Google & University Presses: On U Presses Cashing in on the Potential of the Web, Potentially

“My company and I would like to give folks a nigh-infinitely scalable digital map of every street in the world that they can 'fly' around in like a video game, and after that we’ll build eyeglasses that surf the web and self-driving cars.

“So, naturally, our first step will be to put a new search algorithm up on the web, in a single framed search box, so folks can find webpages better.”

Google had a good idea and a fine algorithm. But, no one short of shaman-grade crazy saw web-enabled eyeglasses and self-driving cars as likely later/next steps–or as their ultimate goal when first they set out.

Do what you can do now; find out what you can do next, after. Then, do that. It’s how we learn to walk, run, and build unimaginable things like driver-less cars.

When considering U Presses building a collective immersive online environment, folks often ask "key questions" that only focus on one aspect of what might have been a partial near-term goal (back in the days of the newness of the web); e.g., how will that succeed in selling books (i.e., specifically on such a site that U might build; because all we can imagine are real-world things reconstituted online, such as an "online" bookstore). However, key questions depend on what strategic intent/s and ends might be in the near term, in the long term, and beyond. And, in so far as some of those goals may be open ended or a matter of positioning for an unknown future, key questions can be manifold or moot, in current terms.

For now, I’d suggest that raising customer awareness (no matter where the purchases of those things called books take place) would bring value to the U Press network. Purchase intent is constrained by lack of brand/product awareness; by similar measure, it is often enhanced by increased brand/product awareness. Down the road, being in position to build new models, set new goals, expand into a web-based world (in ways no one else will for presses); that may well be priceless.

In sum: I’d suggest that for talented folks in a swiftly changing landscape, landmarks may be less helpful than they used to be; direction may be key. The web is a good direction.

{this is a shameless rehash of a comment, I posted originally on Scholarly Kitchen; but, I like "shaman-grade crazy" so refurnished it here.}


University Presses have the world by the tail - twice: outside-the-books thinking

I'm going to put you in business. I'm not going to tell you what that business is, or what you sell, but, I'll describe some moving parts, and ask you how you like your chances.

It's a not-for-profit business (NFP), but one that engages with customers in open, global retail space to generate revenues in multiple streams; so, market returns are important and good for business: good^2. Your business is well established, not a new concept. You work in media. Your customers are uniformly well-heeled, all earning fine salaries, some extraordinary salaries, they go to live theater, attend museum openings, visit art galleries, they hold respected places in society, they consume mass quantities of media like yours, and they are required to work with your offerings and your competitors' offerings, under penalty of death (publish or perish), for the rest of their professional careers. How do you like your chances?

Before you answer, let me add that some of your expenses and infrastructure will be paid for/provided by a nearby laurelled institution (a university), and, because you're a NFP, you will be held exempt from paying taxes. How do you like your chances now?

Wait: In addition to this customer pool, thanks to your NFP status, you can fund raise to support operations. How do you like your chances now?

The answer to everything in business is, of course, That depends... It depends on what you're selling and if anyone is willing to pay you for it. But, before you get your 'depends' on, you have to stop and take stock of the moving parts described above: that this is a freakishly favorably stacked deck. No entrepreneur gets a play like this, to that kind of customer base, with that kind of support. Most would say, it really doesn't matter what your product is (or are), with a stable bid for the rapt attention of folks like these, you can't miss.


I've said before that folks contemplating the future of the university press network, branding, and revenues "slash" sustainability should have a look at Vans, in the period described in the Harvard Business Review case study, VANS: Skating on Air. And I'll say it again here:

...Folks contemplating the future of the university press network, branding, and revenues "slash" sustainability should have a look at Vans, in the period described in the Harvard Business Review case study, VANS: Skating on Air.

In brief, it describes Vans' decisions to produce the skateboard movie, Dogtown and Z-Boys, to sponsor myriad extreme sporting events, and develop a line of video games. None of which are shoes. Vans is a shoe company. The answer, for Vans to continue to grow, however, lay outside the shoes.

Monetizing on scholarly content alone is fraught and fragile these days. If a publisher is a book company, with "book" understood broadly as all content the company produces, then maybe it's time to think outside the books.