Digital disruptions in publishing

Posted | 0 comments

shutterstock_241724818 RE
The word disruption has undeniably negative connotations.  Synonyms include destruction, instability and upheaval.  Yet the informative presentation given by Mina Gera (Head of Adult Publishing at Macmillan Education) on digital disruptions in educational publishing was anything but negative.  The clear message was that Macmillan Education was keeping calm and carrying on publishing.

That is not to say that Macmillan Education is not acknowledging the disruption that digital publishing represents.  Only that it is probably more productive for publishing houses and the freelancers who work with them to accept it is here to stay and to become tolerant and flexible in response to the challenges it brings.


Mina’s presentation took the form of a SWOT analysis.  She began with threats; outlining the sheer quantity of educational content that is available online and the associated massive growth in online learning.

She explained that the content tends to fall into the following categories:

  • Apps and e-books sold for low prices through companies such as Amazon
  • Free content made available through MOOCs
  • Content which is sold directly to the consumer e.g. Eleutian’s online teaching content (
  • Ed-tech start-ups e.g. Knewton
  • New educational content sold by multi-national corporations with an established online presence e.g. Google
  • Free image sites e.g. Flickr (which has dealt a heavy blow to the revenue of published picture dictionaries)


A printed coursebook is not sufficient

Any publisher who relies heavily on their print components and concentrates on the development of their content in isolation, rather than developing content within and alongside digital delivery platforms risks losing revenue.

Content needs to prove its effectiveness

The need for accountable progress in educational institutions means that published materials must prove that they are effective, hence the demand for digital content which can give granular feedback on learners’ performance.  Publishers who prioritize print over digital will no longer be answering learners’ and teachers’ needs.


It seems that publishers are already beginning to address their weaknesses and to turn threats into opportunities, often by partnering up with learning management systems.  Examples of relevant LMSs cited were Blackboard, Google, Moodle and Desire2Learn.

Macmillan Education itself is undergoing something of a transformation. (The new roles this has resulted in are clearly outlined in ELTjam’s recent blog)  However, it isn’t, according to Mina, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Although the publishing house recognises that digital is core to its business, it is trying to keep in step with digital users rather than force them to adopt digital tools they are not necessarily ready for.  It is also scaffolding the transition from print to digital, aiming for blended learning, rather than all-out digital.

This transition, or journey, was outlined by Jenny Lovel, Publisher of Digital (Blended Learning) at Macmillan.  The journey involves making sure that print and digital products are methodologically sound and complimentary. The main objective stated was to achieve a blend which satisfies the following criteria:

  • It should be flexible – so that a learner can study unit 1 of a blended learning lesson in class and unit 2 of the same course at home on a mobile device, for example.
  • It should have clear learning outcomes that are faithful to the content of the printed coursebook.
  • The content should be supportive to help learners in self-study circumstances.
  • It should have high production values so that it doesn’t feel repetitive or supplementary to the printed course.Although it is impossible to separate the content from its form of delivery, it is clear that sound teaching methodology remains at the centre of Macmillan’s publishing. Content is, after all, what publishers do best.  Editors should be reassured that content is still king. There are also parallels between digital and print workflows that should make the transition from print to digital easier than might be expected.
  • Nevertheless, editors and writers will still need to learn skills which improve their digital literacy. These include:

Implications for freelance editors and writers

    • Learning to write and edit within templates
    • Learning digital mark-up to keep pace with compressed schedules
    • Understanding how cross functional teams work
    • Undergoing training to learn about Epub, html and xml (see
    • Learning to work within LMSs and content management systems
    • Becoming acquainted with digital asset management
    • Learning to consider how content will perform on different digital platform
    • Becoming conversant with digital tools such as SharePoint, Dropbox, Googledocs etc.

If this strikes fear into the heart of any editors and writers reading this post, it needn’t. The presenters made it clear that they were not necessarily expecting their editors to be digital experts overnight. Rather they are looking for freelancers who were flexible, enthusiastic and willing to help them to solve problems. It helps too if a freelancer can keep calm in the face of disruptions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *