You never come away from a meeting with Dr Frances Pinter without feeling that everything is possible. If, in the whole world of print to digital transformation, you had thought that the scholarly monograph was the most certain lost cause to publishing, then you need to take tea with her – urgently. She is the supreme exponent of the idea that I have long held dear: that the network turns business models on their heads and that if you have the courage to stand on your own head to view them, then eventually a new mode of operation will result. Frances calls her new company “Knowledge Unlatched” ( I call it Logic Unmatched, but before we consider what the new pre-sold scholarly monograph model might be, just lets think about what has been unlatched this last week in education and scholarship.

For me, it started with Ingram ( I know that Coventry University in the UK is not a high fashion place of learning, but the announcement that Ingram as a book supplier (yes, those funny printed things) would be working on free distribution of textbooks as part of course fees struck me as fully redolent of “standing on heads” style of changes. Once our society begins to accept that learning materials are not extras that students buy but a constituent element of the service that the university provides to them, then we are on a roll. A roll that may change the functions of every other part of the system – and not least the library. The idea of “all-in” course materials, once rooted, has the capacity to change publisher-courseware selector-user relationships fundamentally, and the idea being pursued in print in Coventry is deeply relective of what is happening digitally on a widespread basis. I do not care what Harvard and Cambridge do: things only get interesting when Coventry do them. So I was not really surprized to next encounter a press release from Pearson’s EQUELLA digital educational resource about its work at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Another unfashionable, but deeply normal, institution, one suspects, but also one that relishes solutions for the problems of “efficient sharing and repurposing of learning objects for online course developmentin a team design environment”. EQUELLA is really very interesting, especially when used with its Content Exchange extension:

“To support continued innovation, the EQUELLA Content Exchange, part of EQUELLA version 6, provides an easy-to-use platform to share and sell content between EQUELLA instances. Private exchanges within a consortium, free exchanges of OER resources, and various eCommerce models can now all easily be powered by EQUELLA. Resources can be provided free of charge, sold outright or by subscription. At launch, the EQUELLA Content Exchange offers nearly one million Open Educational Resources from a variety of sources. These resources can easily be discovered and downloaded for free to any version 6 installation of EQUELLA via Content Without Borders, an open access repository powered by EQUELLA. This publicly accessible repository promotes and provides access to resources contributed by academic institutions and repositories from around the world, which are available through content harvesting, and direct access to the website.” (

EQUELLA, of course, is a Pearson APAC development, so now our range of revolutionary budgeting, content course provision, and upside down thinking rings the globe. And so does the stress for old style publishing seeking accommodation with this new world. This week brought results from Wiley (, and while it is good to hymn the arrival of another Wiley generation onto the board, and good to note acquisitions like Deltak and Electronic Learning Systems (ELS), this is not a brilliant set of figures. Hopefully post-Hurricane Sandy catch-up will help, but education at Wiley is 6% off in the second quarter, and profit contribution to group is down 12% on the period. For the players who now trail Pearson round the world, these are worrying times. Have they invested enough quickly enough? And, in terms of this week’s news, have they understood enough about what has happened to their customers to stand proficiently on their heads?

Which brings us back to Knowledge Unlatched. The problem with much of our publishing effort, especially where shortrun printing was concerned, is the inability of users to be able to afford to pay the price needed to redeem the publisher’s origination costs from his initial print run. And since realistic pricing compels a fall off in volume, the problem intensifies over time. Library sales fall off as controlled budgets permit less acquisition than before, leading to the sort of lamentations in this week’s Wiley report. The whole cyclical process of decline, which has now been in progress for at least 25 years, has already driven many publishers out of areas of their traditional books business. Ten years ago we thought that print on demand would solve all of this , and in some ways it does. But it does no resolve the question of those origination costs. Take them away and the publisher could print to order. Which is where Dr Pinter comes in. If, she argues, you could put together global library consortia with block buying power, then you could, if the group were large enough, recreate eighteenth century subscription publishing and have all of the origination costs covered, for the titles selected, by the library digital purchase prior to publication. This then plays a key role in feeding (Populating) the resource development engines being created by people like Pearson. Then the publisher will be able to deal with the Long Tail by ebook or print on demand, pricing to margin on every sale. And the library will be Open Access!

I know. When you are standing on your head the blood rushes to your head as well. But think carefully about this. Contrarian business models must make sense in a business which now has no sensible business model of its own.

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