The Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel is hallowed ground in the history of  Golden Age America.  It seemed therefore both incongruous and quite proper to find myself on a stage where Ellington once played, looking out at a full room of industry participants summoned from all quarters by MarkLogic to take part in their annual Digital Publishing Summit.  The splendid team at this company, which now has an enviable record of successful industry events behind it, registered 563 delegates for this meeting.  I have no way of knowing whether they all attended, but the vast  room was packed.  And as befits the location, this audience had gathered to hear about innovation and service development, and to note the decline of an ancien content regime based on publisher control of selection, distribution and pricing.  And where better: Gatsby walked the room when we spoke of the world we had lost, Henry Ford and Rockefeller jostled in the aisles as we described the opportunities in front of us.

My formal contribution can be found in the downloads on this site and in Dave Kellogg’s blog.   But I was much more interested in two of the afternoon sessions.  In one, McGraw-Hill in the shape of Shannon Holman spoke about the return of her company to the ground occupied with Primis in 1992.  This struck a chord.  In that year I welcomed Primis as a wonderful innovation in the cause of the abolition of textbook publishing.  I asserted that this scheme for custom publishing Higher Ed texts in a mix dictated by faculty staff would revolutionize the business and make the publisher’s fortune.  So it failed: teachers were uninterested, other publishers would not lease rights, print on demand at that time was too crude.

Now, after Pearson and after Safari Online, it is back.  It looks splendid in its re-engineered form, and 17 years later one can see why it was too early.  And now the bells and whistles, like the eCommerce counter which keeps a running tab on the cost of content so far included in your custom textbook, will endear themselves to a new teaching audience.  And clearly some problems still remain, like access to third party content, and the inability of otherwise sensible education publishers to sit down in a circle and sort out a pricing convention for the exchange of content into each other’s custom services.  I guess that, like eBook publishers delaying publication dates, being a control freak is a measure of the threat notionally posed to treasured business models.

Yet Kent Anderson of the New England Journal of Medicine did not seem very threatened when he introduced NEJM This Week, a free summarization medical news environment, and NEJM Image Challenge, a soon to be paid for image quiz for physicians.  Both seemed excellent service zones for the push to iPhone, and both will yield Kent and his colleagues a great deal of information about doctors and mobile content.  But both are peripheral to the big push, which is surely finding applications which produce efficientcy and productivity gains in medical practise.

In both instances I must stand in admiration of  these players.  Kent has been working on mobile since 2002.  McGraw-Hill has been working on custom since 1992.  At a time when we sometimes criticize publishers (well, I do) for not moving more decisively with the times, these long development cycles of constant endeavour and imaginative response before market conditions dictated change bear remembering.  The music played on, but these stylish performers added a great deal to a really intense and engaging day.


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3 Comments so far

  1. Henery Schaffer on December 11, 2009 05:36

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  2. uberVU - social comments on December 15, 2009 20:01

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by 2luvandb: David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information …: Yet Kent Anderson of New England Journal of …

  3. Thank You for a Great Digital Publishing Summit - MarkLogic Newsletter on December 16, 2009 18:20

    […] David Worlock, Digital Strategy Advisor and co-chair of the Outsell Leadership Programs followed with a presentation entitled “The Road to Network Publishing”. Worlock also subsequently blogged about the event. You can read the blog post here. […]