By Daniel Kalder
NEW YORK: Founded seven years ago, MarkLogic is the maker of a database for “unstructured data” — which these days consists of 80% of the information on the Internet, including documents, emails, social media posts, tweets, pictures, video, blogs, and research data. Currently growing at an exponential rate, managing this type of information can be time-intensive and costly for media companies. MarkLogic works with publishers, government agencies, financial enterprises and other large businesses to get this mass of data under control, rendering it accessible and navigable.
Thanks to the popularity of mobile devices such as the iPad, there is more unstructured data than ever before and publishers are now faced with a new challenge: how to satisfy customers who expect to interact in real time with the content they want on the device they choose.
Yesterday, MarkLogic’s vice president of product development Jason Monberg presented at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, in a session titled: “The New Publishing: Anywhere, Anytime, Anyhow.” Publishing Perspectives spoke with Jason shortly beforehand to discuss the changing needs of consumers and developers, and how publishers must lead the way in driving toward accessibility, real-time interaction and location awareness across devices.
Three Areas of Pressure on Traditional Publishing Models
“We work in the mediaspace,” says Monberg, “ . . . and from our experience with some of the different publishers and media companies MarkLogic works with — such as Congressional Quarterly, McGraw Hill, Oxford University Press, Simon & Schuster and Wiley and many others, I want to encourage people to look at the pressures on publishing that have built up over last 10 years.
“There are three areas today that show symptoms of pressure. These are:
- Business models and processes are breaking
- The loss of control of your content and publishing tools. I mean, everyone can be a publisher now thanks to the Internet and self publishing through Amazon for instance — and this creates challenges for traditional publishers.
- And then the notion of interaction. Everyone closer together. This is changing processes, and creating opportunities for interaction.
“The question is: what are publishers to do about it?”
“So if we talk about business models and processes breaking, then how are publishers to respond? We think the best response is to be able to dynamically support new processes, and ways of distributing content. Agility is key when it comes to content. But what is agile content? Well, it’s content that can be reused or remixed.
“For example MarkLogic has worked with Wiley to create Wiley Custom Select, which allows the user to mash up content, and also enables the academic publisher to generate revenue in a market which has been devastated by the resale market.
“Wiley has this vast, rich library of content. With Wiley Custom Select the professor can access it with greater agility. He or she goes online, browses through the catalogue, selects chapters from the books that he needs and thus creates a new textbook out of the older textbooks accessible online for a specific class that he teaches -– as if he were creating a mix on iTunes. Then he can have it published and printed and delivered to the university bookstore. So the content can now be broken out of its original container, and a new container can be assembled. McGraw Hill have also done something similar with us.
“Another possibility is using micro components. For example Venture Beat use Twitter just to push out headlines or another key element of a story that then links back to the original article.
“A very forward looking example is what we call augmented reality. For example today as more and more people have portable digital devices, people might use the camera on their iPhone to take a picture of an interesting building. But that’s not enough: they want to know, in real time, what it is. Some firms are developing good, accessible content relating to the locations people are in. Nobody knows how people will want to use that content yet, but publishers will need to be prepared.
“This is a very dynamic time for publishers. Given the fact that who knows what will happen, it is important to focus on agility, to respond quickly to demand, based on market changes. MarkLogic provides the technology for our partner publishers to work with.”
“So what about the second are of pressure: loss of control of content? Publishers are right to be concerned about this, but it is best not to react with terror. There are different delivery mechanisms to be considered, including pay walls and time sensitive access.
“A very straightforward example of how to control content is the pay wall –- you can have content, but you must pay when it is relevant — for example, in the Wall Street Journal.
“But there are other interesting models to consider. For example the New Yorker releases some content online ahead of the paper edition — in fact they allow about half of it to go online. But there are some conditions. You have to look at it through their own site’s reader, and to gain access to the other half that you can’t see you must subscribe. However as soon as that issue is no longer current then all of the magazine goes online as HTML. The New Yorker thus turns its content into a ‘long tail’ opportunity. They only protect what’s current.
“Another interesting model comes from Zinio, who distribute digital magazines that can be read across multiple platforms. They provide the reader with a really rich experience. When viewed through the proper reader, you not only get the right fonts and pictures exactly as you do in the print publication but you also get augmented content, such as video and audio.
“Now anyone can download the Zinio reader and look at a magazine, but only in a greatly reduced format — the magazine is all there with pictures and text, but it’s too small to actually read. Sometimes you get two or three chances to view a page in hi-res for free, but after that you are pushed into the mag and you have to pay. Thus they tease the reader to go further, while protecting their content and playing with their content. Consumers want content right now — Zinio offers that to them, but they will have to pay.’
“It’s a long and interesting spectrum. Not every method of works, but it’s important to experiment. All tools need to be looked at by publishers if they want to control their content.’
“The third area of pressure is interaction. Now this, I think, is change in a more radical way In the other areas, publishers have some kind of understanding — of delivery mechanisms and the publishing process, even if those processes and mechanisms are changing. But interaction is something brand new. I mean, in the past you might read a paper, then write a letter to the editor, wait a few days and maybe –- or maybe not — your letter would be published. And that was about it. But now people can see a story and they want to respond immediately.
“For example, at this year’s Superbowl a player was injured but he didn’t look injured. Suddenly Twitter just lit up with comments: he’s faking it, etc. — ahead of the commentators actually having the data. They were completely caught off guard and didn’t have the information to hand. That’s how fast things move nowadays.
“Now the technical publisher O’Reilly has a very interesting interactive product they call ‘Rough Cuts’, which are versions of works in progress that customers are able to buy. Not only that, but the customers can comment on these books. However any feedback you provide is then owned by O Reilly. O’Reilly is thus getting the book out there, and getting a reaction — which they are then using to make a better book.
“Another interesting project is ‘We Are Smarter than Me’ which was a book on how to harness ‘the wisdom of crowds.’ Barry Libert was the executive producer on that book. The publishers put a framework of chapters on a Wiki, and then invited experts to fill it out. There were over 4,000 registered members and a total of 2,300 posts. The goal was that the crowd itself would write book, which would demonstrate the point of the book itself — harnessing the power of crowds. In the end it didn’t quite work out as they had planned. They got people to provide the content, but not editors- they still needed to hire one to pull it altogether. But it was a very neat experiment.’
“The world of interaction is fascinating — it’s rewriting the rules of publishing. Now not all of these experiments may work, but that’s not the point. It’s healthy to be concerned about digital books and the new frontier, but you need to take action. Publishers either experiment, or they lose business.”