We who dare to call ourselves “analysts” of information marketplaces must bear a heavy burden of guilt. As we analyse we are forced to categorize, and as we categorize we over-simplify, and as we over-simplify we construct truly skewed pictures of market activity, sometimes seized upon by sectoral groups to make sectional points. One frustrating exemplar of this for me was always academic spending, as industry strategists sought on the one hand to get a grip on what content access universities bought, while many publishers sought to narrow the focus to books and journals, thus omitting entirely the huge sums spent on data and flattering their market share in a smaller “marketplace”. Similar contortions exist around education and training. I observe that almost every publisher I know is definably “educational” (a context, not a category), and, of course, every vertical marketplace devotes considerable amounts to education in formal and informal contexts. This implies a huge marketplace which is really hard to categorize, so we define it by identifying a sub-group of players whose interests are wholly or mostly educational, and let them stand as a proxy. This may serve for some trend analysis purposes, but it is essentially arbitrary. I was very amused yesterday when one of our finest UK educational publishers said to me that she could discern market share moves “from the EPC figures”. The EPC (Educational Publishers Council), an offshoot of the UK’s Publishers Association, collects data from its members, and thus records the sales of school books and software from sources that define themselves as publishers. Thus it forms a small proportion of school spending on educational content, and one whose trend line may or may not reflect buying patterns in schools. Turn to training and the problem is magnified many times: trainers and corporates buy what suits them whatever the source, and increasingly training and assessment environments are built into information products and services that might ostensibly be about a wholly different process or workflow.
For these reasons amongst others I read Joe Esposito’s two pieces on “Creating a New University Press” on Scholarly Kitchen (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/author/jesposito/) this week with great relish. Much of what he says applies to starting any form of new “press” (glorious anachronism there!). He clearly feels that what he describes as a “library publishing” model is viable, and I can see that this would make sense of things like institutional repositories, which are surely currently collections without purpose for the most part. But I am wholly on his side when he says that the New University Press “sits outside of any particular institutions, is borne-digital, avoids areas where established publishers have staked out territory, experiments with publishing forms and distribution channels and is NFP (not for profit).” And his examples – PLoS, JSTOR, the Humanities eBook programme at ACLS, and OCLC – while having market impact on spending, are very hard to categorize and may or may not be in anyone’s categorization scheme. Yet they can certainly be categorized amongst the “university presses of the future”, and in some instances, like PLoSPlus, could have a real trend impact on market development and the future of cherished publishing shibboleths like peer review.
And then again, Joe’s piece caught my attention in another sense I have been reading an excellent review article on Linked Data co-authored by Tom Heath of Talis. When Joe pinged Morgan and Claypool (http://www.morganclaypool.com/) as an example of what he was talking about, I found that they were the publishers of this piece. I also found that what I had was part of a really interesting borne digital publishing programme, creating sector reviews in a wide range of academic disciplines as Synergies and Colloquium, and bundling them for license to faculties or individual students. This does not need to be peer-reviewed – the publisher process and the reputation of the contributors does that – so the expense is mostly in formatting and editing – and overwhelmingly in marketing. So, having smugly discovered something new to me, courtesy of Joe, I commenced this blog, and my first research established that this company was founded in 2002, so from the aftermath of Dot Com Bust they are coming up to 10 years old. That’s a millennium in Gutenburg terms, and I have no doubt that they are still not inside anyone’s statistical net. We may be approaching the time when the new markets that we do not measure are as large as the old ones that we do.
Which is not to say for a moment that old publishers are not innovative. A favourite of mine over the years has been Nature (Macmillan) an offspring of the Victorian love affair with Science. Their event this week was the launch (http://www.nature.com/nature_education/biology.html) of a $45 Principles of Biology digital “textbook”. Real innovation here: this is a rental access model, they will update and the pricing is entirely different from the existing print market. And this venture has a strategic partner in California State University. Partner and anchor client (but at least one Californian university group still loves Nature!) Downside (in my view): we still have to call this wonderful product built for an iPad world a “Textbook” when it is really a learning experience – and one which also allows teacher monitoring. Cal State will block purchase and include the cost in tuition fees – and will that get into the market statistics at any point?
So, said my fine educational publisher friend, digital still doesn’t seem to be having much impact on educational marketplaces. To which I must respond, “It depends what you are measuring, but I am certain sure that wherever you look there is unmeasured digital education – in everything.”keep looking »