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Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Moving from Ideas to Action

In Innovation, Society for Scholarly Publishing on May 27, 2011 at 7:00 am

Image by Robyn Jay on flickr

Everyone wants to find new ways to compete while they also keep the machine oiled and running. The planners of the 2011 SSP IN Meeting have been wrangling with this duality between big ideas and practical requirements for weeks.

A recent story in Information Week pinpoints the need for executives to have the skills to evaluate, prioritize, and sell ideas in order to take them from the drawing board to the market.

Companies are attempting to codify the processes through which innovation can be nurtured. More important than ideas, which quite frankly are cheap, is the ability to pick which concepts are worthy of the heavy investment of time, money, and corporate mindshare required to take them to productization. — Alexander Wolfe in “Top 5 Tech Trends for 2011″

But keeping things running is what’s keeping people up at night as well, as a colleague found out when she spoke with a handful of society publishing directors recently (under conditions of anonymity). Their concerns are:

  • Competition on price and availability: New ways to deliver content, which are taking shape on the web, threaten publishers because they compete, not on quality, but on price. Our journals are costly to produce, the subscription model is threatened, and it getting more challenging to compete and retain market share with more inexpensive, “good enough” content.
  • Pressure from consolidation: Users are getting irritated with all the interfaces. Suffering from information overload, our users are saying that they prefer fewer, better, go-to resources. How will smaller publishers compete with the behemoth databases, especially in an environment of acquisition and consolidation? Is PubMed Central be the model for the future? No journals, no branding, just data-based information?
  • Workload and resource demands: The workload of accepted papers is increasing but publications revenues cannot keep up with increasing demands for services and programs by other areas of the society that either do not produce revenues or are not self-supporting.
  • Changing membership: Making our publications program more relevant to new members, who may not have terminal degrees, without devaluing journals for academic authors and reviewers.
  • Journals cuts: Our discipline is facing challenges — many departments have been closed or merged with departments for other disciplines.  In some places, the subject is being taught by people without a discipline-specific background. There are scientists doing pharmacological research who identify with larger practice areas, not sub-specialties. With fewer people to speak up in defense of journals, it has become easier for them to go on the chopping block. Also, how to compete with big package deals — journals are significantly less expensive than their commercially published competitors but are easier to cut than larger packages. Most, if not all, consortia will not bother with small numbers of journals, so we get squeezed out of that market.
  • Keeping pace with technology: Semantic tagging is important, but I have neither the money nor the time to implement it.  My editorial boards are seeing new technologies before I do — and want to know when I’m going to adopt them.  The pace of change seems to be quickening. Staying informed is a challenge and arriving at ways to implement technologies is more difficult. At the same time, my resources are shrinking.
  • The squeeze: What if subscription sales decline and scientists’ research grants can’t support publication charges?
  • The bottom line: What keeps me up at night? The need for more sustainable business models.

SSP members were also recently asked to vote for three strategic issues (of eight identified by the SSP Board of Directors) that they felt would most wouldsignificantly impact them — and about which the society is positioned to take constructive action. What they flagged:

  1. User expectations that they can get information in variable shapes, sizes, and prices (especially free) challenge existing publisher/librarian roles and business models (128 votes)
  2. New products and technology require new skill sets from employees, straining traditional career progression and job descriptions, and requiring constant revamping and retraining (123 votes)
  3. Publishers’ increasing reliance on multiple, unstable revenue streams places a premium on business agility, adaptability, and collaborative partnerships (104 votes)

IN Meeting organizers have incorporated feedback from SSP members about their strategic priorities throughout the planning process. The dual purpose of this 2.5-day meeting is to give attendees new ideas and experiences and to help them translate what they’ve heard into practical, needs-focused actions — as moderator Mary Waltham has put it, steps they can take “within the first 10 days back in the office.”

Continue reading on The Scholarly Kitchen.

Top-Down and Bottom-Up: The Squeeze That Can Revolutionize (and Save) American Education

In Education on April 12, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Source: seantoyer on flickr

Last week I attended the Education Innovation Summit at Arizona State University SkySong, which was organized for the second year by Michael Moe and Deborah Quazzo. The conference was unusual for its intimate size and the access to “top-down” influencers and “bottom-up” innovators – technologists, educators, authors, CEOs, and politicos — that Moe and Quazzo brought together for this two-and-a-half day meeting.

For growth companies and funders, the meeting was a mechanism for speeding the capital process and gaining traction for new ideas. Those committed to system reform heard from speakers, including F. Philip Handy, member of The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind, who addressed the very significant political and infrastructure challenges that continue to obstruct more progressive technology adoption in mainstream education. Everyone grappled with what needs to happen next, the common refrain being that incrementalism will not be enough to get our students and system from here to where it needs to be, and quickly.

In a candid and entertaining closing session, Marguerite Kondracke interviewed Joel Klein about his departure from the New York City Department of Education, where he was Chancellor until 2010, and his plans and priorities as Executive Vice President of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Of particular interest to the publishing sector, Klein zeroed in on five key drivers transforming learning media, which Tom Vander Ark summarizes in EdReformer:

  1. The shift print to digital: dynamic and interactive instructional content is coming fast.
  2. Data driven system: with digital learning and more instant feedback, we can try a dozen lessons and see what works best, test empirically whether fractions should come before decimals or whether it matters whether physics comes before biology.  Klein thought Wireless Generation (a News Corp company) was well positioned in this regard.
  3. The shift from classroom-centric to device-centric learning unbound by time and place.
  4. Customization by level and approach.
  5. Human capital: the ability to focus on the value-added and really inspirational part of learning, and not asking every one to do the same stuff (like build lesson plans).

In a keynote a day earlier, Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, described the dramatic changes he is making to reinvent the state’s higher education system. ”Tradition is the enemy,” said Crow — it threatens our educational outcomes, knowledge base, and global competitiveness. The system as it exists today centers on faculty, not students, and this needs to change dramatically, not incrementally. Why hold on to constructs and systems that are no longer practical or relevant, which gate progress, performance, and success?

Crow’s vision calls for a scalable, student-at-the-center system with top-level researchers investing more time in the classroom as master teachers. His goal is not only to overturn the status quo but to transform Scottsdale and the region as a hub for business and research innovation in the model of Silicon Valley.

Continue reading on The Scholarly Kitchen.

Innovation and Longevity in Digital Publishing: Surfing the S-Curve

In Innovation on March 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Source: Cogdogblog on flickr

Some scholars — including Clay Christensen, author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “The Innovator’s Solution” — argue persuasively that the disruption necessary to create viable innovations must come from outside an industry’s traditional ecosystem. This was elaborated upon recently in an interview with Soomo Publishing’s CEO David Lindrum:

Christensen helped us understand why, in 15 years of trying, we failed to get traditional publishers to build these [new] kinds of resources. . . . Everything in traditional publishing is built around the book, from how the market is analyzed, to the range of features considered and the process of product creation all the way down to how the rep learns a product and makes a call. Every process, metric, and assumption is built around print. . . . [I]f Christensen’s model from Innovator’s Dilemma holds up in this market, the new products must come from outsider organizations and will flourish first in fields that traditional publishers see as low-margin and undesirable.

Publishers, who often struggle with innovation and experimentation, might benefit from roadmaps for publishing innovation which encompass concept development, business modeling, market readiness, and audience targeting. For example, David Wojick and I recently collaborated on an article recently, “Reference Content for Mobile Devices: Free the Facts from the Format,” that steps through the initial challenges of transitioning content from websites to mobile devices.

After translating theory to viable business models, the next elephant in the room is consumer readiness. A body of literature has been produced since the 1950s about the technology adoption curve. The diffusion of innovations theory, summarized below, was published by Everett Rogers in 1962. From Wikipedia:

Technology adoption typically occurs in an S curve . . . [d]iffusion of innovations theory, pioneered by Everett Rogers, posits that people have different levels of readiness for adopting innovations and that the characteristics of a product affect overall adoption. Rogers classified individuals into five groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. In terms of the S curve, innovators occupy 2.5%, early adopters 13.5%, early majority 34%, late majority 34%, and laggards 16%.

Consider the recent tipping point for e-books. According to the diffusion of innovations theory, the market for e-books is transitioning from early adopters to early majority. How long have we been waiting for this to hit?

Many in our industry recall visiting the well-funded NetLibrary campus in Denver during the late 1990s, followed by the company’s crash and subsequent reboots under new owners. Competitors — like ebrary, EookLibrary, and Knovel — entered the market around 2004 and engaged the innovators and early adopters in our community. But, it wasn’t until 2009-2010 that e-books gained a significant measure of commercial traction. We’re now seeing the acquisitions and consolidations that denote a maturing market, ushered in by Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Hybrid cars were viable before consumers were ready for them. Text messaging emerged in the early 1990s and has taken decades to become “state of the art.” Patron-driven access (PDA) models have been available for several years but have only now entered our mainstream conversation.

Trends and ideas spark around us all the time. Some gain early acceptance, seemingly level off, and then burst on to the mainstream scene years later. Having insight into innovation adoption theories will help us gauge how to best work market levers in order to establish new products and win over larger markets.

Randy Elrod, an artist and author, writes about three types of audience influencers and their impact on innovation adoption in “How to Diffuse Ideas and Influence People:”

(1) Opinion leadership is the degree to which an individual is able to influence informally other individual’s attitudes or overt behavior in a desired way with relative frequency. (2) A change agent is an individual who attempts to influence client’s innovation-decisions in a direction that is deemed desirable by a change agency. (3) An aide is a less than fully professional change agent who intensively contacts clients to influence their innovation-decisions.

Generally, the fastest rate adoption of an innovation results from influencing the innovative influencers’ decisions. As Don Henley of the band Eagles fame once stated during an interview when asked how it feels to be so famous and have his songs permeate society, he replied, “It’s not the fame, it’s the ripple effect I’m hoping for”.

It’s precisely this ripple effect we are seeking through our efforts to re-invent the digital publishing business. We need to achieve substantial commercial success to offset the loss of formerly stable revenue streams. We can give ourselves advantages by acquiring new skills that help us — plan for distinct scenarios, take the temperature of the marketplace, renovate our ecosystems, and prime our audiences for new offerings.

Continue reading on The Scholarly Kitchen.