EduLib - Education, Libraries, Publishing & Technology

This is a very occasional blog on education, libraries, publishing and the technologies that support these activities.

The rules that I try to follow when writing this blog are:
1. Try not to waste the time of the reader (hence the long Subject headings).
2. Be informative.
3. If not informative, be provocative & controversial.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Can Digital Directors in Publishing Succeed?

Publishers and Intermediaries have been appointing Digital Directors over the past five years or so, generally asking them to 'take the company digital'. Unfortunately, this has often proved to be an impossible task to complete and a poisonous role to fill. This is essentially because the old-fashioned print business is still the main source of revenues for many publishers and intermediaries (other than the academic journals specialists), and the Digital Director typically struggles to gain influence from the low-revenue, but high-potential side-lines, however important the message may be, and however keenly the company says it wants to hear this message.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Burning Platform, the Boiled Frog and the Rusting Platform

(Sorry about the cryptic title, but it seemed worth it.)
The ‘burning platform’ idea hit the news in February 2011 when a memo written by the Nokia CEO Stephen Elop used the metaphor as an ‘inspiration’ to his staff to be decisive about necessary changes. He wrote about a man standing on a burning oil rig who was faced with choosing between a fiery death and a jump into the freezing sea. Elop was trying to impress on his staff that people will only make a painful change when it is absolutely necessary to do so (and, perhaps, to frighten them into placidly accepting the subsequent deal he made with his former employers, Microsoft).
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ASA Conference Presentation on the Role of the Intermediary

On 22 February 2011, I spoke at the ASA Conference in London. My presentation explored the nature of the intermediaries – organisations and technologies – that are positioned between authors and readers, and the roles that these intermediaries carry out. I attempted to deconstruct these roles (like a bad magician deconstructing your pocket-watch) and drew attention to the potentially increasing or diminishing importance of each role in the supply chain (or the demand chain), with special reference to the electronic world. The presentation contained messages of both doom and hope for intermediaries, as the threats and opportunities of the impending e-only world continue to unfold themselves.

You can view a video of the presentation here:

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Futurologists Speak Out At ALA

I'm back and blogging live from ALA ! (Well, I'm excited, even if you aren’t)

I attended the OCLC Symposium at ALA today (24 June 2006) with really interesting and invigorating presentations by futurists Derek Woodgate, and Wendy Schultz.

(I should at this point declare an interest, as I now work for OCLC PICA.)

Woodgate talked about his very structured and business-like process for working on envisioning the future (it reminded me of my days at Accenture), but illustrated it with wild-side and leading-edge stuff from Nietzsche, DJ Spooky, Stanza and all manner of other sources. He also mentioned an eBooks/Copyright article in the New York Times by Kevin Kelly that I had just read on the flight over, and had found absolutely revelatory.

His multi-stage process, by the way, includes: framing, pulsing, mapping, scaping, tuning, and fabbing.

Schultz gave more attention to the idea of moving toward 'preferable' futures (rather than a passive prediction); her steps are: identify change, critique implications, imagine difference, envision preferences.

She gave what seemed to me to be a rather breathless account of how cool teenagers are these days and how chip-implanted we will all be in the future, but I think I was getting a bit 'futured-out' and cynical by that stage. (Although I liked her convergence of implanted mobile phones and telepathy.)

I found myself thinking (again) about how 'actually everything is the same, really'. If you take the long/historical view (which I am very unqualified to do) it seems to me that maybe key guides to predicting the future are enduring fundamentals evidenced in our past. Two controversial and ill-thought-out examples (as I write it is 1am in New Orleans and 7am in London): Hitler could have predicted his 'future' in Russia by consulting Napoleon, and we could make good predictions about Muslim fundamentalism by examining the Inquisition. We need to read more Peter Jones.

Surprisingly, neither speaker mentioned the much-hyped James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization being set up at Oxford University (although Schultz lives in Oxford and Woodgate is a Brit), although I don't really care, because the website of the JMIFSAC is all in Flash, so they are obviously evil.

Here's my prediction (validated late tonight by an eminent but anonymous library technology futurologist outside a New Orleans bar): Maybe libraries will not survive the next 100 years, but librarians will become of increasing importance in resolving, mediating and contextualising the information that is no longer in the library but all around us.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I Want To Discover Information, Not Search Collections

Many librarians continue to be very focussed on providing readers with the ability to search collections in the most sophisticated ways, but surely many researchers want to be able to discover any potentially interesting materials from all possible sources.

It is true that if I am in my local public library branch, or I am an undergraduate with a deadline, I go into the library and say "What have you got ?" But if I am trying to find, say, research that links stomach ulcers with Helicobacter pylori, I absolutely do not want to be limited to my library's current physical holdings and online subscriptions.

Now some librarians recognise this and try to provide the widest possible capability to search metadata and full-text independent of collections, but there still seems to be a hard-core of 'collection-centric' librarians. Indeed, at a recent conference workshop on electronic resource management software, I was shocked by how the librarians present unanimously demanded the capability to ensure that there was no bibliographic data in the catalogue relating to journals to which the library did not subscribe.

Similarly, at Bielefeld last week, Anurag Acharya from Google made a strong case for the wonders of Google Scholar, and to some extent made the case that many researchers want to discover 'everything' (Google Scholar) before they go on find out what is in their library. Yet he made this case at a technical and product level, and I think missed an opportunity to take a "librarians must serve readers" line, making clear that many librarians, and systems, and services are not meeting the needs of researchers in this way.

At the moment we have a range of inadequate services to 'discover everything' (journal citation services are not bad, and of course Amazon is the premier bibliographic source for monographs), and librarians should be welcoming Google Scholar in principle (whilst continuing to challenge particular facets of the system).

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Should my stuff be on the Web, or on my PC ?

Two short stories (there is a point to this):

I read yesterday that an online RSS reader, SearchFox, is suddenly closing down. On their website/blog they say "Please export all of your links and an OPML file with your RSS sources" (whatever that means). As it turns out Yahoo! may be buying the smoking wreckage.

Also yesterday, the accounting software I use on my PC blew up, and apparently I shouldn't really be relying on a version of the software that is five years old and no longer supported. (As it turns out Sage probably will sell me an upgrade and I may be able to recover my data.)

So which is better/worse – to be screwed when your Web 2.0, constantly updated, don't be evil, really cool Web app goes offline, goes broke or gets bought, or to be screwed when your desktop computing, old-hat, locally-running Windows app gets tired, freezes up or enjoys a head crash ?

I used to want everything on my laptop, because connectivity was uncertain and slow, (and because it was 'mine, all mine') but now you can be online 'anywhere', 'anytime' (yeah, right), I was just beginning to come round to the idea that it might be nice to have everything 'out there somewhere'.

But actually, comms is still very flaky, in my experience, and maybe some of these web outfits are flakier still. Is your whole photo collection only on Flikr, or do you also have it on a disk at home ? Why ?

Ideally, I suppose, all the data and all the code should be everywhere all the time. Seamlessly. So if I log on to the library, I could be searching the local catalog and/or the Amazon bibliography and/or OCLC, whichever is up at the time. And I should be able to look at my loan history online or offline, because the data is automatically kept in synch between the library server and my PC (oh, and my PDA, of course).

Web 3.0 anyone ?

(I have to go now; I need to back up my blog and buy some shares in Intellisync.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why Campus Management Systems Cost Ten Times More Than Library Management Systems

Rob Abel made some interesting comments in his Higher Education Insight blog a while ago (October 2005), on the question "Why Won't We Pay for Learning Technology ?".

He asked "Why are institutions willing to spend $300K to $500K or more on student information systems when it is like pulling teeth to invest $25K-$50K in a course management system? " He had some interesting thoughts on whether this is due to resistance to change by tenured faculty, and also on why institutions feel it is acceptable to charge students for textbooks, but not for learning management systems.

My experience is similar in the library world: Bob Walton, former VP at Innovative Interfaces, Board-member of Dynix, and current VP for Finance at Wooster College, recently said that a college like his typically ends up paying ten times more for a campus management system than for a library automation system (RMG panel at Midwinter ALA in 2005).

I think much of the problem is with the 'benefit case' – both with the figures themselves, and with whoever is preparing them. For administration systems, it is relatively easy to compile financial benefits from the proposed systems – tangible or not. Management will come up with a report that says how the new system will save 5% of this and 10% of that, and will show that only a 1% increase in enrolment, due to better systems, means $xm more income.

But if you sit an educator or a librarian down and say, "So exactly how much cash would we save/gain by replacing/upgrading our learning/library system ?" you might get blank faces all round. Partly, it is just hard to do. Partly, these people do not have the skills to do it. Partly it is sort-of not 'right' to put a price on better learning or research.

Yet it needs to be done. Sure, if higher prices are paid the money will have to come from somewhere. And, sure, some of it will end up in the pockets of the owners of the vendor companies. But think how much better these systems would be if they cost only twice as much as they do now.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Cost of Selling Software - US$250,000 per deal

Jim Farmer has prepared a very interesting analysis of what it costs to sell an Enterprise Learning System, concluding that the sales and marketing costs of each Blackboard signing are around US$250,000.

Now open source advocates can sometimes over-emphasise the costs and failings of commercial software, but Jim's comments in the paper are very fair, reminding readers that "The high cost ... is influenced by the ... demands of potential clients." and that "... software suppliers have been asked to ... subsidize user groups, and support higher education initiatives." His paper is well worth reading in full.

(Jim told me three years ago that open-source search engines and campus portals would soon make library automation software - and libraries - obsolete; and it still scares me.)

I know something about the cost of sales issue, having sold library automation software for most of the past ten years (at Innovative and Dynix). I have long said that it costs the major ILS/LMS vendors an average of about US$50,000 per bid, which means that for a typical mid-sized university deal, five competing bidders will spend US$250,000 between them: and only one will win, so again that is US$250,000 per deal.

Of course an individual vendor's costs per deal are very dependent on the win-rate, something Jim has not really looked into.

As a deal like this might only have revenues of US$250,000 anyway, it means the library community has paid US$250,000 to the library software vendors and none of this has gone into development – it was all spent on sales and marketing.

I think all this raises three main issues:
- What are these costs and why are they being incurred ?
- What could or should be done differently ?
- Where does open source fit into all this ?
I propose to deal with each of these subjects in turn in future blogs.

Let me leave you with a intriguing thought:

Assuming that WebCT and Blackboard used to compete (with sales & marketing dollars) in every deal - once they are merged (if they still collectively win the same number of deals), they will collectively save US$250,000 per deal, and this saving could be passed right on to the customer. So reduced competition is a wonderful thing for customers, as it cuts sales costs and so reduces prices. Right ?

But hang on, when I was at Dynix competing with Sirsi, the libraries would 'shortlist' five suppliers and I had, crudely, a 20% chance of winning, and Sirsi had a 20% chance - so 40% between us. But now, SirsiDynix combined only has a 20% chance on that 5-vendor shortlist, so the costs per bid are the same and the costs per win are unchanged too - so no savings there.

Hummm.....more analysis needed

(Thanks to Michael Feldstein for drawing Jim's report to my attention in Blackboard by the Numbers in his blog, e-Literate.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Blogging is self-indulgent but I'm doing it anyway.

My first item in this blog needs to be an apology for all that I have ever said in the past criticizing blogs. I have spent much of 2005 telling people (you know who you are) that:
- Blogging is not a replacement for journalism.
- Blogging about code is not the same as writing code.
- Blogging about products is not the same as selling products.
- Blogging is self-indulgent.
- No-one has time to read blogs.

And although all of this is still true, I find myself starting a blog. Why ? Well the first reason is that I don't have a job at the moment, so I have the Opportunity. Secondly, I don't have a job at the moment, so I have a Motive. And thirdly, now that I have upgraded to
Web 2.0, all software is free, so I have the Means.

But my final reason is that I have started reading more, and listening more, and thinking more (now I have some time), and I imagine that I may be able to add some value by unpicking some old and dishevelled concepts that are lying about in people's cupboards, and by pulling together some strands that are floating about, and maybe the outcome will be a sort of Pullover 2.0 that will be useful to people.

I suppose I have finally 'got' blogging – There is some stuff that I want to say, and if it is any good, people will keep reading it; if it is not, then it will be a case of "Hello ? Is anybody out there ?"

(and thanks to Nicole C. Engard at "What I learned today" and Hetemeel for the picture above)


Mark Carden is a business development executive, consultant and recruiter, who has 30 years of experience in project management, software engineering and technology sales.

In the publishing, education and libraries sector he has held international Vice President positions at Publishing Technology, Ingram Digital, Innovative Interfaces, and Dynix.

Mark's career started in software development, project management and consulting; he has worked for several 'blue-chip' companies including Accenture, NatWest Life and Barclays Bank.

He has a BA in Philosophy & Psychology from Oxford University, and has also attended executive education programmes at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University and the Saïd Business School at Oxford University.

Mark's special interests include: Publishing software, library automation systems, e-books, campus & enterprise portals, hand-held computing, business strategy, how time factors affect company & management behaviours, and the transition of owner-managed businesses into professionally-managed companies.