Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mobile vs Digital: How a 180+ Year old publisher figured it out.

Every once in a while I find a company doing something cool.

Was speaking with a friend of mine John Morse, President of Merriam-Webster (M-W) and he reminded me that he now has two (2) legacy products; "print" and "digital". What I really liked about this comment is that regardless of what you may think about America's most oldest and most venerable Publisher that is pushing 180+ years of existence - and yes they are still in same building in Springfield, MA that they moved into in the early 1930s - John and his leadership team understands how to refresh what is arguably the dowdiest of published products - a dictionary - by keeping current of their customers needs. For example their two most recent "mobile" offerings include an integration into of their core dictionary into Windows 8 and for use on a SmartPhone are good examples of what publishers can and should be doing to delight their users. (BTW - I have the M-W app on my smartphone.)

I believe the key to M-W's success with their mobile offerings is that they've figured out that it's not the 180+ year old dictionary (the ISBN) that matters for their success but it's the benefit derived from the use of that published product that "delights the users". Words are more important than ever given the growth of IM, FB, Blogs and email and M-Ws mobile solutions can make it even easier for anyone to express themselves clearly, correctly and more effectively (aka make yourself look smarter and sharper) by enabling them to quickly find just the right words. Besides, I often come across words in books and novels that I need to look up.  Maybe I'm old fashioned but I still love good prose. With the new mobile offerings M-W can bypass the "ISBN-shackles and monetize the benefit of what they have to offer their users. For everyone outside of traditional "textbook" publishing this may not seem so radical but for those on the inside of traditional publishing Morse and his team's efforts are more akin to proving that the world is in fact round.

(Note - I realize that there are many other good examples of publishers who have made the transition from digital to mobile but I just thought M-W's efforts were notable by virtue of their history and core offering.)