Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pew Center Study on Life Long Learning: Most of us like to Learn.

Pew Center study on life long learning concludes with some sobering stats related to some of the hottest topics in education:

Some key new digital platforms and methods of learning are not widely known by the public

The educational ecosystem is expanding dramatically. Still, there is not widespread public awareness of some of the key resources that are becoming available. Noteworthy majorities of Americans say they are “not too” or “not at all” aware of these things:
  • Distance learning – 61% of adults have little or no awareness of this concept.
  • The Khan Academy, which provides video lessons for students on key concepts in things such as math, science, the humanities and languages – 79% of adults do not have much awareness of it
  • Massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are now being offered by universities and companies – 80% of adults do not have much awareness of these.
  • Digital badges that can certify if someone has mastered an idea or a skill – 83% of adults do not have much awareness of these.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Marketing wants to Market, Sales wants to Sell: Give them the Tools.

An historic lack of investment in the tools that allow your best customers to use your content may be frustrating those inside and outside your business.  It’s time to consider a strategic approach to identity and access management.

Over the past few years, many large software companies (including IBM, EMC, SAP and others) have invested in or acquired software which facilitates the relationship between a consumer and the owner of a digital item.  Typically, this ‘item’ is a content type such as an article, television show, movie or website.  But as more and more of our interactions occur on the web, the universe of ‘items’ available to us expands every day.  The category of software which facilitates these relationships is referred to as Identity and Access Management (IAM) and more and more, it is becoming an area of increased investment by both the providers of this type of software and the companies which provide the access rights.  Gartner defines Identity and Access Management (IAM) as “The security discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right time for the right reasons”.

Most publishers with web content and web-delivered products will be familiar with the two main components of IAM: authentication and authorization.   Both have been critical in the distribution of electronic products into the library, academic and direct-to-consumer markets for our market for many years.   The software which manages these activities is frequently embedded in other applications – such as a content management or subscription system – or is derived from those systems.  Now, increasingly, we are seeing purpose-built IAM systems which sit between a database/repository of content and the user.  Companies like EMC, as well as new-to-the-market companies such as, are aggressively expanding this market as the ‘subscription’ and ‘membership’ model economy grows.  Publishers and content-centric companies – whether they know it or not – have represented many of the original business cases upon which these companies have based their investments.  The irony is that many publishers have under invested in their own IAM tools: As a result, they are likely to be leaving money on the table and suffering a comparative disadvantage versus others who are investing in the new tools and software.

Naturally, all content owners want to expand the usage of their content, be able to experiment with different business models and facilitate as many access modes as possible.  The consumer wants access to be universal across their devices (without disruption) and they increasingly expect some degree of personalization which provides them with additional relevant and timely content. 

Publishers are unable to deliver on these requirements due to their lack of investment in IAM solutions.  For example, they will provide access to journal articles for stated periods of time but don’t have the technical flexibility to work with collections of articles created by users and then price these collections dynamically.  Marketers and sales staff are left frustrated by lost sales - often to competitors - who are able to provide more creative and personalized options for their users. 

As publishers review their options and plan their technical architecture they will need to answer several new(ish) questions about the IAM software they are considering.  Licensing this software from the same content management (CMS) provider is likely to prove less and less optimal as companies like those noted above build out the functionality and capabilities of bespoke IAM solutions.  

Within the context of a strategic plan and a review of the company’s sales and market goals, you may consider the following important questions to answer and issues to discuss with vendors:
  • How flexibly can we define customer types?  Can this definition happen dynamically as a user exhibits certain behaviors?   How easy is the admin interface that allows marketing and sales personnel to define customer types?
  • Business models in the “old world” were very static; however, there may now be an almost unlimited number of business models to support a wide variety of customer types and access rules.  How well can this software manage a wide variety of models?  How are new models created and/or augmented and existing ones changed?  Importantly, is there an ‘archive’ capability so you can place any number of business models on hold and return to them in the future.  Is reporting easy – especially if you expect to adopt a multitude of models?
  • As our own personal experience shows, we access content and online resources via a variety of devices ranging from our television to our watch.  The experience is naturally very different from device to device and these differences need to be mitigated so as to not diminish and/or devalue the user experience.  The IAM should be able to intervene as needed to maintain the best and most consistent, uninterrupted experience for the user.
  • Lastly, IAM may be able help content owners expand the overall usage of their content.  To the extent that IAM enables some identification of the user this information can be used as a basis for delivering specific, personalized new content of which the user may be unaware.  Together with a strong analytics capability (a topic for next time), marketing can categorize users into like groups to deliver curated (and programmatic) content packages.  These type of activities are strategically important because they can support new revenue streams, renewal rates and price increases.  Tying an increase in utility to an annual price increase can be very effective in raising topline revenues.
  • A second aspect of identity management is to confirm that your chosen technology can monetize the ‘non-registered’ or ‘over the transom’ traffic which comes to your site on a daily basis.  If you have a site which generates a lot of daily non-subscriber traffic you’ve probably asked a lot about how you can turn that traffic into real revenue.  Asking specific questions about how this can be achieved via an IAM is important because, here, you may find a true ROI.
Increasingly, IAM will be viewed as a business-critical solution supported by the marketing and sales team, rather than a ‘black-box’ software package managed by the corporate IT department.   Decision makers on the front line selling content, subscriptions and memberships should begin demanding more from the IAM.  The solutions are out there.

Michael Cairns has served as CEO and President of several technology and content-centric business supporting global media publishers, retailers and service provider.  He can be reached at and is interested in discussing new business opportunities for executive management and/or board and advisory positions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Volley -The student personal learning assistant picks up $2.3million

Interesting concept in Volley which uses your computer camera to analyze textbook content to provide additional resources, help and support to students.  The company just came out of stealth mode after gathering $2.3million in seed funding.

From Techcrunch:
"Once students take a photo of the work they’re struggling with, Volley analyzes the text and imagery in seconds to determine the precise topics at hand and lets the user choose the right one from a list. It can then point them to chunks of Khan Academy courses and Wikipedia articles, but also little-known reference PDFs uploaded by a teacher on the other side of the country that they’d never be able to find by Googling.
Orbuch says thanks to Volley’s “Concept Graph” it can also determine what prerequisites students would have to know first to figure something out. Kahn explains that “To understand photosynthesis, you need to understand glycolysis.” If a student missed a day of class or had trouble with a lecture because English isn’t their first language, Volley can fill in the knowledge gaps.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

End the Book Embargo Against Cuba

There are some great Cuban crime writers like Jose Latour, and Arnaldo Correa among many others. Let's return the favor by ending the book embargo with Cuba.   US publishers have united to ask Congress and The White House to end this restriction on culture and as you probably saw the WSJ and the NYT covered the story earlier this week.

Publishers Weekly has published the request on the cover of this weeks magazine to drive the point home.  Here is how they put it:
Our position:
  • We ask Congress and the president to lift the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba related to the production, distribution, and sale of books and educational materials.
  • The U.S. trade embargo is harmful to book culture and runs counter to American ideals of free expression.
  • Books are catalysts for greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression, and positive social change.
  • Cuba boasts a rich and proud literary tradition with much to contribute to book culture.
  • Cuba's adult literacy rate—nearly 100%—is among the highest in the world.
  • Exciting commercial opportunities exist for the American and Cuban publishing communities to collaborate for the benefit of readers and writers everywhere.
  • The American book publishing community stands ready to help Cuba's writers and publishers gain access to the global book market, and to help the Cuban people gain greater access to the amazing diversity of books published by American publishers.
Personnally, I've long believed the embargo of Cuba was anachronistic and pointless.  I'm gald the President has taken the steps he has to end it.  There are still significant challenges in Cuba to open representative government free of repression but ending these types of failed policies will only help to open up the country to more freedom.

From the petition site:
On the eve of his historic visit to Cuba March 21-22, we call on President Obama to utilize executive powers to immediately lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.
  • As a basic human right, readers everywhere deserve greater access to books and literature.
  • Books promote cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression and positive social change.
  • The book embargo runs counter to American ideals of free expression.
  • Cuba's adult literacy rate – at nearly 100% - is among the highest in the world.
  • Cuba boasts a rich literary heritage.
  • End the embargo to make the works of American and Cuban writers more accessible to readers in each country.
  • 72% of Americans support an end to the trade embargo against Cuba (Pew, 2015)
Signing up is easy.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

EBSCO's Tim Collins on eBooks, Libraries and Search "has never been more important".

Interesting interview from Scholarly Kitchen with Tim Collins.  Here's a clip:
Many libraries are starting to see that, while they may spend less on ebooks for a couple of year by using STLs, they are often left with lower annual budgets (if they spend less in one year their budget declines the next) and a much less robust ebook collection to offer their users (as they don’t own as many books). While some libraries may feel like this is okay as they can enable their patrons to search ‘all’ ebooks via Demand Driven Acquisition (DDA) models without actually buying them, we worry about this logic as it assumes that publishers will continue to make all of their content available for searching via DDA at no cost to users. We don’t see this as a valid assumption as, if DDA results in reducing ebook budgets even further, we wonder whether publishers will be able to afford to make their ebooks available under this model.
We can see why book publishers worked with these models as they wanted to support their customers. But, if these models result in budget reductions, which result in publishers not being able to fulfill their mission of publishing the world’s research so that it can be consumed, we don’t see them being sustainable.   We understand that this view may not be welcomed or shared by all libraries, but we see the logic being sound. Business models need to work for both customers and vendors in order for them to be sustainable. There was much great discussion on this subject at the recent Charleston Conference and in related articles published in Against the Grain by both publishers and librarians.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Cost of Publishing University Press Monographs

Ithaka S+R recently published a study conducted during 2015 of the costs of publishing monographs within the University Press environment.  Here is a link to the study (pdf)

In summary their findings are as follows:
  • Regardless of group type, the largest cost item for university presses is staff time, specifically the time related to activities of acquisitions, the area most closely tied to the character and reputation of the press. This activity is least likely to be outsourced, and considered to be closely tied to its financial success: acquisitions editors being the ones with the skill, subject expertise, and relationships needed to attract the most promising authors and topics to the press.
  • The working hypothesis at the outset of the study was that larger presses would demonstrate a lower per-book cost, presuming that larger houses are able to work more efficiently due to the economic benefits of scaling. Based on the data contributed by the individual presses, the small university presses in group 1 have been able to produce monographs at a lower cost than the other groups. It is impossible to determine if this signals greater efficiency on the part of the small presses or it simply means they underinvest in their publications.
  • We looked for significant determinants of cost. While press size, page count, and number of illustrations showed a relationship to cost, other factors, including whether or not the title was a “first book,” whether or not the press was at an institution that required it to pay rent, or whet
  • her the press was at a public versus private institution, did not. An examination of disciplines was not conclusive, due to small sample size.