OK, its a test. What links Mrs Donald Trump with historian and English Royal Society member Valvasor (mid-seventeenth century) and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO)? Give up? The connection is Slovenia. Melania Knauss-Trump was born there, Valvasor wrote the history of the Duchy of Carniola (then a Habsburg property long before the creation and dissolution of Yugoslavia), and wrote the first treatise on vampires. And IFRRO met here this week  in the capital, Ljubljana, which is probably why I know these things (at least, temporarily!).

And in a month of travel it was a relief to reach a small town, in a country of 2 million people, where you can see a third of the territory from the castle roof. Yet IFRRO has been concerned with lofty and global matters, and I and others have been trying to help by stimulating the argument in the vital sector of education. I will put my slides for the keynote at the business models forum in the download section of this website (and they will also be at www.ifrro.org) and will not rehearse them now, but I have been very interested by the arguments around a conference room of some 230 delegates from 130 countries. Faced with the ever-increasing extension of fair use and fair dealings claims (the Canadian government is the latest to push for extensions of educational concessions), it seems that education is becoming the battleground for networked rights. I continue to believe that the word “copyright”, and the perpetual discussion of ex-print formats (books, articles, newspapers, magazines etc) tempts legislators and administrators to try to regulate digital networks as if they were simply extensions of the non-digital world. I think we need a new language, the removal of the copyright exceptions, blanket (and often metered) licenses and the ability to wrap content into software-governed packages and still protect it, and the new content it morphs into, on the network. If Google can measure the value of every click we make, then we should be able to measure usage. Lets dump copyright and start over with a new approach to network licensing which rewards authors and risk-taking entrepreneurial investors (even publishers where they can cope with that description) for making education work in the individualized learning context online which I have described before.

This educational push – creating a world of collaborative learning – will be the most important thing that our society accomplishes in our lifetimes, so making sure it works economically is totally worthwhile. And after a panel debate on some of the legal issues I then had the pleasure of hearing a following speaker take some of my themes and arguments, exemplify them brilliantly, and then drive the discussion forward in a wholly compelling and committed manner. Melissa Sabella, who runs Pearson’s custom publishing business in EMEA from London, justified every word of my recent blog on that company. Standing on a corporate platform that is now 29% digital (some $2.5 billion in network-derived  digital educational revenues), she was able to be ruthlessly authoritative about the necessity to protect the educational economy at this point of rapid change. While Pearson has major digital businesses like MyLab (revenues of some $8 million this year) it is the startling shift to eBook here in the last year which has made the critical change: some 25% of Pearson’s textbook business is now digital, and the big and recent push has been from the onset of a mobile networked marketplace.

Two factors underlie all of this, and Melissa met them square on. One is that in order for custom and individualized learning to work, you have to have frictionless purchase. The other is that networked learners are living in a world where, increasingly, the content knows them. The ability to allow content to track the learner, building associations and next steps, recognizing the need and providing the assessment, the diagnostic and the learning object to rehearse or re-inforce the learning provides the values that people will pay for in the future.

Of course, the first question from the sceptics is always “when”. I floundered around, pointing out that the developed world was taking its time ( and in economic down turn would take longer), partly because it was such a book-based culture, while the developing world could reach more easily, or leap-frog, to these conclusions. Melissa was more direct, citing her own experience of the 75,000 students in the Nigerian equivalent of the Open University (or its South African equivalent, which predates the UK distance learning landmark and which I recall visiting when I was publishing textbooks in Africa in the 1970s). But now the courseware must be customized, and, again in South Africa, the 40,000 students in the CTI scheme wanted learning that fitted their smartphones (a third of students have them). Africa. We are used to Asia Pacific being held up as a beacon of change. But this was Africa, and it was good stuff to hear.

It has eventually stopped raining in Slovenia and I have been able to walk around the town of Ljubljana. Before I go I hope to see more, but the watery sunshine of a late October day following heavy rain did surely betoken something, I hope? Maybe, at last, the men and women who control the author/publisher side of reproduction rights can  persuade governments, globally, that the huge promise of networked education through individualized learning has to be paid for somehow, and since it is the powerful economic need in our society to create a workforce which can respond to the challenges of the networked world, then it had better be the state, and sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, I have put “fair dealing” on my watch list, along with that other horror, “blended learning”!

As the 1990s turned into the dotcom boom, we used to play a game which we named for Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel. Since we were a bit sniffy about the term “disintermediation”, the game was played by each contestant naming an industry which we thought was about to be edited out of the value chain by the reality of virtual communications. We then argued the case for its eventual extinction, and took a secret ballot on the arguments. I can recall the music industry, real world betting shops, cinema, and much retail banking disappearing that way. Now I look round and see that businesses still exist in these spaces. We were smart, but not smart enough. We reckoned without the powerful drive to “re-intermediation” – players moving to a spot where they could add value of a different type more appreciated by a networked marketplace – and we certainly did not see that most of the blighted industry activity would drift on for another few decades, ever more marginal, but representing value to diminishing populations of addicts who are willing to pay more and more to sustain their “fix”. When I went to the US last week my daily newspapers in the village shop cost me £3.00; on my return they cost £3.40. I have both these papers as Apps, and this has become my preferred way of reading them, but do I really want to attack the economic basis of the village shop? Disintermediation is much more complex than I thought in 1999.

And I never won the competition. My candidate for volcanic disruption and extinction was always advertising and PR agencies. According to Sir Martin Sorrell, who should know, these have now disappeared entirely, but I suspect that this is because he has renamed his world-leading enterprizes “data and marketing agencies”. But two events brought all of this to mind. In the first place I saw a headline which said, on October 6, “PR Newswire and Ektron Strike Up One-of-a-kind Strategic Alliance”, and then I had the pleasure of listening to and questioning David Levin, CEO of UBM, at the Outsell Signature Event in Phoenix last week. (Pause for Plug and statement of interest: I work part-time for Outsell, I moderated parts of this meeting, I know of nowhere else in the industry where you can speak with CEOs in depth under Chatham House rules – I cannot tell you what they said – but for sheer depth and understanding talking to Scott Key (IHS), Y S Chi (Elsevier) and David Levin is a bargain at any price, though here it was surrounded by case studies in change from another 13 CEOs and senior executives. Miss it at your Peril – it will be in Europe next year! Obviously I am not going to quote the views of David Levin, and no information market disruptor is ever wise to predict the demise of a part of his customer base while they are still buying services, but I left the room more and more convinced that the “strategy and monitoring” role of these agencies is beginning to shift, even if the creative role stays in place.

So what is this interesting strategic alliance at PRN all about? For me, it is simply another stage in the coupling of PR releases with media response measurement with market response measurement. The Press Release of yesteryear, that single page of grey, effusive but cautious text with the typical note for editors on the participants has given way to documents built around demos and video presentations, with multiple media input, intended to ring bells not only amongst media commentators, but to awaken financial analysts and gain general- to-specialist network user reaction. The destination of much of this stuff is social networks and You Tube. The idea is to launch the communication and then track it, and then track the ripples of activity that circle out from it, in blogs and tweets, and then to be able to take part in, redirect, respond, learn from the feedback loop. Increasingly this seems to be what marketing departments do, and increasingly they can do it for themselves (countless book publishers – yes, even them! – use a simple  package to launch a seperate web presence for every book published, using as tools the Superdu components, which any marketing assistant can handle). So, PR Newswire, as the largest distributor of “press releases” (www.prnewswire.com), now moves into media monitoring by plugging its PR Newswire Sync application into Ektron’s widely used corporate marketing web management platform (www.ektron.com). The vital part of all of this is the PR Newswire Listening Dashboard, which enables a primary analysis and social media monitoring tool. This reminds me of something I have been watching for a long time – the evolution of the old Durrants media monitoring outfit into Gorkana (http://www.gorkana.com/group/#index), where the emphasis is on the analysis. Whether we are talking CRM (corporate relationship management) or product launch, it seems to me that more of the game is now managed inside the corporate marketing function, more analysis can be done there with these tools, and more strategy can be created there than ever before. No wonder Sir Martin and his merry men are building the world’s largest data dump of consumer buying decisions, to get “predictive insight” into likely purchasing outcomes: they must add value now by the shovel load, since a whole sector of their traditional skills has been peeled off and re-installed as workflow on the desktop of the most lowly (and low paid) marketing department operative. One of Ektron’s largest customers is the UK National Health Service!

Some people will say that this is reskilling an industry that had very few skills to start with. Other, kinder, souls will point to the continuing need for creativity, and I can see re-intermediation happening already. Typical would be Jeremy Swinfen Green’s Amberlight Agency (www.amber-light.co.uk). Meeting Jeremy recently for the first time in 15 years (as a young digital ad-man he helped me carry the argument for AdHunter (later launched as Fish4) in a Cotswold country house hotel before a very dubious Northcliffe board) I began to see, through his practise as a very busy Human-Computer Interface (HCI) advisor where this fragmentation of skills was taking us. Anyone for a game of Under the Volcano? I am still gong to choose advertising and PR for the lava and hot ash…!

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