I should be writing about Google and China , but I am too angry . Through sadness , despair and incomprehension  I emerge on the dark shores of irrational anger with the Man and his doltish acolytes who have sentenced to stagnant death the oldest and at times the greatest of Britain’s serious newspapers . Between now and the offer of the Lebvedev Pound is only a long or short period of decay . At Times Newspapers a total bankrupcy of strategic imagination leaves the  once great  Thunderer anaesthetized  and awaiting only dementia and demise .

This may sound over dramatic  , but the arrival of the £1 per day /£2 per week pay wall at the Times needs to be seen this way , or as some sort of outlandish joke . The problem facing the Times was about recreating its relationships with eitherits advertisers or with its readers . There is no strategic reason for the paywall : it is simply the expression of tired managerial brains , cudgelled by a demanding owner , saying ridiculous things like ” Well , we put so much effort into it that we should be able to get a £1 for it …” or   , even worse , ” People don’t recognize our value so we must make them pay for it …”

There is great value in the Times , even if too much of its news reporting is agency rewrites . There is value in its journal of record status , in its commentators and in its editorial position , when that does not refect its owner’s desire to play political kingmaker . Under Murdoch it is far reduced from even its Thomson days . Its brand still has power and value . What was needed was the skill and insight to stop and start again. What is the user relationship online ? What value add features , branded by the Times but searching the entire web through a Times-created focus , are valuable enough to become desktop attributes , a way of organizing and personalizing the news for the fixed , or seperately , for mobile markets ?What rich subcommunities does the Times have around its citeable Law Reports , or its obituaries , or its classifieds , that could become a platform for user exchange within the Times brand ? While Times Online has done some good and innovative things over the past five years , none of them got a look in at the end . Instead we got the crass decision : it is a newspaper in the real world , and being no different on the Web , we charge £1 for it

I learn from Jeff Jarvis and Michael Wolff in various quotations that Rupert Murdoch does not use the Internet , but that he has recently started to use email . This may explain the stumbling , stubborn road to ruin on the Web . My Space was bad enough:there was an opportunity to innovate and stay in front . Arguably Facebook should never have made it if Murdoch’s men had not thought that buying market share was enough ,and had realized instead that buying market share just gives you an opportunity to tune and develop service attributes from the front of the market , not the back . .

Now News is ailing . They provide casebook examples of how difficult it is for real world media executives , even if they are His Children and Trusted Cronies  , to make network publishing decisions without any network publishing experience . With advertizing markets down , growth in satellite curtailed by regulators and the Chinese government , and Fox becoming a politicized space that does not appeal to all communities and advertizers , it is possible to imagine the rise and fall of this media Imperium within the single generation of a remarkable dealmaker who never really understood the media he owned . None of which quite quenches my anger about the Times . .

Apologies for an enforced absence . Minor eye surgery took longer to heal than anticipated , so I was left in the dark for two whole weeks . Imagine it : the horrifying compound growth of email , the buckets of spam , the listserv viral multiplication . Oh , the agony of life without the delete key !

In my darkness a kindly amanuensis has intervened to warn me that tomorrow They will call to ask me about “The Future of the Textbook “. They have sent 10 questions , apparently . They say I could answer them with my eyes shut , which may be fortunate this week . They also say that I am to concentrate on the 10 years out scenario. I love research when I am asking the questions , but , somehow , I feel a bit worried about providing the answers .  Do you mind if , like Old Tiresias beneath the wall of crumbling Troy , I count my beads in public for a space and soundlessly mouth some types of answers ?

Crumbling Troy ? Surely the age of the textbook is over . In ten years there will not be a textbook market , but a market in networked mass customization of learning objects , held in commercial stores but also freely created by teachers online and traded between teachers . Lesson planning softeware , deriving objects from stores , from teacher networks , and from VLE/LMS environments where these survive in open network usage , will enable teachers to create and trade learning journies/pathways designed for particular ability levels or learning problems . As education becomes more self-applied in older age ranges , higher education and vocational training , so these pathways will be increasingly designed by their users .Learning plans will have assessment and diagnostic tools on board , with the opportunity to rehearse or create new pathways of greater intensity to accomplish remedial requirements . Where these learning workflows are developed by teachers for learners , only a small proportion of teachers will be the creatives , but the work of peer schools and teachers will be widely acknowledged and imitated and customized in other contexts . 

So how will textbook publishers survive here ? The answer is that most of them won’t .Like newspaper publishers in the last five years we shall hear them intone ” Textbook content is king ” and “No one feels safe without a textbook ” until it is obvious to all that like Tom and Jerry in a madcap chase , they have run off the cliff edge and only the violent oscillation of their feet will keep them from plunging into the valley floor . Which they then inevitably do .

Some publishers have hedged this change . Pearson will sell textbooks until the end , but I suspect that long before that Pearson’s Learning Solutions , providing contracted -in school consortia systems integration to cope with these new workflows , will be the dominant revenue source . Elsewhere others have grasped enough of the point to go to interim customization, with Safari Books and Macmillan’s new Dynamic Textbooks demonstrating some of the range of possibilities .

This change to the personalized learning route is independent of gadgets . iPad will not revolutionize it , or iPhone or Android or anything else . These access modes will create accessibility , and add access features , but the learning services  requirement here is more about the network than the device . Collaboration between learners is a key element here.And it is all about mark-up , standards and accessible objects . Most of these are already in place .

Who will win here ? Two or three integrated software/content houses with global markets will dominate . Pearson plus who ? Small software players offering enhanced user experiences will rip across the market like comets , but mostly end up as acquisitions for the big players , or widely emulated feature sets . About a third of content in the market will be created as proprietory objects , another third available to teachers by local school board/authority licensing deals – and the rest will be free and Web-located. The major role for “publishers ” , if we use such an archaic term , will be in locating , indexing and relating suitable objects , and sometimes encouraging teachers to invent new ones if required . Come to think of it , to behave like educational publishers used to do when they sought to s eflect the best practice of the best schools back to the rest .

I could go on , but having had more light today than I am used to , I need to stop . What do you say ? One last question ? Will blended learning prevail ? Since I am on record as saying that blended learning is as much an oxymoron as military intelligence , I am surprized that you ask . The only thing that blends properly is coffee . If you are suggesting that blended learning is as interesting as instant coffee then I might agree . But other markets show us likely patterns : when people grasp the digital point they very soon go for it unadulterated .

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