Innovative Publishing Strategies: A New Twist on an Old Theme? [Searcher]
(Searcher Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) It's no secret that the publishing industry is struggling to find alternative models for the 21st century. Nothing symbolized this more than a stroll through the aisles of the exhibition hall at the Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference in Philadelphia this past June. For several years now, publishing giants- large international conglomerates - have been gobbling up smaller publishers; now it's hard to tell the difference among them. Morgan & Claypool, Business Expert Press, and Practical Law Company are focused on a single discipline (or in the case of Morgan & Claypool, two), offering practical howto's for their respective communities. Their strategy is to deliver highly specific content to particular target audiences, so if your areas of interest are engineering, computer sciences, life sciences, business, or law, you're in luck!
Morgan & Claypool Publishers
Morgan & Claypool Publishers (M&C) [www.morganclay pool.com] began by publishing Synthesis Digital Library of Engineering and Computer Science, a series of 125-page ebooks in the fall of 2005. More recently, the publisher introduced another digital library, Colloquium, covering the life sciences.
Why begin with engineering and computer science? Michael Morgan was a computer science book publisher; Joel Claypool came from CRC Press, known for its engineering publications. Given their backgrounds in publishing within these fields, they were acquainted with the community from which they would draw their authors and could judge the quality of the content easily. When the pair decided to launch a digital library in the life sciences, the publishers turned to Dana Dreibelbis, formerly with Academic Press and W. B. Saunders. Rounding out the management team is Richard Dorf, professor of electrical and computer engineering as well as professor of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California-Davis.
What these subject areas have in common is that the overall field has many subdivisions that relate to one another, and the entire field is changing fast. A lot is happening, and there is a large group of R&D professionals - graduate students and app developers, for example - with multiple new projects. These researchers might know their own area, but what's the research in associated areas? They need concise material, delivered online, to keep abreast of developments in these rapidly changing fields. The usual publishing cycle had to be shortened and potential authors identified as being knowledgeable about their field in order to produce quality materials quickly.
It's easiest to think of the Morgan & Claypool offerings as two libraries with vertical topical series within each. There are 40 series within Synthesis and seven or eight active within Colloquium, including Integrated Systems Physiology; Development Biology; Cell Biology of Medicine; The Developing Brain; and Biotechnology. Individual titles within each series are dubbed "lectures." Titles available (and forthcoming titles) in the Colloquium Digital Library can be found at www.mor ganclaypool.com/page /lifesci#series.
The publisher releases an average of 100 to 125 titles in Synthesis each year. Each series editor oversees topic and author selection, as well as peer review to assure quality. The editors are university professors tackling a field in which they have some expertise and are therefore able to identify "hot topics" and their appropriate authors. Figure 1 above illustrates the range of series within the Synthesis Digital Library, from Algorithms and Software in Engineering to Visualization.
Authors are prominent people in their fields. All lectures are written by invitation and designed as tutorials for people already working within the larger discipline but not currently working within that precise niche. Researchers might need to be brought up-to-speed in one aspect of a larger discipline, for example, or graduate students might want a casual introduction to the field to see whether it's something that they want to pursue. All of this is accomplished in a mere 125 pages!
The publisher's business model was challenged by an academic market that needed perpetual access to any sales package of 100 to 125 titles. (These collections are not based on a calendar year cycle, but simply bundles of 100 to 125 lectures in a package.) A high percentage of research universities subscribe to the service already - a list is provided at www.morganclaypool.com/page/licensed - as do many companies with corporate laboratories doing research, such as defense contractors, and pharmaceutical companies.
Each electronic book "synthesizes an important research or development topic." Morgan & Claypool describe these as lectures; they lie somewhere between the shorter article, specifically focused on the author's interest, and a fulllength monograph that is too slow to write and publish in areas in which the research is changing so quickly. The lectures provide "more synthesis, analysis, and depth than typical research journal articles. They are also more modular and dynamic than traditional print or digital handbooks, such as collected volumes and monographs." In addition to being "ideal entry points to new areas for researchers, advanced developers, and students," the lectures can help these individuals stay current on top of developments in research. They deliver what people need: material written (and published) quickly, primarily an online overview (with print- on- demand functionality).
The Synthesis Digital Library is a one-time purchase - "no annual fees, no DRM, or restrictions of any kind on usage." If your institution has licensed the Synthesis Digital Library, "you have unlimited access to download, save, and print" all titles and can sign up for e-alerts as new titles are added to the series. (Frankly, I just went into my academic library, searched for a title in the Information Concepts, Retrieval, and Services series, and downloaded a copy of Claire Mclnerney and Michael Koenig's Knowledge Management Processes in Organizations to my hard drive with no trouble at all - and I can't wait to devour it!)
If your institution has not purchased the Library, Morgan & Claypool requests that you tell your library that you want access to the series. I'm less than convinced that this marketing strategy is the best: How will students know about the books to tell the library about them? Serendipity? From the titles in the company's brochure, I thought that these books would be of interest to others beyond students, for example, subscribers to Searcher (for the Information Concepts, Retrieval, and Services series, if nothing else), but the titles can be a bit academic in orientation. While interesting to read, I wonder how much use they'd be to practitioners. However, there is no reason for the series to remain as it is, and I hope that, as they contract with authors for new titles, the editors will take into consideration the many individuals out there who could be interested in these topics. The challenge remains how to market the service, if not to the academic library.
What's the next area on which M&C should focus? Where is there a lot happening, lots of changes, and lots of interest? Any ideas?
Business Expert Press Digital Library
The Business Expert Press Digital Library [www.business expertpres.com] is faced with similar marketing challenges. Founded in 2008 by David Parker, formerly an executive with Pearson, it began with seed money and international marketing support from iGroup [www.igroupnet.com] .
The titles published in this digital library are designed as practical, applied, concise, executive-oriented guides to discrete business topics, available for purchase in print or as an ebook. The price points for individual titles - $25-$30 for print copies, with the ebook going for $15 - make single purchases affordable, and sales to individuals are growing. (There were 50 titles published in 2010 at a cost of $3,750 for the entire package, now available for $3,000; there are 60 titles in 2011 at a cost of $3,600. The company plans to issue 50 new titles in 2012.)
Targeted to the business executive, upper-level undergrad - in other words, juniors and seniors - and graduate (MBA) students, the ebooks are distributed through Safari and XanEDU and available for ereaders (e.g., Kindle, iPad). The books are designed to translate real-world business experience to the academic world. They offer professors a legitimate alternative to highly priced basic business textbooks, focusing more narrowly on courses often offered today in business schools as two-credit courses. They can serve as a companion to alternative readings (i.e., articles and case studies), filling publishing gaps for support of progressive curricula which address "hot topics."
Business Expert Press (BEP) is developing collections of complementary titles within specific business disciplines and across topics of interest. It is the collection editor (or editors) - with only two exceptions all are associated with universities - who actively charts the strategic direction of the collection, identifying new authors and "hot topics." Authors focus on narrow topics and present concise and actionable books to which business students and executives can turn as their studies or work require. "Collection editors work with new authors to focus the work in a concise and applied direction to deliver immediately actionable concepts." Each book represents the most current and applied review of the theory and practice of the author's area of expertise. Collections have a cohesive focus, and the volumes composing each collection are similarly structured.
The 21 collections of titles can be segmented into three areas, as illustrated in Table 1 below. The strengths of the books published to date are clearly in the Marketing and Management arena, though Corporate Governance and International Business are coming on strong.
One key to the company's success lies in its editors' ability to predict the next hot topic within their discipline and select the appropriate author to produce a work that would appeal to students and businesspersons alike. So don't be shy. Let BEP know what you think it should publish. If you think you can produce academically reliable, instructionoriented content, submit your book proposal [www.business expertpress.com/author].
With a limited number of universities purchasing the entire collection, the company's ability to market individual titles to the strategic business sector and individuals just starting out will ensure its longevity as a player in this market space. There are logical approaches to this, such as modifying basic Sales Force Management with industry- specific works (e.g., Insurance Sales Force Management), and there are plenty of business topics and potential authors out there to keep Business Expert Press busy for years to come.
Practical Law Company
Practical Law Company (PLC) [www.practicallaw.com] describes itself as the "UK's pre-eminent provider of legal know-how, transactional analysis and market intelligence for business lawyers." The firm began in 1990 in the U.K. with a magazine targeted to junior associates of law firms, focused on the technical aspects of transactions. PLC developed a set of web-based tools designed to help lawyers work efficiently, continuously updating practice notes, document templates, standard clauses, and deal checklists in each of the practice areas covered.
Think of this as an extension of your firm's knowledge management tool that lets you find a model on which to base your work. (In firms I've worked in, I would troll project files on the network to find examples that fit my situation and then use the successful ones as models for my own work. This is definitely a more sophisticated approach.)
At the end of 2008, PLC launched in the U.S., beginning with "nuts-and-bolts guidance on transactional law and practice" in corporate and securities and finance, covering such topics as listed in Table 2 above.
Practice areas in the U.K. include Arbitration, Competition, Construction, Corporate, Cross-Border, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Environment, Finance, Financial Services, IPIT & Communications, Pensions, Private Client, Property, Restructuring & Insolvency, Share Schemes & Incentives, and Tax. So we should not be surprised to learn that by the end of this year, the company will have added two additional practice areas to its U.S. operations - Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation and Labor & Employment - and expects to add two practice areas each year. Look for intellectual property and commercial real estate in 2012.
PLC targets law firms and law departments with brief, straightforward (plain English), howto guides prepared by a team of 80 full-time, experienced lawyers. The writers draft, develop, and maintain the materials and update content with current law and market practice.
Anastasia Boyko, professional development manager, describes the process as one of lawyers developing content materials for lawyers, in a sense, acting as the associate's co-pilot. The question each asks before beginning to write is, "What is it that I wish I had known when I started out?" An esteemed advisory board for each practice area is consulted for relevant topic ideas, providing feedback on resources being developed and sometimes contributing to PLC magazine. Experts are drawn from such firms as Cadwalader; Davis Polk; Debevoise & Plimpton; Latham & Watkins; Milbank, Tweed; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind; Shearman & Sterling; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; Skadden, Arps; Sullivan & Cromwell; White & Case; and Wilkie Farr & Gallagher.
The practical guides follow a consistent format, walking the associate through what needs to be done from the time the assignment begins through negotiations, assuring that decisions are in line with what's being done elsewhere, providing the following:
* Practice notes, i.e., explanatory how-to guides covering deal structure, process, and documentation
* Standard documents and clauses, i.e., model agreements and clauses, each with drafting notes that provide detailed guidance on negotiating
* Checklists, flowcharts, and timetables
* What's Market, a database analyzing and summarizing current deals, securities filings, and market practice for various aspects of transactions
* Legal updates (summarizing developments in the law and the market, with practical implications)
* Cross-border analysis (for particular areas of law)
* "In Dispute": Analysis of deals that are being disputed
The U.S. -based homepage features entry points based on whether you work for a law firm, a corporate law department, or are a law school student. Figure 2 at left shows the first level of research within any given practice area; Figure 3 at left offers a tabbed approach to the detailed documents within each practice area (here, Alternative Dispute Resolution).
Reception for the product has been remarkable, with more than 60% of the AmLaw (American Lawyer) 200 subscribing, though many smaller firms are subscribers to the service too. Considering that the service was launched during a fragile economy, when law firms were looking for ways to cut back on expenses, PLC's success is nothing more than miraculous. (Law schools - students and faculty - are given free access to the service.)
If PLC can save you time, and time equals money, then it may be worth the investment for this premium service. You want your associates doing what only they can do. In essence, you've outsourced the basic work, allowing associates to concentrate on higher-level application of the basics to the specific case. Instead of throwing first-year associates into the fray, assuming that they'll work all hours and figure out a way to complete their assignments if they want to remain with the firm, you can now give them tools to support their efforts. Here's a concept that could translate well to the investment banking community, if only some enterprising company would take on the model.
Focus, Focus, Focus
These ventures have much in common, primarily the fact that they provide practical, brief works to specific target audiences. Practical Law Company appears on track for a prosperous run, provided that it doesn't try to take on too much too soon. Morgan & Claypool and Business Expert Press are small startups with decent business models.
The trick will be to market these works successfully, giving them the ability to bridge the academic and "real" world. The price points are right, for sure. Let's hope that no publishing behemoth comes along and gobbles them up too soon.
Business Expert Press (BEP) is developing collections of complementary titles within specific business disciplines and across topics of interest.
If PLC can save you time, and time equals money, then it may be worth the investment for this premium service. You want your associates doing what only they can do.
by Barbie E. Keiser
Information Resources Management
(c) 2011 Information Today, Inc.
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