When refrigeration technology came along, many ice delivery people failed to realize that the essence of their job was not to deliver ice but to help people keep their food cool. With the new technology, it cost almost nothing to "make it cold", wherever you wanted it.
So those who specialized in managing cooling spaces only increased their business: all restaurants have cold rooms and just about the entire food chain, from the farmer and rancher to the home to the transport trucks and merchants, is cooled... it's not "less" but "more" business that has been caused by this technological disruption.
In publishing, much the same phenomenon is occurring: content can now be reproduced at no cost, and it is no longer the object (the book, the ice) that is valuable, but the production capacity and access (to the content, to the cold).
Publishers looking for new formulas
Reading stats are dropping across all categories of books, for all ages, and for all kinds of readers. On the other hand, the accessibility of content is immense, the choice dizzying, the renewal rapid and the quality surprising... in other words, competition is fierce, there is even talk of a "cultural overproduction",
"When supply exceeds demand, a system finds itself in a situation of excess, of overproduction."
As for the textbook in North America, its cost keeps rising, well above that of inflation, and we observe contradictory data: students prefer to study with books (less entertaining), but the content is more interesting, up-to-date, and varied online. The availability of Open Educational Resources (OER) and open courses (see the directory) is helping to increase the quality supply, and it is only expanding, But schools are required to buy the authorized textbooks and only those.
So we come to the essence of educational publishing: on the one hand hundreds of institutions, departments and professors and even students or individuals who can directly produce training materials and on the other publishers who produce verified materials, meeting various academic and practical requirements within an educational system.
The "compliant" production capacity is what provides value to educational publishers, it is what is rented or purchased.
The other element of value is the ability to interact, update and monitor, in other words access to services. Most academic publishers are starting to offer their entire catalogue on a subscription basis, support for assessments, ongoing updates, opportunities to interact with authors or other students, support, access on multiple platforms, and arguably other services that disparate OERs cannot offer.
We go back to ice deliverer: there is still an ice delivery network, but the bulk of the business now revolves around refrigeration services. In publishing, books will still be produced, sometimes, but the bulk of the business will be trusted services and content. We want you savvy... and refreshed.
The Cultural One-upmanship
Le Devoir - April 6, 2014 - Stéphane Baillargeon
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Chronicle of Higher Education - July 2013 - Sara Grossman
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