Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Mark Logic Powers O'Reilly Media to Make Custom Textbook Publishing Easy and Powerful

O'Reilly Media is a leading innovator in online book marketing, slicing, dicing and bookshelving all manner of tech-oriented titles in electronic form for online audiences. Its Safari U portal extends this concept by allowing educators to create custom textbooks from specific sections of content sourced from any number of titles available in the O'Reilly collection. A great concept, but getting it working properly in a scalable environment with open source technology was proving to be a challenge until O'Reilly signed on with Mark Logic to get some highly potent standards-based technology to drive the process. The result is the announced rebirth of Safari U, which facilitates the assembly of custom books and course packs from texts and multimedia sources as well as materials from the instructors assembling these materials. These packages are custom printed for as little as USD sixteen cents a page and can be made available to others as templates for their own custom packs via Safari U's Learning Objects Exchange. All of this is free to the instructors and oftentimes a significant savings to students, who can avoid buying stacks of books that are used only in part during their courses.

While the claims that this is a Web 2.0 phenomenon are a little suspect, it's nevertheless a key indicator that custom publishing at the behest of technology-empowered users is about to come of age. With infrastructure such as that provided by Mark Logic it's now possible for publishers to assemble virtually any combination of content sources quickly and easily at a into a format suitable for mass-scale custom printing. This begs the question: why are we doing this only for text books?

The whole concept of what's needed in a printed collection of materials is moving away from book, magazine and newspaper editors to technology-empowered users, who are able already to do their own custom printing in a crude form from materials garnered via Web browsers. Custom publishing will enable these users to save a ton on printing materials and get both premium and ad-supported content to them in convenient packages suitable for both short-term and long-term use, along with electronic copies. As portals such as Google and Amazon gear up for custom printing services the question will no longer be whether print is dead but rather whether print-based publishers who base their models on single-source print runs are dead. For all of those who are smirking about this being a pie-in-the-sky notion, let's talk in a year or so. I prefer blueberry myself.
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