ref•er•ence pub•lish•ing n :industry segment faced with dramatic change
World Book has experienced similar challenges, but like Britannica, found the Internet to be an opportunity to reach even more customers at home, in schools and in libraries, through its Online Reference Center—an online subscription-based edition of its encyclopedia (WorldBookOnline.com).
“Because it is online, there are few physical limitations on the quantity of material we can issue,” he adds. “For example, our online version includes more than 26,000 articles and counting, while our print edition contains more than 17,000 articles. Also, while we make significant enhancements and updates to our print edition on an annual basis, we can make continuous updates to the online product.”
According to Kobasa, its online bookstore (Store.WorldBook.com/wb/) has proven to be a strong and reliable channel for consumer sales. Also, he says, through certain non-subscription content, like “hands-on help” and monthly features, World Book is able to reach out to students, parents, librarians and teachers with value-added resources.
Ad Sales Boost Revenue
Merriam-Webster also was ahead of the curve in digital publishing, launching its Web site (www.Merriam-Webster.com) in 1996. It also quickly widened some eyes in the industry when it veered from the traditional book-publishing business model by selling advertising on the site. “We have been selling advertising since 1997, almost as long as we have had the site,” says John Morse, Merriam-Webster’s president and publisher.
“Right now, we are only selling advertising on our Web sites. The only other real opportunity for us is on our ‘Word of the Day,’” he says, referring to the company’s daily e-mail that is sent out for free to subscribers. “So far, that has only been used for our own products and services, but that may change going forward.”
While Morse couldn’t comment on the percentage of the company’s revenue that is generated from advertising, he says, “I can tell you that it has increased significantly over the past 12 months. The important thing for publishers to keep in mind, especially reference book publishers, is that this revenue is much more profitable than print-product revenue, because the cost of goods is so much less. … So, as long as you can keep your development costs under control, there is good money to be made here.”