More mousetraps

About a month ago, I wrote about AcademicPub, a higher-education coursepack service offered by SharedBook. the post pointed out how AcademicPub was designed to take advantage of several implications of "Context first":

  • Content must become open, accessible and interoperable;
  • We must use context to promote discovery and access;
  • We compete on breadth of use, not the cost of content; and
  • We will grow the pie by providing readers with tools that help them manage abundance.

Last week, VitalSource, an Ingram subsidiary focused on the higher-education market, announced a partnership with Blackboard, the most heavily used learning management system among U.S. universities. The collaboration makes sense on some levels.

VitalSource already claims that it can offer 80,000 content units (articles, chapters, case studies and the like). Blackboard users will be able to access content using a single log-in; and users will be able to choose between desktop and mobile platforms for content consumption.

Although VitalSource and Blackboard may be the dominant players in this space, I'm not sure they necessarily trump the SharedBook offering. I've used Blackboard as part of a course I taught at a graduate level, and it is an awkward interface. Web access can be slow, something I'm told may be a function of the older version I'd used when teaching.

VitalSource has a good deal of content, but its growth has also made some higher-education publishers nervous. The service is designed to have the primary relationship with educational institutions, something publishers in almost every segment resist.

Some aspects of the VitalSource-Blackboard partnership address the four points made at the start of this post (particularly the third and fourth ones). It could be the case that higher-education use cases don't require content that is open, accessible and interoperable, and a closed platform might win out. I'm not quite ready to bet on that outcome, though.

A bit of disclosure: In the earlier post about AcademicPub, I noted that Michael Cairns, SharedBook's chief revenue officer, is a former consulting colleague. He had no knowledge of this post, and the observations made are my own.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.