Friday, September 28, 2012

Château de Chanteloup August 1966

Château de Chanteloup, (Martell) France 1966
It really hasn't changed much and you can still have dinner there.

Another weekly image from my archive. Click on it to make it larger.

In addition to the images I've posted on Flickr and those I've periodically posted on PND, I have now produced a Big Blurb Book: From the Archive 1960 -1980 of some of the images I really thought were special.

I now have an iPad version of this book for sale ($4.99) on the Blurb site which you can find here: STORE

I have to say, even on the iPad the book looks pretty good.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Your Price May Vary

Re-post from November 19, 2009

I was enamored with the airline industry as I grew up and close readers will know I’ve always traveled a lot. Out of business school I interviewed with three airlines in their pricing departments where newly hired MBA’s went to learn the business. In that role, staff managed pricing of airline seats to maximize revenue per flight. Remembering that once a flight left the gate any open seat amounted to zero revenue for the airline, this activity was potentially highly stressful as the job also required close comparison with competing airlines’ pricing.

All this activity is now done with sophisticated real-time analytics and people rarely enter into the equation. Contrast this reliance on deep data analysis that helps the airlines maximize their revenue and the approach that media companies have used to price their products. For the most part, in the media business pricing is homogeneous across format with little consideration to the popularity (or lack) of the artist, author or show in question. Rather than a pricing model constructed on maximizing the revenue from individual products the content owner places a band of pricing across the range of their content. This is particularly the case in trade publishing, and in this model each artist is considered equal in their ability to generate revenue. Historically, publishers and other media companies ‘jimmied’ this lack of sophistication by assuming long backlist life, format sales – trade paper, mass-market, video rental, etc. – but those options look increasingly unworkable as the market migrates to e-Content.

Publishers in particular are gun shy about experimenting with pricing; opting to use the blunt instrument of scarcity rather than more sophisticated options. Numerous big name titles this year have been ‘held back’ from ebook distribution in deference to their print versions. This approach has already caused consternation among the consumers who have already made the transition to eBook content and want the newest titles when (even before) everyone else gets them. At some point many of these e-Book owners will look upon this situation as a ‘first mover’ penalty.

As e-content becomes more ubiquitous pricing should become more science than current practice would dictate. For the health of all parties in the publishing supply chain, it is vital that the price paid by consumers maximizes revenue. Understanding how the demand curve arcs is critical to pricing accurately and many factors (some more important than others) play into this calculation including the author’ brand, time from publication, exclusive content, competition, etc. Obviously, knowing how much someone is willing to pay for something (at a point in time) is difficult but think about how airlines do this: A seasonal traveler has far different characteristics than an executive who just has to get to Miami tomorrow. They both end up on the same flight but pay significantly different prices.

Publishers can be forgiven for a lack of understanding of the metrics of pricing in a print based world with many intermediaries and little ability to gather empirical data. Online things have changed and The Economist recently reported on research published by two economists at the University of Pennsylvania which examined pricing for on-line music. In this research, the authors looked at iTunes and attempted to determine whether students would be more or less willing to pay a different price per song than the rigid 99cents per tune. (There may be some correlation here between what Apple did with music and what Amazon is attempting to do with Kindle titles, and maybe Publishers should ask the researchers to expand the analysis.) The authors of this study found that the market could sustain a higher uniform price and knowing (via the results) the higher uniform price they were then able to expand their analysis to look at per song pricing and make some other extrapolations. The authors also experimented with a subscription type model that had a fixed price component with a per-use fee, and this model appeared to be more effective at maximizing revenue and value for both retailer and consumer.

Pricing is complicated: publishers can approach this in an unsophisticated manner but in doing so they are unlikely to maximize their revenue. More analysis is likely to show that a variable approach to pricing and packaging will generate more revenue. For example, in an approach the authors suggest for music, a publisher with a selection of 10 political/legal thrillers could generate more revenue selling the package for $29.95 than relying on selling each separately for a total of $79.00. The other advantage for both publishers and consumers is that more content can be purchased thereby increasing the market and customer base. Regardless, the decisions around pricing are worth spending more time on rather than reactively applying old pricing models to new circumstances. Perhaps we will see ‘Pricing Analyst’ as a new publishing job title.

Monday, September 24, 2012

MediaWeek (V4 N39) Coursera, Changing Academic Publishing, Project Muse, Libraries + More

MOOC Coursera continues to add providers to its platform with a big expansion noted in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.
The new partners come in a mix of shapes and sizes, comprising state flagships like the University of Maryland at College Park, liberal-arts colleges like Wesleyan University, specialized institutions including the Berklee College of Music, and foreign institutions like the University of Melbourne, in Australia. The speed at which colleges are joining is remarkable: The company began operations only in January.

Most partners will offer only a handful of free courses each to start out; Coursera officials recommend that each partner offer five at first. The colleges consider the efforts an experiment, with plans to review them in the near future and decide whether they want to continue to offer the free courses. The agreement between each institution and Coursera is nonexclusive, so the colleges are free to work with other MOOC providers as well.

One benefit for participating colleges is marketing: Coursera courses typically attract tens of thousands of students each. So far, the company says, more than 1.3 million students have signed up for at least one course. Many of the students sign up but then never watch the lecture videos or complete the homework assignments, but even so, the colleges are offering a sample of their best professors’ teaching to a wide audience.
Commentary by Hugh Gusterson in the Chronicle under the title "Want to Change Academic Publishing?
When I became an academic, those inconsistencies made a sort of sense: Academic journals, especially in the social sciences, were published by struggling, nonprofit university presses that could ill afford to pay for content, refereeing, or editing. It was expected that, in the vast consortium that our university system constitutes, our own university would pay our salary, and we would donate our writing and critical-reading skills to the system in return.

The system involved a huge exchange of gifted labor that produced little in the way of profit for publishers and a lot in the way of professional solidarity and interdependence for the participants. The fact that academic journals did not compensate the way commercial magazines and newspapers did only made academic publishing seem less vulgar and more valuable.

But in recent years the academic journals have largely been taken over by for-profit publishing behemoths such as Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley-Blackwell. And quite a profit they make, too: In 2010 Elsevier reported profits of 36 percent on revenues of $3.2-billion. Last year its chief executive, Erik Engstrom, earned $4.6-million.

One reason those companies make good profits for their shareholders and pay such high salaries to their leaders is that they are in a position to charge high prices. The open-access debate has focused mainly on the exorbitant fees for-profit publishers charge libraries for bundles of journal subscriptions, but I am struck by what they charge ordinary citizens to read my individual articles.

For example, anyone without access to a university library who wants to read a nine-page article I wrote (free) for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists last year will have to pay Sage $32 to get electronic access to it for one day—more than it would cost to buy and keep a printed copy of either of my most recent books. Needless to say, Sage passes none of the $32 on to me.
Also interesting is this exchange in the comments about Project MUSE:

ieubanks: This is a great article, and it's about time someone mentioned this elephant in the room. I do, however, agree with the comments here that question the wisdom of charging referee fees. The problem, as I see it, is not always the fault of the journal or the publishing house.

I edit a peer-reviewed journal, and we have precious little income. What we garner from subscriptions goes to the publishing house, which is a university press that subsidizes much of what it publishes.

The problem here is that the databases, such as ProjectMuse, JSTOR, and worse still, Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and others mentioned in the article, often pay a relatively small fee to the publishing houses and then turn around to charge libraries tremendous access fees. Therefore, the best solution would be for the authors of the articles to grant one-time printing rights and NON-TRANSFERABLE electronic rights to the journals and publishing houses. This would protect both open-access and subscription-only journals while preventing the databases from making a profit off free labor without violating intellectual property rights.

Furthermore, there should be a class-action suit against the databases. I feel certain that they are selling work they don't have permission to sell. I have found some of my own work in those databases, when I am sure that I never signed away electronic rights for those works. Meanwhile, large portions of library budgets go to the databases as tuition continually rises and faculty are downgraded to armies of over-qualified adjuncts.
Sand6432: This statement is misinformed about how what are incorrectly called "databases" like Project Muse operate. In fact, as I can testify as former director of Penn State University Press, which put all of its dozen journals into Project Muse as soon as it became open to journals from other publishers besides Johns Hopkins, that aggregation soon came to provide two thirds of the overall revenue for operating our journals program, which could not have transitioned into e-publishing without it. Project Muse limits its content to journals published by non-profit entities, by the way. I have never heard any librarian complain that its subscription fees were excessive. After all, it was established as a joint project of the press and library at Johns Hopkins, so has always been library-friendly.---Sandy Thatcher
ieubanks: Thank you for clarifying. My point is that people are selling the intellectual property of others without compensating them for it. I work with Project Muse, and they are guilty of it, although I agree that they are perhaps one of the least unscrupulous aggregators. The way it works is pretty simple, as far as I can tell. Here is how it works with the journal I edit: Libraries pay for access to material provided by Project Muse, who in turn pays a small sum to our publishing house for each journal. Neither the journal nor the authors ever see a penny of that. On the contrary, the authors must fund the journal themselves by joining the academic society responsible for producing the journal (i.e., the authors must subscribe in order to publish), and that money must be handed over to the publishing house to pay for publishing costs.
abbistani: While I was almost willing to accept the title of "least unscrupulous aggregator," I'm afraid that a little more information about how Project MUSE works might be in order. We currently return more than 75% of our gross revenue to our participating publishers. How much they pass on to their journals depends on the agreement between the publisher and the the journal. The amount of money that each journal earns for it's publisher is the result of a formula that includes things like usage, and as you might expect, there is a wide variance. I will submit that we return significantly more money to our journals than any other aggregator, and many earn more money from us than they do from selling subscriptions. ieubanks, email me if you want to talk about your particular situation.

Brian Harrington
Project MUSE

Barbara Fister wrting in Inside Higher Education on What Libraries Should Be:

In the case of libraries, I worry that we are abandoning or at the very least absent-mindedly mislaying our values and our capacity to improve the lives of those who use our libraries by taking too utilitarian an approach (“our job is to deliver the information people want”). We design our systems to deliver the goods and bolster “productivity,” but not necessarily to encourage making connections or thinking deeply and critically. Consuming and producing take the place of creation and contemplation (such old-fashioned terms). As Don M. Randel put it in a recent issue of Liberal Education, “The Market Made Me Do It.” We compete against one another as businesses and sports teams do and, in the process, we contribute not to the habits of mind and heart that Delbanco lays out, but instead to widening inequality. When we put delivery of information to our communities first, we neglect our broader interest in equalizing access to information.
In the Atlantic Maria Konnikova contemplates how easy it is becoming to erase books that cause problems (Atlantic):
Readers are increasingly reliant on digital sources for information—and they are increasingly reliant on these sources to be accurate. Of course, it's impossible to wipe out altogether the digital record of a book's existence. There will always be articles, analyses, used copies (you can still, for instance, get Imagine at Indiebound and Powell's). But the principle itself is a frightening one. Not only can you remove physical content—Orwell hasn't been the only one to disappear off of a Kindle device—but you can change, in a sense, the digital record. And what happens when there actually aren't any physical books behind those electronic versions—and then a publisher or retailer not only removes all links to the book in question, but then proceeds to remove the already purchased book from your reading device? Imagine: When all of your books are in digital form, what is the backup system if they are of a sudden removed?
From Twitter:
Apple Exec Jony Ive to Design One-of-a-Kind Leica Camera

Google Teams Up With Harris Interactive To Launch New Self-Service Consumer Research Tool

Book sculpture flows out of Museum Meermanno

Chart: Top 100 iPad Rollouts by Enterprises & Schools (Updated Sept. 15, 2012)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kabul Girl and a Dark Spectre 1973

Kabul girl and her mother 1973
This is a spooky image taken out of our car window as we drove by.  (That's the door edge on the right).  The girl is smiling for my father and perhaps catches a glimpse of one of the three boys in the car but it is the mother standing behind this girl that you wonder about.  Her face dark she looks like an evil apparition.  Is that her hand coming around the child's back to ward her away?  With all that happened in this country since then you can only wonder what happened to this young girl.

Another weekly image from my archive. Click on it to make it larger.

In addition to the images I've posted on Flickr and those I've periodically posted on PND, I have now produced a Big Blurb Book: From the Archive 1960 -1980 of some of the images I really thought were special.

I now have an iPad version of this book for sale ($4.99) on the Blurb site which you can find here: STORE

I have to say, even on the iPad the book looks pretty good.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Media Week (Vol4, N38) Career & For Profit Education, Saylor's Free Content, Google Ed Software + More

If employers won't value for profit education what's the prospect? (WaPo):
Education researchers have actually conducted a number of studies about this. As of a few years ago, the findings were pretty bleak for the industry. A literature review in 2009 found that ”all scholarly research to date has concluded that the ‘gatekeepers’ [human resources managers, executives, etc.] have an overall negative perception about online degrees.” But online teaching has gotten a lot better in the past three years, and the results are starting to show up on surveys of employers. One study found that half of executives viewed MBAs earned online as no different from ones earned in person. That’s still substantial stigma, though. If half of employers don’t think your degree is worth as much as those of other people applying for the same position, that’s not a great position to be in.
Can on-line higher education be free? Saylor Foundation thinks it can (IHeD)
This fall will be Saylor’s launch, for all practical purposes. Although the foundation has gotten some notice among higher-education reformers, the fleshed-out majors make the concept tangible. Based in a sleek but noisy office in the Washington's ritzy Georgetown neighborhood, the foundation’s 20- and 30-something employees are working with faculty members to put the finishing touches on courses.

Angela Bowie is one of those faculty members. Based in Philadelphia, Bowie has worked as a lobbyist and teaches political science and history, mostly at community colleges or regional public universities. She saw a job ad for Saylor, and tossed her hat in the ring. Bowie said the foundation put her through the wringer, asking for information on every course she’d taught over the last decade.

“They did a very thorough vetting,” Bowie said. “More than any other college I’ve ever worked for.”

Saylor has a training program for faculty members, which Bowie also described as thorough. In particular, she praised the foundation’s focus on learning outcomes. Saylor's faculty are paid on an hourly basis, a foundation official said. And Saylor is a side gig for most, who work as professors or adjuncts at traditional universities.
Google unveils an open source education software (PC):
"The Course Builder open source project is an experimental early step for us in the world of online education," Norvig said. "It is a snapshot of an approach we found useful and an indication of our future direction. We hope to continue development along these lines, but we wanted to make this limited code base available now, to see what early adopters will do with it, and to explore the future of learning technology."

In addition to offering a new platform for empowering educators, the effort is also a unique opportunity to connect with Google's research team. Over the course of the next two weeks Google plans to directly interact with Course Builder users via Google Hangouts. The Course Builder support site is already live and the free software download has already received its first update. For those unsure about their level of skill as it relates to the possible use of the software, Google's Course Builder Checklist offers a reassuring primer on exactly what to expect and how to get started.
Peter Osnos in The Atlantic on the Cruel Paradox of Self-Publishing (Atlantic):
And therein is the essential fact about self-publishing: Digital and print-on-demand technology has made the manufacture of books and their distribution through the Internet vastly more accessible than the traditional publishing model. But for every instance of a self-published work that gains meaningful traction because its author succeeds in finding an audience for it, the overwhelming majority of books do not. There is a menu of services available from companies like Author Solutions, including editing, design, and basic marketing that can cost up to about $5,000 and will give the book a qualitative boost. But with so many books pouring forth, gaining any attention is a formidable challenge. In its sale announcement, Author Solutions said Bowker Market Research, which is a primary source for how many books are published, reported that 211,000 self-published titles were released in 2011 in print or e-books, an increase of almost 60 percent over 2010. Presumably, that number will grow substantially again by the end of 2012.

Very few books that come from self-publishing companies end up on the shelves of bookshops, but as the percentage of the brick and mortar market gradually declines, the attractions of selling through online retailers and other e-book distributors grows. Amazon, covering all bases, has a thriving self-publishing business and now is also an acquirer of books by established authors.
From Twitter this week:

Chart: Top 100 iPad Rollouts by Enterprises & Schools (Updated Sept. 15, 2012)
Today's is the best Doonesbury ever (and education related):

Monday, September 10, 2012

MediaWeek (V4, N37): University Press Publishing, Georgia Copyright, MOOCs, + More

Three directors of University Presses take to Inside Higher Ed to discuss the realities of publishing in today's academic environment (IHEd):
It is self-evident that the books and journals we publish benefit faculty in their roles as authors, researchers, and teachers. Less evident is that our conduct of peer review and the luster of our imprints together support the tenure and promotion system that has characterized American higher education for generations. Sadly, this system has allowed colleges and universities without presses to "free ride" on the backs of those that have them; it costs them no more than the university press books and journals they choose to buy. Any solution to university press support might do well to address such freeloading.

Less recognized in the academic world is the degree to which university presses, through their publications, serve students. It is true that few presses publish core textbooks such as “Introduction to Economics” (though that’s an area where we are helping in the development of open-access texts), but a very large proportion of the books read either alongside or in lieu of a core text are university press publications. Indeed, our lifetime best-selling books are virtually always those read in undergraduate and graduate courses.

University presses have become the leading regional publishers in the country. State university presses in particular have played a major role in publishing books that help citizens recognize and celebrate what makes home, home. From histories to natural histories to cookbooks and sports books, we help give American citizens a better sense of who they are.
Somewhat expected, publishers are appealing the Georgia e-Reserves case from a few months ago (Chronicle):
In a conference call with reporters, publishers’ representatives emphasized the need to protect their authors’ intellectual property, and described the legal action as regrettable but necessary. Blaise R. Simqu, president and chief executive officer of SAGE Publications, said that “engaging in litigation with a fellow member of the academy is not taken lightly.” But “we believe that authors entrust publishers with their intellectual property,” he said. “We consider this to be a very, very sacred trust.”

Mr. Simqu said he had personally contacted more than 50 SAGE textbook authors to sound them out on whether to appeal the decision. “All but two of the authors not only were supportive but felt very strongly, very passionately that it was critical SAGE continue with this appeal,” he told reporters.

Niko Pfund, academic publisher and president of Oxford University Press, expressed similar discomfort with the situation. “We are obviously in an uncomfortable position being in an adversarial position with a library,” Mr. Pfund said. “I want to stress that, as a community, we really, ardently do believe in fair use.”

Mr. Pfund also presented the decision to appeal as regrettable but necessary. Many university presses operate “with razor-thin budgets,” Mr. Pfund said. “What enables us to keep operating is our backlist titles.” He added, “Our concern is that this decision would cut us off at the knees in that regard.”
MOOC's are very much the rage in education at the moment. The Atlantic takes a look at Stanford's new online education program by interviewing their new vice provost of Online Learning John Mitchell. (The Atlantic):
What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in online learning right now?

I think the MOOCs are the tip of the iceberg in a sense. That's the most visible, most wide- reaching phenomenon so far. But really, there is much more to this. I think we'll see an evolution of a range of different ways of using technology, and probably some expansion of the set of options that a student has. Instead of going off to college, maybe some students will live in their parents' homes or elsewhere and take a first year or two online. Or they'll spend two years in college and finish two years online as they work. There will be different, in effect, educational programs coming out of this phenomenon that offer credit, certification, job placement, and other things beyond the self learning that MOOCs provide. So I think we really are going to see a transformation in the way teaching and learning are developed and delivered.

At the same time, we may in 5 years understand what is different and what isn't different. And maybe some fundamentals will stay the same. Just as video conferencing hasn't put the airlines out of business, I think we're still going to see people going off to college in some form. When possible, it's just great to talk with someone one-on-one in person -- by video, by Skype, by some other medium. I don't think that prepared, canned video is itself the one major answer to the future of education.
Also from Campus Technology an article that references a study into what the future of education may look like in 2020. (CT)

It has been a while since there has been a Stieg Larsson related article so how about this one from the Economist (Schumpeter):
The first lesson is that the next big thing can come from the most unexpected places. Scandinavia is probably the most crime- and corruption-free region in the world: Denmark’s murder rate is 0.9 per 100,000 people, compared with 4.2 in the United States and 21 in Brazil. Scandinavians are also lumbered with obscure and difficult languages. A succession of mainstream British publishers rejected “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, Larsson’s first book, before Christopher MacLehose decided to publish it. Mr Indridason at first had poor sales because people found it hard to grapple with Icelandic names.

Yet Scandinavia has a number of hidden competitive strengths: a long tradition of blood-soaked sagas; an abundance of gloomy misfits; a brooding landscape; and a tradition of detective writing (Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall, a husband-and-wife team, enjoyed local success in the 1960s with their ten-volume Martin Beck series). There are prizes and classes galore to help crime writers on their way: Ms Lackberg started by taking an all-female crime-writing class. Even before the current boom, crime writing was so remunerative that it sucked in talent from everywhere. Mr Mankell started out writing mainstream plays and novels. Mr Nesbo was a footballer, stockbroker and rock musician before creating his hard-bitten detective, Harry Hole.
I just read The Snowman and it was gory but enjoyable.

A long report from Booz Hamilton on Digitization and Prosperity reproduced in Strategy+Business. Here are the intro paragraphs:
Policymakers today face an environment transformed by information and communications technology (ICT). More people today have access to a mobile phone than to electricity; the amount of data generated globally is expanding exponentially. In every country, leaders of government and business are deciding — through their policies and strategies for ICT, Internet access, communications media, and digital applications — how to promote and structure the digitization of their economies. These choices have enormous consequences. Countries that have achieved advanced levels of digitization, defined as the mass adoption of connected digital technologies and ICT applications by consumers, enterprises, and governments, have realized significant economic, social, and political benefits. For them, digitization is a pathway to prosperity. Other countries are falling disproportionately behind.

The difference among countries was a core finding of a recent study conducted by Booz & Company, “Maximizing the Impact of Digitization.” Other studies on ICT and prosperity have focused primarily on Internet access: whether people are able to connect to wireless and broadband technologies. But by looking more closely at the ways people use digital technologies and applications, we found that the greatest social and economic benefits depend on factors related to adoption and usage: such as pricing, reliability, speed, and ease of use. In any geography, these factors determine the level of digitization, which in turn has a proven impact on reducing unemployment, improving quality of life, and boosting citizens’ access to public services. Digitization allows governments to operate with greater transparency and efficiency, and it has a dramatic effect on economic growth, but not all at once. Countries at the most advanced stage of digitization derive 20 percent more in economic benefits than do those that are just beginning.
From the twitter:
Thank God Someone Finally Stepped In and Explained the Internet to Women - Rebecca J. Rosen - The Atlantic
Amazon vs. Penguin
Watch Charles Bukowski Recount the Worst Hangover of His Life
BISG Unveils Powerful New Bookstats Features, By Eugene G. Schwartz 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Ashe at the Open 1972

Arthur Ashe, Flushing Meadows 1972

Another weekly image from my archive. Click on it to make it larger.

In addition to the images I've posted on Flickr and those I've periodically posted on PND, I have now produced a Big Blurb Book: From the Archive 1960 -1980 of some of the images I really thought were special.

I now have an iPad version of this book for sale ($4.99) on the Blurb site which you can find here: STORE

I have to say, even on the iPad the book looks pretty good.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Segmenting Publishing Strategy

A re-post originally from November 9, 2009:

There is a self-publishing conference in NYC this weekend which reminded me of a project I worked on several years ago. After reading an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review about defining a company's corporate strategy, I decided to use the ideas in the article to spur discussion about my client's strategy. The HBS article Charting Your Company's Future is available from the HBS site and is summarized as follows:
Few companies have a clear strategic vision. The problem, say the authors, stems from the strategic-planning process itself, which usually involves preparing a large document, culled from a mishmash of data provided by people with conflicting agendas. That kind of process almost guarantees an unfocused strategy. Instead, companies should design the strategic-planning process by drawing a picture: a strategy canvas. A strategy canvas shows the strategic profile of your industry by depicting the various factors that affect competition. And it shows the strategic profiles of your current and potential competitors as well as your own company's strategic profile--how it invests in the factors of competition and how it might in the future. The basic component of a strategy canvas--the value curve--is a tool the authors created in their consulting work and have written about in previous HBR articles. This article introduces a four-step process for actually drawing and discussing a strategy canvas. Readers will learn how one European financial services company used this process to create a distinct and easily communicable strategy.

The process begins with a visual awakening. Managers compare their business's value curve with competitors' to discover where their strategy needs to change. In the next step--visual exploration--managers do field research on customers and alternative products. At the visual strategy fair, the third step, managers draw new strategic profiles based on field observations and get feedback from customers and peers about these new proposals. Once the best strategy is created from that feedback, it's time for the last step--visual communication. Executives distribute "before" and "after" strategic profiles to the whole company, and only projects that will help move the company closer to the "after" profile are supported.
My client was a medium-sized publishing company in a rapidly growing market and we met to brainstorm about redefining the organization's business strategy. Using the HBR article as a guide, we constructed a set of 'straw-man' profiles describing our client base and key characteristics. Firstly, we constructed the following customer type segmentation as follows:

Publishing Segmentation

Professional nave either a track record of selling titles and/or have commercial interests, such as a seminar business, where the book is a component (but not the main source) of revenue. In the latter case, the author/publisher may be less concerned with the commercial success of the title but retain a strong desire to produce a quality published product in the traditional sense. This group is likely to understand the publishing business.

Amateurs may have significant misconceptions about the industry and their capacity to be successful. They will require significant education and (possibly) even motivation to complete their “product.” They may develop a personal relationship with the publisher rather than a business relationship and will become more demanding of time and effort than the Professional.

Non-Commercial versus Commercial could be a choice of the publisher as well as a representation of the commercial potential of the product. For example, to a "pragmatist", a book could be a 'give-away' that supports some other aspect of their business and is thus 'non-commercial' but to an amateur the book may be 'non-commercial' because it doesn't have a market. My client's customer base had expectations about the commercial merits of their products, which often, did not match reality and this was important for my client's management to recognize.

Most of our customers in the lower-left quadrant would place themselves much further to the right on the commercial spectrum than reality would dictate. We also recognized that placing customers into the lower right quadrant could not be planned with a degree of accuracy and depended on the willingness of the client to promote and market their title aggressively. Realistically, we felt it was next to impossible to anticipate success in this quadrant.

In the upper-right quadrant, we would most likely find established authors, professional speakers and back-in-print titles. (We didn't look at profitability in this exercise but that would be an obvious additional task).

We then selected a spectrum of key attributes that we believed the publisher's customers valued: Price, speed, contact, quality, control, product sales, community, education, ease of use, reputation. Using these attributes (which would be confirmed by research later), we attempted to plot how our customers in each quadrant valued each attribute. Importantly, we understood these drivers to be 'valued' differently by the customers in each quadrant.

The resulting chart for Pragmatists plotted for the client and one of their competitors looked like this:

The Pragmatist
Pragmatists: This draft profile suggests key areas of differentiation from one player to the other. The competitor (black line) operates at the top of the chart for the drivers that their customers view as critical and give low consideration (limit time and effort) on those that do not and which don't support their strategy. In my clients case, we believed customers valued education highly but we also knew this aspect of the business cost a lot to deliver.

The Dreamers
We also looked at the 'dreamer' segment and chose a different competitor which had made a conscious decision to build sales volume with clients in that quadrant.
To support this strategy their revenue model was partially driven by unit sales (of the finished book), and they determined that many of their authors did not care about quality in the same way a traditional publisher/ author would. The competitor believed that ‘Dreamers’ were interested in receiving the end product as soon as possible.

In contrast, my client publisher sought to actively engage with the ‘dreamer’ to produce a better end product. Paradoxically, in the case of the competitor the ‘dreamer’ may remain blissfully ignorant but happy, while in the case of my client the customer may be dissatisfied because the process took longer, the interactions with staff were frustrating and the choices overwhelming. Same type of customer - "Dreamer" - but different approaches produce different customer experiences and expectations.

Strategy: As we discussed these 'straw-man' profiles we recognized that, for our business, there was a lot of revenue in delivering services to the lower left quadrant if we could get the business driver mix just right. Our challenge was to understand how to produce that revenue profitably. One obvious solution was to withdraw/eliminate costly services the author/customer is uninterested in. Over-delivering to this segment is pointless (which is a philosophy that one of our competitors practiced.)

We also recognized that classic business strategy suggests that companies endeavor to move their customers in the direction of the upper right quadrant. In the self-publishing market it would be virtually impossible to turn ‘Dreamers’ into ‘Moneyed’; however, it may be possible to move a small number into ‘lotto winners.’ The assumption would be that these authors have a product with a ‘hook’ that is somehow unique, and they are willing to work actively on the book to improve it and support it in the market. An added bonus would be one if the author was willing/able to publish additional titles. Rather than expend effort building marketing, promotion and editorial services (add-ons) for clients in the lower left, one potential strategy would be to expend this effort on the select titles/authors that showed promise in moving these titles/authors to the right along the commercial spectrum.

Using the framework we hashed out over an afternoon, our next step was to confirm the key customer drivers by segment (Professionals, Amateurs), to plot our position and our competitor's, and then identify our ideal profile. Once we defined this ideal profile, we would build a strategy focused on moving the company from the 'old' curve to the 'new' one.

In implementing this approach it is important to recognize that customers dictate and research is likely to identify a new driver and confirm that one or more suggested drivers are not important at all. Substitutions could occur and research should be tailored to uncovering these ‘unknown’ drivers not just confirming the ones the staff identifies.

Lastly, communicating the strategy internally is important and using a visual tool like this strategy map makes this easier. Once the ‘big-picture’ strategy is defined, then other tactical aspects of the strategy should be easier to define. This can be both a fun exercise and one critical to the future success of an organization.

Monday, September 03, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N36) Education & Innovation, iTunes U, Pearson + More

Kevin Carey of Washington Monthly takes a look at investments in the education technology space. (WM):
Last August, Marc Andreessen, the man whose Netscape Web browser ignited the original dot-com boom and who is now one of Silicon Valley’s most influential venture capitalists, wrote a much-discussed op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. His argument was that “software is eating the world.” At a time of low start-up costs and broadly distributed Internet access that allows for massive economies of scale, software has reached a tipping point that will allow it to disrupt industry after industry, in a dynamic epitomized by the recent collapse of Borders under the giant foot of Amazon. And the next industries up for wholesale transformation by software, Andreessen wrote, are health care and education. That, at least, is where he’s aiming his venture money. And where Andreessen goes, others follow. According to the National Venture Capital Association, investment in education technology companies increased from less than $100 million in 2007 to nearly $400 million last year. For the huge generator of innovation, technology, and wealth that is Silicon Valley, higher education is a particularly fat target right now.

This hype has happened before, of course. Back in the 1990s, when Andreessen made his first millions, many people confidently predicted that the Internet would render brick-and-mortar universities obsolete. It hasn’t happened yet, in part because colleges are a lot more complicated than retail bookstores. Higher education is a publicly subsidized, heavily regulated, culturally entrenched sector that has stubbornly resisted digital rationalization. But the defenders of the ivy-covered walls have never been more nervous about the Internet threat. In June, a panicked board of directors at the University of Virginia fired (and, after widespread outcry, rehired) their president, in part because they worried she was too slow to move Thomas Jefferson’s university into the digital world.

The ongoing carnage in the newspaper industry provides an object lesson of what can happen when a long-established, information-focused industry’s business model is challenged by low-price competitors online. The disruptive power of information technology may be our best hope for curing the chronic college cost disease that is driving a growing number of students into ruinous debt or out of higher education altogether. It may also be an existential threat to institutions that have long played a crucial role in American life.
And a look at LORE a new company that The Economist finds interesting (Econ):
Lore is part of a trend that builds on the familiarity with social networking that has come with the success of Facebook. It customises the rules of a network to meet the specific needs of students. Anyone teaching a class would reasonably worry that students using Facebook were gossiping rather than learning useful information from their network of friends. Lore allows teachers to control exactly who is in the network (by issuing a class-membership code) and to see how they are using it. They can also distribute course materials, contact students, manage tests and grades, and decide what to make public and what to keep private. Students can also interact with each other.

In the academic year after launching its first version last November, Lore was used in at least one class in 600 universities and colleges. Its goal for its second year, about to begin, is to spread rapidly within those 600 institutions, not least to see what the effects of scale are from having lots of classes signed up within the same institution.
Inside Higher Education takes a look at Apple's iTunes U Course Manager (IHE):
There remain a number of challenges to this LMS + Apple Courses model.

First, each student needs to have an iOS device - and preferably an iPad. Android or other mobile OS users need not apply. Stay within the Apple world and the curricular content consumption experience is great - stray and you are left without options. Apple is smart to make the Course Manager and iTunes U software free, as the ability to easily create a great tablet / mobile experience will push colleges to consider 1-to-1 iPad programs.

The second challenge is that the LMS + Apple Course model separates the consumption of curricular content (on the iOS device) and the production of active learning (via blogs and discussion boards in the LMS). Even if the mobile experience for the major LMS platforms improves dramatically (which I hope), students will still need to go outside of the Apple Course environment. Discussions and formative assessments are separated from curricular content.
Parade's End will soon be on TV here (US) and The Telegraph takes a look at other potentially 'lost' masterpieces (Telegraph):
So when we speak of “forgotten novels”, we actually mean those that are not really forgotten at all – there are plenty that no living reader has ever heard of in the stacks of copyright libraries. We mean a novel that is kept alive only by the fervent enthusiasm of a small group of fellow practitioners – the so-called “writers’ writers”. We might also mean the sort of writer who was once read in huge quantities, whose works were predicted to be the great classics of the future, who now go completely unread. The writers’ writer, like Ford, might be returned to circulation in time; the abandoned bestseller might be undergoing a temporary dip in reputation. But for the most part, these novels end as almost all novels do, in obscurity.

The writers’ writer has, on the whole, never commanded a large readership. Henry James and Joseph Conrad mastered the approbation, mostly, of their fellow novelists – oddly enough, the one book with which Conrad commanded a large readership, the sumptuous Chance, is now one of his most overlooked. The writers who are kept alive by small bursts of enthusiastic praise are regularly brought back into print, and drift off again before another publisher is persuaded that it might be worth having a go.
Pearson has been granted a contract to supply California State Universty schools with a platform to deliver on-line courses (Press Release):
The California State University, the nation’s largest four-year university system, has selected Pearson to launch Cal State Online, a fully online program designed to increase access to higher education. Cal State Online will launch in January 2013 with a selection of undergraduate degree completion and professional master’s programs, leveraging the multitude of programs currently available across the CSU.

“As a university system that is devoted to access, affordability and quality, the CSU needed an educational partner with the highest levels of expertise, experience and demonstrated success launching high-growth online learning programs,” said John Welty, President of Fresno State and Chair of the Cal State Online Board. “We partnered with Pearson because they offer a robust suite of services, support and a collection of success stories through their work with other universities, making them a perfect fit for Cal State Online.”
The Economist looks at how printers are doing given the migration to on-line delivery of content (Econ):
If journalists are gloomy about the outlook for their industry, printers are despondent. Media companies can still make some money as readers switch to digital editions; a printer cannot. The outlook for newspaper printers is particularly grim, says Robert Picard, a media economist: advertisers are now keener to run their adverts in magazines on high-quality glossy paper than in newspapers, whose circulation is dwindling. But newspapers and magazines require different printing equipment, so switching over is costly.

Some printers are offering marketers and retailers the option of printing more personalised catalogues to target different groups of consumers more accurately. But this is not as lucrative as “long runs”, printer-speak for running off hundreds of thousands of identical copies. Several printers (including Rupert Murdoch’s News International, which prints its own newspapers) have opened their presses to competitors to earn extra money; last year the newspaper group won a contract to print the Evening Standard, a London daily. A few reckon that they can turn a profit from the digital switch, and help clients to design electronic versions of their printed material.
From Twitter:

Milestones: LibraryThing Turns Seven! InfoDoc

The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald – review Guardian