I was interviewed on the IPG Podcast talking about how we’re building a publishing business in collaboration with Newgen Publishing in the UK and how to make partnerships like this work. I got the chance to talk about some of the big issues in academic publishing at the moment, especially around library delivery and access.
My writing in 2021 was focused on new product development, publishing, and licensing strategy with an occasional thought piece on the intersection of platforms, business models, and negotiating strategy. This piece is a departure from form in that I would like to share my four most significant observations from 2021 in regard to the higher education publishing, educational technology, and library product and services world.
My perspective on new product development is based on constant interaction with customers on an iterative basis, with the goal of introducing and testing new product solutions with those same customers. This is an iterative new product development process based on bringing the minimal, salable product to market with the understanding enhancements are coming. When an organization commits to iterative product releases following the validation of a minimally viable product (MVP), and after releasing for sale a product market fit PMF), (You can find definitions in Part 6 of this series for: Product Market Fit and Minimum Viable Product), it has committed to cementing into its organisational structure and strategy a new product development practice that will not yield big failures.
The very best product managers are the chief executives of their products, and this means working as closely with the marketing and sales team as with the finance, user design and engineering teams. At launch, a successful go-to-market effort, guided by the product manager and product marketing manager, will have detailed the follow through with the development partners and the many reviewers who offered feedback along the way. The go-to-market plan will include clear sales messaging based on the solutions designed into the product and the role of product management in training and supporting sales. And the go-to-market plan should include a content marketing communication plan designed to leverage industry publications, conferences, blogs and other forums to amplify the new product messaging.
The overriding objective of carefully managing the road map is to ensure the delivery of a product that meets the most basic and essential requirements of a paying or using customer audience. If the road map expands because of scope creep, or if the road map is delayed for competing priorities, delivering the product as defined in the business case suffers. With this in mind, part six will discuss, differentiate and contextualize the two terms used in product development that capture the essence of delivering a most basic product a customer will support: Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Product Market Fit (PMF)
The senior leadership team and the product leadership group have approved your business case and you are now ready to engage the product team, including engineering, user design and product ownership who, with your leadership, are responsible for delivering on the product concept. In your approved business case wire frames, mock-ups, product requirements, and sprint estimates were presented and approved. Now, with your product team, it is time to turn to the road map and prioritization of the schedule and the product build. Three factors will impinge upon and determine your success in delivering on your successful product launch: 1. Competing priorities, 2. Scope creep and 3. Pressure to meet a deadline.
Publishers, that is enterprises devoted to bringing to life the intellectual work of content creators for commercial ends, thrive in the world of digital distribution when they most skillfully manipulate three key levers that are entirely within the publisher’s control: 1. The timing of release and point of first access, 2. The digital list price and associated price multipliers for access models across vendors and 3. The selective deployment of digital rights management. I believe the primary objectives of a publisher in the educational space should be to simultaneously maximize revenue return to authors and creators and drive exposure and usage of the published content. The three-levers available to publishers should be continuously monitored, skillfully adjusted, and then measured by reader/viewer/listener engagement and usage and royalty return to authors and content creators.
We have arrived at the moment we need to sell our new product concept to senior leadership. We have completed customer discovery and established a concept that satisfies a significant unmet need for our customers. We have established with a representative mix of our publishing partners a model they will support with licensed content. Finally, we have considered the strategic, technological and go-to-market context of our business and we know our new product concept is aligned with our companies’ strengths and growth objectives. A well-constructed business case, presented with confidence, is the critical next step to take our proposed product from conceptual to development.
Publishing and content creating businesses may not get a lot of attention from venture capital, but they are bedrock providers nonetheless. Building new products that leverage content in ever more meaningful ways for higher education library patrons demands we celebrate the role of publishers and content creators and that we build their perspective into our products. But we must also challenge and refine the publisher perspective when an opportunity to broaden access, improve affordability or enhance research outputs is in the balance. In short, new product development in the higher education space must be done in a give-and-take partnership with publishers and content creators.
Much has been written on the process of discovery and the usefulness of proposing a hypothesis about customer needs, stating your assumptions, asking good questions and then evaluating and refining your hypothesis based on iterative customer interaction. An excellent resource for developing an understanding of the discovery process in general is the Silicon Valley Product Group blog: https://svpg.com/ In this post I will focus on specific challenges in formulating hypotheses in the context of content-based products for learning and research and the challenges that follow in customer discovery. With content-based products two intertwined concerns need to be addressed before a testable hypothesis can be generated: 1. Prevailing and possible business models and 2. Publisher relationships.