of the premiership this year but I still believe Manchester United will beat out Manchester City for the title. England will come second in the medals table at the London Olympics.