Content is the lifeblood of the educational technology products faculty, learners and researchers rely on to do meaningful work in higher education institutions. The momentum of investment in the educational technology space toward companies building software as a Service (SaaS) products should not confuse the critical point that original published content is the foundation upon which most EdTech tools and services operate. 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.
To deliver publisher and partner-supported products to market we must:
- Be certain that we are bringing a concept to our publisher partners that is fully validated with customers AND informed by a clear sense of what publishers should accept as was discussed in part 2 in this series: https://parkerthepublisher.com/developing-content-based-products-for-learning-and-research-part-2-customer-discovery/
- Build a publisher/partner discovery panel that has the appropriate diversity of market perspectives needed to solve for the majority of publishers: Market Leaders, Business Model Innovators, and the Skeptics.
- Provide financial modeling that is well advanced and with thorough consideration for the possible scenarios publishers will raise.
Presenting a Concept informed by what Publishers Should Accept and is Customer Supported
Higher education institutions and libraries in particular are in a perennial budget squeeze. And the volume of content relevant to the research and learning communities on campus grows. The tension between restricted budget capacity and ever-growing content sources has spurred business model innovation from aggregators and publisher-direct options. New product concepts emerge from the known business models, the joy and frustration expressed by customers, and the landscape of solutions being offered by direct competitors and publisher partners with publisher-direct offerings. In part 2 of this series I stressed the importance of maintaining awareness of possible and prevailing business models before beginning a customer discovery process. I am revisiting this point in this discussion of publisher and content creation partners as it is foundational to delivering on the possible. I am advocating for creative compromise in the new product development process and this could be viewed as too restrictive by those seeking more fundamental change. I believe fundamental business model change is possible and I believe publisher partners should and will embrace new models that expand access. Great product managers in the higher education space will navigate the customer and publisher divide in endlessly creative product pathways when guided by a wisdom of boundary-pushing compromise.
Building a Publisher Discovery Panel: Market Leaders, Innovators and Skeptics
In product discovery and development product managers ensure all segments of the customer landscape are represented. This typically takes the form of geographic representation, institution type representation, and known budget capacity. In seeking publisher and content creator feedback into a product concept product managers need to ensure three perspectives are represented:
- Market Leaders: These are your largest and most highly-used content providers. In streaming video examples would be Sony Picture Classics, PBS, BBC and The Criterion Collection. In ebook distribution example publishers would include Taylor and Francis, Wiley and Princeton University Press. Other examples are Harvard Business Publishing, Nature and the American Psychological Association.
- Innovators: Product managers who have been active in the higher education space know who the innovators are amongst publisher partners. These are publishers and content creators that are eager to participate in pilots, new initiative discovery projects and, often, are pushing the boundaries with their publisher-direct business models and offerings.
- Skeptics: These are most often the partners with a deeply entrenched product with broad market uptake and brand recognition that borders on “must have” in the mind of the customer. But, just as often, this is a mindset shared across the publisher broadly or within the publisher’s content licensing group specifically that requires a lot of convincing before even engaging in a discussion about new business models and new products.
A mix of all these voices and perspectives vetting your customer-validated product concept will result in adjustments to your product concept. These adjustments will refine and improve the concept and will ensure broad partner participation as you move to licensing and launch.
Provide Financial Modeling and Scenario Analysis
When taking a customer-validated concept to your publisher partners in the discovery process, the product manager will need to do so with financial templates and models that allow for “on the fly” scenario consideration. And, in fact, the product manager, working with the broader product team and colleagues in finance, should be prepared with likely publisher-defined scenarios and counter-scenarios already modeled. For example, modeling based on changing royalty rates, allocation of product revenue to different content pools (e.g., allocations of product revenue to front-list versus back-list), changing rates of usage where usage models prevail, and, consideration for how a new model will impact revenue flows through an existing model; be it in aggregation or publisher direct. In the end, a publisher’s decision to participate in a new model is primarily an economic decision balanced against a confluence of access and perception concerns. The product manager who comes to the discussion having thought through financial modeling will be in a better position to advance the new product concept to launch with engaged and on-side publishing partners.
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If you want to work together on your new product development strategy, contact me directly.
Photo by Charles Forerunner and Unsplash