The Definition of Success
Pelkey’s tenure with Field Publications was long and impressive. He stayed with the company for more than a decade—1986 to 1999—weathering three name changes and an acquisition. Field Publications was ultimately purchased by an encyclopedia publisher based in New York and moved its operations there. Pelkey stayed loyal to the company and spent his last four years there commuting from central Connecticut to New York City and back each day.
“That was a five-hour commute—every day,” Pelkey stresses. He laughs about it now.
After four long years, however, Pelkey burned out on the travel and started looking for a new challenge, a new company that was more geographically plausible. A friend told him that Merriam-Webster, Inc., in Springfield, Mass., was looking for a manufacturing director, someone who could fill the big shoes of the predecessor who was retiring after 25 years of service to the publisher.
Pelkey applied for the job, and humbly recalls, “And surprisingly, they took me in.”
Changing the Model
Merriam-Webster published its first dictionary in 1847; it sold for $6 a copy then. To this day, the company is best known for its dictionary and thesaurus resources. For more than a century, the company’s business model had been print-centric. But with the emerging demand for electronic media, the publisher began to think outside of the print box.
One of Merriam-Webster’s electronic strategies has been to develop its Web presence. It hosts several Web sites, including one that’s free and several accessible by paid subscription.
“Advertising on our Web sites is becoming increasingly popular and is starting to bring in a lot of revenue,” Pelkey confides.
The company also produces companion CDs and hopes to capitalize on the iPod craze. “We already have a big presence in electronics, with technologies like the Franklin Reader [e-book reader software],” Pelkey says.