Commercial Professional Publishers: Aced Again?

February 8, 2013

In June 2012, an insular commercial database and professional publishing operation paid me to show up and share the trends my team had identified in online information. We were  deep in the open source search study, which will be available to registered attendees of the Lucene Revolution in May 2013. I showed up, ran down a list of five areas which looked like potential investment areas. The group said, “We have these on our list already. What the heck did we hire you for anyway?”

Flash forward eight months. The insular outfit is still insular. And one of the opportunities I highlighted just became much more expensive. Navigate to “LinkedIn Eyes Future as Professional Publishing Hub.” The story points out that LinkedIn is profitable and growing organically. Here’s the passage I noted:

LinkedIn plans to hook you with business content you can’t get elsewhere — whitepapers, news articles, educated discussion threads, and so forth. When you come back more often and stick around longer — LinkedIn likes to use the term “engagement” to describe your attention — the professional social network can get clients to list more jobs and spend more on ads.

Oh, oh. Content marketing. I think the approach is a variation on Augmentext type content.

Most professional publishing and database companies do not grow organically because after years of trying to move into new markets and channels, the outfits just raise fees to lawyers, accountants, librarians, and financial analysts. When that stops working, the companies buy stuff and try to make the investments work. Whether it is medical fraud or crazy online encyclopedias, the path to the good old days of commercial professional and database publishing are harder and harder to recapture.

LinkedIn, like a couple of other outfits, is now heading into professional publishing land. If one of the big guys like Thomson Reuters or Ebsco try to hop on the train, the price of ticket has gone up a lot.

I don’t like to say, “I told you so.” I am more inclined to point to Williams James’ comment about “a certain blindness.” If you don’t see it, you cannot react. This is not Google or Facebook “arrogance” on the part of these traditional publishing companies’ management. The inability to spot an hot opportunity, overcome the friction of the “way it was,” and then act in a purposeful manner is the core problem in this business sector. Mark Logic can run conferences that cheerlead slice and dice as a strategy for growth. Outsell-type consultants can spin reports about innovations in publishing. The failed Web masters and unemployed journalists who bill themselves as mavens and poobahs can explain what’s happening in content created by and for professionals.

The problem is that making money means getting in before the CNet’s of the world report the obvious. So, no I told you so. Just a certain blindness. One can get run over crossing the street when blind. Stakeholders, are you listening? Some of the management in the companies in which you have invested may not be able to see the opportunities on the information superhighway.

Stephen E Arnold

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