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Commercial publishing in a networked worldPublishing 5650 views
As we know publishing faces huge challenges at the moment. It's not just newspapers. I'm talking books, magazines, video, photography - pretty much any sort of "content".
In this post, I'm going to focus very much on educational publishing - as that's the world I'm most familiar with.
The main challenges, as I see them, are:
- Availability of free content - via social publishing platforms, such as Youtube, Slideshare, Flickr etc as well as individual blogs and personal websites. The cost to entry for publishing is now so low as to be almost negligible.
- There is an inverse relationship between cost of sale and relevance to the end-user.. To bring down the cost of sale, publishers try to do bulk deals with representatives of the largest organisations (nationally ideally, then local authorities, then consortia, then schools, and then departments, teachers or even students). Yet, the prevailing model these days is disaggregation (cf. iTunes) and long-tail marketing (cf. Amazon). The lower down the chain you can make your sale, the more likely you are that your product will be used. The higher up you make it, the less connected you will be with your target market.
- Many of the end-users (students) are digitally confident. They are used to making comments about stuff they use. They'll put their feedback on Twitter, Facebook, Bebo etc - whereever is the current fashion. They expect to be able to interact with each other and with the product owner.
- Learning is becoming mobile. Much online content is designed for classroom-based desktop or laptop PCs, whereas students will soon expect content to be available on their mobile devices. This brings the added complications of choosing whether to deliver via a browser or to design an application (for which there are at least three different platforms).
- Learners expect interaction. Much educational (and training) content is designed to be one way communication: content -> learner, whereas the prevailing model that works on the web (and is a far better fit for modern learning theory) is very much multi-way: users able to make comments, ask questions, and get answers from their peers.
- You are not in control of your message. Whatever you might think, you are no longer in control of the message. Your ideas will get edited, mashed-up, republished, commented on, blogged or even tweeted. See this example from TED Talks.
- The time to market from initial idea to finished product is too long to maintain currency in a rapidly changing world. By the time articles or resources have been through the publishing process things have often moved on. The curriculum may have changed. The tools teachers use may change. The things that are currently grabbing students' attention will have changed.
- There is a conflict in the publisher's role. Is it to produce materials that maintain the status quo? Or should it be to produce materials which challenge the way teaching and learning happens in educational organisations.
Before we give up now, let's take a look at the value publishers add to content:
- They ensure that the appropriate rights to publish are obtained. Yes, I know we should all be using Creative Commons licensing, but that's not possible when you make your living from creating high quality graphics or well-crafted text. It's fine for some people and organisations to give content away, perhaps when it's not their core product. Not so much when you have sweated night and day to create a brilliant piece of work.
- They match content to curriculum and ability. This makes it easier (in theory) for a busy educator to find the right piece of content for their students. All the free content available should make this unnecessary, but not every teacher has the time to hunt down that elusive image or flash game.
- They provide the finishing touches that turn a great idea into a great product. It may be a professional voiceover, a consistent graphical style, or programming expertise. All that takes time.
- They provide the editorial expertise. Editors know their audience, they know what makes them tick, they know how to turn that flowery prose into a finely crafted article, and they provide the driving force that creates a consistently successful product.
Educational publishing is already a synergistic process. The diagram below attempts to show that.
There's not much that can be done to speed up the publishing process. Where improvements can be made is in the process that happens before the ideas/materials get to the publishers, and then in the way that resources are made available to the end users.
Things change so quickly these days partly because of the positive feedback that can happen in networks (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect). Publishers have a role in the network, whether it's providing platforms (online or face-to-face) for collaboration, filtering and feedback. Or whether it's just in encouraging and experimentation and creativity, and disseminating those results.