This was a bit of a shock . For one thing , all messages that include the words ” All hail , Dave ” are usually aimed at the incoming Prime Minister , Mr D Cameron , rather than yours truly . For another , I do not really know what a rock-god is , and my attempts to ask my family to explain have led to widespread hilarity which , five days later , has still not subsided. Yet it is undeniably true that a kindly soul tweeted this message to mark my Chairman’s summing up of the first day of the ePublishing Innovations Forum ( organized by a great team at Incisive Media )in London last week . Which shows you what sort of conference it was – lively , full of information and exchange , and every now and then , exuberantly over the top .

In more sober moments we inevitably discussed two urgent issues amongst the many strands pursued by speakers . The conference opened on Paywall Tuesday , the day when the Times and the Sunday Times launched their joint suicide pact . This topic reverberated around us on both days , with contrary viewpoints taken by speakers who felt , much as Peter Preston did in today’s Observer ((30 May 2010) that a facsimile newspaper would find a small and loyal audience , while others , including the afore-mentioned rock-god , felt that even if you argued  for the value and distinctive nature of the Times ” journal of record ” status and its very high quality columnists ,  the thing to do was to sell these values for themselves and sell them seperately , not look back over one’s shoulder at a format which , literally , now belongs in another world .

But that world was always with us . The other major topic was the future history of the iPad . Adam Hodgkin even passed his round the audience ( there was relief on his face when it eventually came back ) and both he and OUP’s Evan Schnittman dilated interestingly on business modela and distribution in a device -laden world . The sceptics said that the iPad had found the enthusiasts , but not yet a definition of use in a mass market . We may have to wait for 3.0 for the right functionality , but who cares , since we Europeans are still awaiting 1.0 .No one went to the wonderful extremes of Sue Halpern in May’s edition of The New York Review of Books . This is worth quoting ” In fact , Web browsing on the iPad is less than ideal …..But why bother going through a browser to get to YouTube or to read the AP headlines or check the weather when there is a dedicated app for each of these ? This is what is really revolutionary and game changing about the iPad: once there is an app for everything , its Apple’s Web , not the wide world’s ” Wow , this lady is obviously a rock-goddess !

Meanwhile , in the conference room we were more likely to decide that Google was the threat to the Web that needed attention . We covered video advertising , noted the return of display courtesy of Hugo Drayton (Inskin) , and looked at classifieds through the well-educated eyes of Fish 4 . In a hugely impressive session , Louise Rogers , the CEO of TSL Education , gave an object lesson in how to create community and fill it with user-derived content  – and fascinated many of us by her consistent refusal to go for instant monetization , preferring to build community strength in depth to continue to support her recruitment advertising model . This seemed admirable , though the proper approach will be tested by UK  government spending cuts in her sector – and the eventual wish of her private equity investors to make an exit . Her case study , and excellent demonstrations of clear strategic thinking at the Economist , at Bloomsbury publishing and at Complinet meant that no one could leave the room without the conviction that the digital revolution is now over . We even began a serious discussion of the semantic web without a single groan from a full audience representing some 120 industry players .

My apologies : I cannot mention each exceptional speaker by name . But any meeting that starts ( when he reached us ) with a keynote from Simon Waldman , looking back at his Guardian years and the ” creative destruction ” of the markets in which he worked  , and ended with Shane O’Neill giving a rallying cry of hope  based on the re-use of ex-government data  was not short on inspiration . I came away exultant : this industry is going to make it , and neither Google nor Apple can do anything to stop us !

The question , when it came , was loaded in a way that I had not guessed at in advance , though I knew that its appearance was inevitable . I was speaking at an excellent MarkLogic breakfast briefing ( the slides are on this site ) last week and had chosen Super-distribution as my theme. I wanted to explore the argument, which I now encounter fairly regularly , that simply turning content into “workflow” is insufficient . Few content owners have enough content for complete workflow sequences . Ergo , third party and client content must be imported and used in conjunction with the process tools and content supplied by the solutions vendor . Best way to make this work is to open up the APIs , allow major customers to customize to their own workflow under JV or service agreements  , and learn from this how to mass-customize for smaller clients . This speeds up the development track for solution development , and utilizes the experience and technolgy savvy of major customers , who likewise get the benefit of learnings from third party users . For the content provider it can provide a lock-in , a market differentiation from other content providers , and a defence against that most feared of competitors – one’s own customers .

So , my questioner asked , you really do mean that most content has little worth in isolation and that paywalls are unlikely to succeed ? “Yes , I do ” was the answer and almost before it was out of my mouth I heard an echo of a conversation that must be happening across the information provider world right now , between senior commercial managers like my questionner and their group main board colleagues .” Information commoditized ?” , say the latter , “tell me this isn’t true . Tell me it applies to network johnny-come-latelys like the Murdochs in collapsing markets like newspapers . And tell me that it will never apply to the wonderful content we bought last year at 12X EBITDA and which we so badly needed to complete our dataset , enable us to expand in Central Asia and illustrate  the profound difference between ourselves and our hated competitor”.


And my friend , if he knows what is good for him , will say ” Just so ” and “I could not agree more” , but increasingly he will try to insert into the conversation things like ” Should we really be trying to build workflow on our own : might we look for allies at IBM , SAP or Oracle ?” or ” Maybe our historical hated competitor is really our future best friend ?” or ” Surely collaborating on tools with Autonomy or its ilk makes more sense than pretending we can re-invent and own the history of software ? ” Then he can reasonably say ” This is the last squeeze of the Lemon if that is representing the content model – and now at least we know about the development track that takes us to the next good place . And our business must be based on margin improvement and future visibility of returns , not upon some historic fixation with content which is increasingly remote to a network-based service industry .”

Will they listen ? I don’t know , but I am certain that the newspaper world was deaf to this dialogue . And I was very interested to see approval for Project Canvas in the UK last week . This creates a platform for the web integration of all free to air television in the UK . The Murdochs will inevitably feel that this competitively impacts their Sky franchise , but presumably , since it is clear that neither the Times nor the Sun can claim ( remember “it was the Sun wot done it ?”) to have delivered the UK coalition government , their political influence is deflating at the same rate as their readership .

Finally , on the same platform was Andy Stevens of IOPP giving a spendid example of agile publishing using MarkLogic to create mobile content sets around their journals data . As they say , check it out  (

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