Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Predictions 2020: War is Hell

Over the years (of PND), I've generally taken a look in my crystal ball to report on some trends and predictions for publishing as we turn to a new year.   For reference, here are some of my past efforts which always seem to generate a good deal of PND traffic (which is gratifying).

This year, my predictions are not a expansive as in year's past but that doesn't mean I think we don't have some interesting things to consider for the next year or two.  Here we go:

Where’s my Inclusive Access?
The Inclusive Access roll out is slow, painful and exasperating for most higher ed publishers.   There are approximately 5000 colleges and universities in the US but based on research I’ve seen less than 15% of them are ready to deliver inclusive access to students.  Moreover, this roll-out is going incrementally without any real drive or impetus.  This is circumstance will frustrate all publishers attempting to change business models and drive their customers to complete digital delivery of content.   As a bi-product, we may see more activity around ‘student choice’ options which address the delivery of digital content to students but which replicate print textbook purchase process.  For publishers their preference is toward inclusive access, but it may be several years before we reach 50% penetration in the market.

Amazon Texts?
Amazon’s publishing program continues to grow and they now have more than 15 genre imprints.   I expect they will look to enter the textbook market for some experimental products over the next few years.  Similar to the Amazon Basics product lines, the company may conclude that they can carve off some market share in education by delivering basic education materials.  Given the broad scope of their current publishing program (and their willingness to experiment) I see education as a natural progression for their publishing program.   What would really stir things up would be if Amazon purchased Chegg which already has student directed products.  The Chegg products would form an immediate platform on which Amazon could build.

POD Books Anyone?
Everyone knows and sees the phenomenal interest in and growth of POD casting and publishers are trying to jump on the bandwagon.   Malcolm Gladwell has released his newest book Talking to Strangers as a POD book which is an interesting experiment and I expect to see more of these type of experiments combining the long-form book with the episodic POD audio format.  Audio publishing is the current engine of publishing and the combination of these two formats is likely to look very interesting for publishers over the next few years.  By the way, Gladwell’s Podcast Revisionist History is excellent.

Hearing Voices?
Voice activation applications are both controversial and rapidly expanding in usefulness.  Alexa “skills” development is entering the education space with solutions for study support, reference desk type applications and campus based administrative activities for meetings, conference rooms, etc.   Additionally, on-campus information look-up is also being tested by some universities to help students source basic campus information.   Currently, these ‘skills’ may be relatively basic but as voice technology becomes more pervasive and complex we will see more application in the education space.  After all, just ask Alexa.

Infrastructure Week?
Infrastructure is boring and not normally associated with publishing however the implementation of 5G may well provide education publishers with some interesting opportunities.   5G enables speedier delivery of web-based content and will alleviate all of the problematic issues with using online content and technology in the classroom.  As a result, more immersive content with more participants (100s of students) can be possible including augmented reality (AR) type products.   Campus’s across the country are already beginning to work with Infrastructure providers to define benefits and options for 5G on their campuses.   We will see center’s of excellence develop around the possibilities that 5G offers educators.  For example, we should see benefits in how research is conducted, how content is delivered and how educators can cater to a wider set of student needs.   It is possible that students with special needs could see better options simply because 5G enables faster, deeper content at the point of need.  Smart publishers will look to work with universities building these 5G center’s of excellence.   Infrastructure isn’t always boring.

Last Points:
It is going to be an interesting year for Barnes & Noble - both on the trade retail and the college retail side.  Both companies are likely to end 2020 in different form than they entered the year.  Trade retail in under new management and College trade are now considering options for their corporate structure which may mean they are acquired and/or go private.

There is a lot of friction between trade publishers and libraries - evidenced by Macmillan's imposition of a front list embargo.  This friction is growing more raw by the day with the increases in digital content distribution via libraries and the belief by publishers that purchase for lending substitution is becoming a more real issue and is eroding retail sales.  How this friction is managed over the next year will be closely watched by all parties.

As always, looking forward to an interesting and exciting year.


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 michael.cairns@infomediapartners.com

Read more articles on my Flipboard magazine:


Are you considering an investment in new technology?  Check out my report on software and services providers.  (PubTech Report)

Enjoy that?  Here are my predictions from past years:

2018: Predictions 2018: Somewhere Else
2017: Predictions 2017: Subscribe To Me
2016: Predictions 2016: Education, China, Platforms and Blockchain.
2013: Predictions 2013: The Death of the Middle Man
2012: Predictions 2012: The Search for Attention
2011: Predictions 2011: The Growth of Intimacy
2010: Predictions 2010: Cloudy With A Chance of Alarm
2009: Predictions 2009: Death and Resurrection:
2008: Predictions 2008
2007: Predictions 2007

2007-2013: My Big Book of Posts & Predictions on Slideshare

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