Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Adobe Summit - Evangelists For Publishing

There were some interesting take-always from Monday's Adobe Summit

The Adobe $1.5B acquisition of Workfront was one of largest Adobe has made and in doing so, the company was placing a bet on simplified, structured collaboration on the one hand and content and marketing complexity on the other.  Adobe has recognized that managing and recording the content creation process is increasingly important within all organizations as much as achieving effective marketing. Managing artifacts, content items and other similar materials are, and will, continue to consume increasing amounts of staff time as content is deployed everywhere and where measurement of the impact and use of this content is critical.

Workfront is now the workflow solution within Adobe Experience Manager: Using this framework marketing managers connect strategy to execution and can ensure the business is driving to the desired outcomes as it deploys content and creates uniquely personalized experiences for consumers. As user experience is enhanced with more and more personalized content and a widening of the access points to content, the amount of activities and transactions around this messaging will massively increase as these experiences are pushed (or pulled) to consumers. Managing all this activity requires robust workflow and tools which is where Workfront inside Adobe Experience Manager realizes its strength.

Within Workfront, staff map out their marketing campaigns and assign responsibilities which may be completed in any of the Adobe applications. These tasks have approval processes and 'jobs' are routed for review, approval and publishing and each activity is logged in Workfront. As campaigns are executed, managers can review how the entire campaign came together and what the results were. Adobe is calling this the "marketing system of record - a unified solution for sharing ideas, managing content creation and automating complex processes".

While Adobe saw the value of Workfront as supporting marketing and creative functions, within Book publishing the Workfront solution has also been used by publishers to replace spreadsheets and other tools within the editorial and production processes. Even as a 'generic' workflow product,  WorkFront is a strong competitor to the software solutions provided by industry players. National Geographic and Royal Society of Chemistry are two publishers using Workfront. Since Adobe products are embedded in publishing we will likely see an increase in the number of Workfront deployments and this should worry the incumbent software players in our space.

The other interesting news item concerned data privacy. Here Adobe is betting that third-party cookies which store our activities on the internet as we visit websites will disappear (or at least will not be used to identify our traffic). A new concept named the 'consumer data platform' whereby product companies and marketeers build a closer relationship with consumers by better utilizing the first-party data they already own to establish a coherent brand experience. This is explained in a good post here

Where it gets interesting is the Adobe spin. At the event, Adobe suggested a capability to leverage information the customer has chosen to share so that personalized experiences can be created and delivered to the consumer. Adobe has enabled "Segment Match" capabilities which will allow brands with similar interests to share data and to build collaborative engagement and expand their reach with consumers who have cross-over interests. A good example of this would be a travel publisher and an airline. This is in early days and we will see how this develops but for publishers with a broad array of content the opportunities to build partnerships based on real data could be an opportunity too important to miss out on. Just another reason why Adobe, already embedded in publisher workflows could see more expansion within publishing.

For more information check out the Adobe Summit Video.

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Pearson 1Q Report and Other Higher Ed Publishers show Positive Results

Pearson plc under new CEO Andy Bird posted 'encouraging' results for the 1Q with revenue up 5% versus last year. The company notes the disruption from COVID has been longer than expected but that their outlook is positive based on these 1Q results. As with all Higher Ed publishers the company is laser focused on reporting online/digital revenues and the improved mix between legacy products and models to new products. Some bullets from their press release:

  • Encouraging start to the year despite challenging market conditions, with underlying revenue growth of 5% reflecting good progress as we reposition Pearson for sustainable growth with a strong direct to consumer focus.
  • Global Online Learning up 25%,with strong growth in Virtual Schools due to enrollment growth in the current school year in Partner Schools as well as in US district partnerships; modest growth in OPM due to ongoing impact of discontinued programs.
  • Global Assessment down 2%, as strong recovery in Professional Certification and US Clinical Assessment was more than offset by US School Assessment, where revenue was down significantly due to the challenging comparative and reuse of material from cancelled exams 

Other higher ed publishers are also showing encouraging results led by McGraw Hill which looks like it is going through a significant reinvention. The company has not released detailed year end numbers but yesterday they did release an overview on their performance.  Some bullets from this presentation:

  • 58% increase in their "Inclusive Access" program which provides day one content for all enrolled students. This business represents $167mm in revenue
  • The mix between print and digital is now 28%/72% which shows a 10point decline year over year. Obviously not only a market trend but a strategic imperative for the company to move more revenue to digital
  • The company saw double digit growth in digital billings to $1B with EBITDA of $440mm

Cengage reported their 9mth numbers back in Feb and will not report full year until June. Total revenues were down 10% however net income is significantly better at $60mm

Wiley's education business has also struggled over the most recent past while the rest of the business expand both revenue and profit. For the 9mths reported in March publishing revenue was down 4% but EBITDA was slightly higher up 2% (although additional business units also fed that number). 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

NOT SO SUPER – How out of touch owners have badly miscalculated their fans gullibility.

There’s going to be a super league for UK and European that no one asked for. As astounding an example of hubris you are likely to see even by professional sports standards, a select group of very wealthy team owners are set on establishing a football (soccer) version of the National Football League in Europe. This “league” will be walled off from the rest of football and, it is assumed, will suck away a great deal of cash which otherwise would have gone to support all European football. Presumably these rich clubs, including Manchester United which I’ve supported since birth, believe they should be making far more money and should not have to share with others. Currently, cross-European football competition is governed by UEFA and the two primary European competitions generate both excitement and needed revenues for all teams not just those competing. Participation in these league competitions is dependent on the success of a team’s domestic play.

The new ‘super league’ will put paid to this structure and enable a small number of mega-teams (plus invited guest teams) to play year after year in a pseudo competition without the risk of dropping out each year. The US National Football League is the target environment which these out of touch club owners are seeking. A walled garden where clubs never have to worry about dropping out of the money stakes and where they can control team numbers, employee contracts and broadcast and image rights.. Allowing European teams to create their own super league would be a first step in creating an NFL-like business which is also protected from certain anti-competitive laws and is basically a legal cartel. Some of the current UK team owners are very familiar with the warped nature of American sports ownership and must look dewey eyed on the benefits accruing to NFL team owners.

In the short time since this ‘super-league’ idea was announced, fans across the country have voiced opposition to the idea; and this opposition is coming from true diehard loyal fans who see the fix is in. As much as all of us hate to lose games to any team, we live for the excitement, the anxiety and the glory which is football. Team pride is having your team strive all year in their country league to be able to compete with the best teams in Europe. This ‘super-league’ fails both the teams excluded as well as those included. I do not want to see my team playing FC Porto or Athletico Madrid (or Arsenal for that matter) year after year in a glorified exhibition tournament.

The owners have badly calculated. Opposition has come fast and furious from the authorities at UEFA, the Football League and even (sigh) Boris Johnson. If these clubs go ahead with their plans, they risk being kicked out of domestic competitions and their players being excluded from national team selection. I hope this doesn’t happen and I also hope the league authorities don’t seek to ‘negotiate’ with these break away teams to assuage them in some fashion. They don’t deserve it. On the bright side, perhaps this will create room for other less selfish teams. Just up the road from my Grandad’s place is Salford FC which is owned by some ex-Manchester United heros. The Salford team kit is red like United and this might just do for me, and the way they are going they may be in the Premier league soon anyway.

Friday, April 16, 2021

How streaming is changing the music business | FT Film

Interesting news video from the Financial Times about how streaming is changing business models and options for recording artists:

How do you make money in the music industry? Streaming platforms like Spotify now dominate. But social media apps like TikTok and Instagram are also changing the playing field. Some artists are moving away from traditional record deals and revenue sources. The FT's Don Newkirk asks some of the world's biggest music companies, record labels, and producers how they are adapting to this fast-changing industry. And he follows an up-and-coming hip-hop artist struggling to make his fair share as the coronavirus pandemic hits.

 Other news items:

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ingram Sell VitalSource to Francisco Partners

Big news in education publishing:

From their press release:

Ingram Content Group® (“Ingram”) today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to sell VitalSource Technologies LLC to Francisco Partners, a leading global investment firm that specializes in partnering with technology businesses. 

Under Ingram’s leadership, VitalSource was transformed from a small venture serving a niche market to a global leader in digital content distribution. Ingram first acquired VitalSource in 2006 with an eye to grow it into a larger digital learning platform that could serve the higher ed market and more. This was part of a larger effort by Ingram to help the book industry leverage technology to transform the way content is accessed and in turn, the way the book industry works.

"We are very proud of the extraordinary value-add VitalSource offers the academic and professional communities. VitalSource has grown into one of the leading digital curriculum delivery and learning platform providers with proven scalability and reliability at a time where digital content and online learning is very much in demand,” said Ingram Content Group President & CEO Shawn Morin. “Francisco Partners is committed to furthering the VitalSource mission of improving learner outcomes and accelerating our commitment to developing innovative, forward-thinking solutions and platforms that open doors to affordable and impactful learning experiences to students and professionals around the world.”

 More to follow.

Monday, April 05, 2021

PersonaNonData Magazine: Amazon++, Copyright, Shakespeare + Other Articles

More articles of interest from my flipboard magazine:


  • New Statesman: Should Books be Free?
  • Billboard: Bandcamp changes the discussion about payments
  • Vox: Amazon's Union
  • UC/Elsevier Journal deal
  • Dohle - RandomHouse: It's the best time ever
  • WAPO: Want to Borrow that Book?
  • Stratechery: Relentless Jeff Bezos

Plus an archive of many more of interest to media folks


Friday, March 26, 2021

New Price Fixing Suit Goes After Publishers and Amazon for Print Prices

Earlier this year, the law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro (Hagens) filed suit alleging the price fixing and collusion among and the five largest trade publishers which, the suit alleges, caused consumers to pay higher prices.

Now the same law firm is alleging a similar crime with respect to print book prices.  In the press release, the law firm states, 

“We believe we have uncovered a classic antitrust price-fixing scheme akin to exactly what Amazon and the Big Five book publishers have been accused of in the past,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney representing the proposed class of booksellers. “The Big Five and Amazon have sought to squeeze every penny they can from online and retail booksellers through a complex and restrictive set of agreements, and we intend to put an end to this anticompetitive behavior.” 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Mar. 25, 2021, and states that Amazon colluded with the Big Five U.S. book publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster – to restrain competition in the sale of print trade books, or non-academic texts such as fiction and non-fiction material.  

Back in 2011, this law firm also sued Apple accusing them of fixing e-book prices at artificially high levels and in that case Apple agreed to settle for $400 million. Hagens has a colorful history as these links (1, 2, 3) suggest but it also was recognized in 2020 by Law360 as Class Action Practice Team of the year. 

It remains to be seen how these cases will be adjudicated over the next few (likely) years.  As noted in an earlier post, Connecticut is also taking a look at Amazon and eBook pricing according to the NYTimes.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Barnes & Noble Education: 3Q Results Show COVID Impact

Barnes & Noble Education reported their third quarter results on March 9th, showing a predictable decrease in revenues due to Covid.  Third quarter sales ($411MM) were off 18% versus 2020 which contributed to a year to date negative revenue ($1,211MM) variance of 24%.  EBITDA for the period showed a loss of $(48)MM versus $(1.7)MM in 2020. The year to date loss is $(87)MM versus income of $2.1 in 2020.  The company indicated they took a write down of $27MM for store fixtures.

It is worth noting that revenue results for 3Q 2020 were off 8% for the quarter and 6% year to date versus 2019 showing that the COVID impact has been significantly worse in recent periods.  In the 2019 3Q filing, revenues for the quarter were $550mm which indicates revenue has fallen $140mm over two years.  Year to date revenues in 2019 were $1.6B versus $1.2B in 2021.

(See Follett release below).

As this chart shows however, recent investors might be happy with share performance:


Additional details from their press release: 

Operational highlights for the third quarter 2021:
Entered into a long-term strategic omnichannel merchandising partnership with FLC, forging an alliance with the two online and offline leaders in the licensed sports and emblematic merchandise category. Under the terms of the agreement, Fanatics and Lids together made a $15 million strategic equity investment in BNED
BNC First Day® year-over-year revenue increased 107%, benefiting from the accelerated move to digital courseware.
Reached agreements with 31 campus stores to date, which includes new business accounts, to support the BNC First Day® Complete program in Fall Term 2021, representing over 160,000 in total undergraduate enrollment; up from 12 campus stores and 43,000 in total undergraduate enrollment in Fall Term 2020.
Continue to work with a significant number of additional campuses to secure agreements to launch First Day Complete for Fall Term 2021.
Gained over 210,000 gross subscribers for the bartleby® suite of services year to date, with DSS revenue increasing 11.8% for the same period.
Announced agreement with Wolfram|Alpha to develop a math solver as a new feature in the Company’s bartleby suite of solutions. Powered by Wolfram|Alpha’s best-in-class computation engine, the math solver will allow students to access an interactive digital calculator that provides real-time, step-by-step explanations for even the most advanced math problems.
Continued to attract new clients and generate new business growth, signing over $84 million in net new business to date this fiscal year and expanding BNED’s footprint by 54 BNC institutions and 31 K-12 schools.


Related news from Higher Ed retailer Follett:  Web Sales Show Rapid Growth

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

McKinsey Report on Diversity in Film and Television

Interesting set of research from McKinsey into the economic impact of diversity in the film and television industries:

Today, Black Americans make up 13.4 percent of the US population, and that percentage will increase over the next few decades. 2 Just as the racial wealth gap is constraining the US economy, the film and TV industry will continue to leave money on the table if it fails to advance racial equity (see sidebar “The value of achieving racial equity in Hollywood”).


  • By addressing the persistent racial inequities, the industry could reap an additional $10 billion in annual revenues—about 7 percent more than the assessed baseline of $148 billion. 1 Fewer Black-led stories get told, and when they are, these projects have been consistently underfunded and undervalued, despite often earning higher relative returns than other properties.
  • The handful of Black creatives who are in prominent off-screen, “above the line” positions (that is, creator, producer, writer, or director) find themselves primarily responsible for providing opportunities for other Black off-screen talent. Unless at least one senior member of a production is Black, Black talent is largely shut out of those critical roles.
  • Emerging Black actors receive significantly fewer chances early in their careers to make their mark in leading roles, compared with white actors, and they have a lower margin for error.
  • Both film and TV still have very little minority representation among top management and boards; film in particular is less diverse than relatively homogenous sectors such as energy, finance, and transport.
  • A complex, interdependent value chain filled with dozens of hidden barriers and other pain points reinforces the racial status quo in the industry. Based on our research, we catalogued close to 40 specific pain points that Black professionals in film and TV regularly encounter as they attempt to build their careers.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Newsletter: Media News Update


Our World

Our clients are thinking critically about how they will emerge from the challenges of 2020 to operate more efficiently and effectively in the future.  We've helped our clients evaluate and experiment with new business models, technology improvements and employee relations which will enable them to emerge better prepared and stronger over the next few years. At Information Media Partners we are always happy to take a call (908 938 4889) or email to discuss your particular challenge.

Check out the following publishing and media articles of interest:
Publishing & Industry News Clips
Report: Open access models may be unsustainable for publishers (PND)
The report won’t speculate on what options may be considered by publishers when this UKRI policy is adopted; but, this policy may have devastating effects on publishers, particularly smaller, association or membership-based publishing in niche markets. It is also unclear how much researchers, academics and libraries may benefit since in the totality of academic research this policy might immediately impact only a small amount of published content. Libraries will still continue to license large fee-based content to support their constituencies. What the report points out is the potentially disproportionate negative impact on UK based publishers and that some would ‘go out of business’.  Read the full report here
The Management Lessons in David Simon's Homicide (Strategy + Business)
What can we learn from this acute environment? For one, culture matters. The foundation of the work that gets done in the book is a powerful culture built on tradition and values, which the detectives transmit and reinforce in one another. It is a ferociously masculine culture, insular and to a great extent Catholic, expressed in gallows humor, and exalting duty and strength. Being a cop in Baltimore is so dangerous that a tradition has evolved for when someone returns to work after being shot in the line of duty: The officer gets to pick any assignment he’s qualified for. As Simon demonstrates, this culture sustains the detectives in the face of nearly overwhelming challenges. But it can also be a problem. “Police-involved shootings” are investigated with an eye toward making potential problems go away. The culture also means that the advent of women as detectives is unwelcome to the men, even as they occasionally accept one.

Digital subscriptions for content businesses are growing across the board (TheNewStatesman)

In a survey conducted for the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2020, 64 per cent of readers in the UK cited “distinctive journalism” as their primary reason for subscribing to any publication, and 35 per cent of those readers said that they subscribe for particular writers they like. This agrees with what our readers tell us about why they subscribe: for Stephen Bush, Anoosh Chakelian, Jeremy Cliffe, Emily Tamkin, Sarah Manavis and Ailbhe Rea, among many others.   

Our investments in technology and data journalism are paying off, as is our expansion into international coverage, led by Jeremy Cliffe. Our coverage of the US election in particular was widely praised for its insight and accuracy.

Raising Pell: How Industry Support and Federal Grants Improve Prison Education (PND)
The Obama Administration recognized that a coordinated and organized approach from the Department of Education and Bureau of Prisons would improve prison education programs. In the years since, quality education programs – where they exist – remain concentrated and reach less than 10% of incarcerated individuals. Allowing Pell Grants to be used by this population is an important step; however, if educational programs are a hodge-podge of well-intentioned but uncoordinated initiatives, they will only ever be partially successful (if success means delivering an efficacious education program to all who seek it).

Black Kids and White Dominated Literature: A Do It Yourself Model (The Conversation)

Although much of American children’s literature published near the turn of the last century – and even today – filters childhood through the eyes of white children, The Brownies’ Book gave African American children a platform to explore their lives, interests and aspirations. And it reinforced what 20th-century American literature scholar Katharine Capshaw has described as Du Bois’ “faith in the ability of young people to lead the race into the future.”

Most likely inspired by The Brownies’ Book, several Black weekly newspapers went on to create their own children’s sections. While the children’s publishing industry may have shut out Black voices and perspectives, the editors of these periodicals sought to fill the void by celebrating them, giving kids a platform to express themselves, connect with one another and indulge their curiosities.

Why are schools cancelling Shakespeare? (WAPO)

Why should students be forced to read Shakespeare, as some teachers on Twitter are wondering? Why, indeed? God forbid they should try to muddle through a sentence by Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy or, my high school favorite, William Faulkner. I loved Faulkner not because he was easy to read but because I had an unforgettable teacher whose passion shined light on the beauty and the sound and the fury of words.

Not that I’m a literary snob, mind you. I also read all of Harold Robbins’s trashy novels in junior high, much to the furrowed brow of my mother. One night, while I was reading “The Carpetbaggers” by flashlight under my covers, I overheard her say to my father: “Should we be letting her read those books?”

The Implosion of America Dirt (NYMag).  It didn't stop it being one of the years biggest books.
On the publisher’s side, Miller and Don Weisberg, then the president of Macmillan, did most of the talking. The book’s editor, Amy Einhorn, was mostly silent. The executives expressed interest in the activists’ suggestions, but they also wanted to discuss the tone of the online discourse. Miller comes from a generation that prizes “civility,” one employee noted. “He could be accused of tone policing,” added another. Gurba, who had received a barrage of menacing emails since publishing her essay, was disturbed that Miller seemed to be “equating the criticism Jeanine was receiving with the death threats I was receiving,” she said. As Miller and Gurba began to argue over this, one Macmillan staff member blurted out that Cummins had never received any actual death threats. “Everybody just went dead silent,” Gurba recalled.

 Magazines are turning into Books (CNN)

While many magazines have shrunk or folded in recent years, some publishers see opportunity in bookazines. They are less dependent on advertising — a once reliable source of revenue that continues to be eaten up by tech platforms like Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG). The issues are big, sometimes exceeding 100 pages, but publishers can fill pages with stories and photos from their archives, making them less costly to produce. And they can seize on current trends like keto diets or cultural moments such as the passing of beloved celebrities and other public figures.
"To me, [bookazines] represent a really nice pandemic treat," said Aileen Gallagher, associate professor of magazine, news and digital journalism at Syracuse University. "We're all still stuck in our houses and the only place we're really going is the grocery store. It's like, 'Oh, here's this thing that will entertain me for a little while that I will invest $10 in.'"

 More from my Flipboard magazine

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