Exit the middleman

Last month, Michael Cairns delivered a keynote address at the annual conference of the National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS). If you're not familiar with NFAIS, it is a "global, non-profit membership organization serving all those who create, aggregate, organize, and otherwise provide ease of access to and effective navigation and use of authoritative, credible information."

They host dozens of meetings each year, most dedicated to a specific topic in the field. I've presented at some of their events, which consistently draw informed and engaged audiences.

Cairns runs Information Media Partners, a consulting firm that helps publishers sort through issues related to content management, product development and mergers and acquisitions. Our practices cross paths on occasion, typically over lunch, where I always come away better informed than I started.

The NFAIS presentation, "The end of the middleman: Predicting the future of education publishing", is posted on Personanondata, Cairns' well-known blog. He includes both the slides and his speaker's notes, giving a great deal of access to the substance of his talk.

Cairns makes a number of important points about the future of higher education, including:

  • Most innovation in publishing is happening at the edges of the industry
  • Across all segments, the value chain is compacting, allowing direct interaction with consumers
  • Excluding Pearson, education publishers are just starting to transition from content providers to service providers
  • Technology, particularly the internet, is driving changes that will improve the relevance of higher education
  • Only through assessment and adaptive learning will we bridge the gap between higher education and industry
  • Platform providers may soon be the only efficient way for publishers to reach students

[The language here is pretty much a direct lift from parts of Cairns' prepared remarks.]

Cairns concludes that:

It will only be a matter of time before pan-university content assets – library licensed content, faculty and university produced materials and archived and professionally published content, etc.  – are brought together.  I expect the platform model will facilitate this change.

He goes on to describe a world that will look remarkably different from the current, container-driven model:

Examples in professional publishing indicate that what we begin to see in platforms is not so much a repository of ‘ready-made’ solutions like books, journal articles, collections and the like but more a biosphere akin to an operating system supporting the end-user in everything from content creation and hosting to user and community engagement and, in the case of education – life-long learning.  There is an exciting future to come in educational publishing and we are only just on the cusp of it.

Cairns brings a wealth of experience to his observations. He also adds more than a bit of self-deprecating humor. If you have even a passing interest in what might happen to institutions of higher education and the publishers who supply them with content, his entire presentation is worth reviewing.

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.

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