Or at least to the hut.  And I wasn’t the victim of mirage between here and Germany, since I had a cup of coffee with a very real Richard Charkin on the way back.  He had been with Berlin Verlag, and as always re-routed my speculations about recent events down entirely different lines from those that I had thought obvious, or at least  likely.  So when I reached my seat on the plane I did begin to rethink a great deal , and so relaxed into restful and much needed sleep.

Several things were clear when I woke up.  In the first instance we are coming out of recession just as we did in 2000-2002.  Internet services are once again leading the charge, and Monday was a real eye-opener in this regard.  Hopefully this time we shall see major plays in cross-border services development in Europe.  This certainly seemed the case on Monday.  All these companies were start-ups in the past five years: none of them owed anything to existing media players except where they needed to trade legacy content.

Then again, in Berlin, you could see the start-ups but not the traditional players (excepting only Pearson, as I said yesterday).  So is it really true that publishers are not investing in next generation educational developments?  No , not at all, but it is true that publishers start from the point of view of creating the successor to yesterday’s marketplace by building electronic content in the shape of an eTextbook , or a blended learning environment.  So at least two pictures of the future are in contention here: in one the teacher is still directing the learning process, though now doing it digitally.  In the other, the learning process is pursued by learners or groups of learners, moderated by teachers or assistants.  This gap is as wide as that between textbook publishing and what we then called ” resource – based learning ” in the late 1960s, which was when I entered educational publishing.  We returned in the 1980s to the textbook: will the same happen in a digital world?

And then, between these events, I spent a day walking around Online at Olympia.  And there I felt, once more, that content was becoming less important in a digital age, and that secondary aggregation through licensing would fill most requirements.  The real priority in business and professional markets was to create the service environment.  This is light years from the crusade fought by my old Chairman, Michael Brown, at Thomson when we scoured the earth to buy, usually pretty expensively, ” have-to-have and need-to-know ” content, that was owned by us and proprietary to us.  I left Online more concerned than ever that players who could not migrate to the service level would be left with only one option – to rent content to those who could.  And that means that however powerful and proprietary the content , its owner was exposed to the risks of losing touch with end-users and being ” emulated ” by those who do not care to pay for content, but who believe it can all be reconstructed from the Web.

I had a bottle of champagne on the plane, not to celebrate the sidelining of traditional publishing, but as a symbolic gesture marking the thought that we must not allow ourselves to go gentle into that good night …


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1 Comment so far

  1. Allen Taylor on December 3, 2009 17:46

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor