Investing Millions: Merriam-Webster’s John Morse on why the costly “Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary” will pay off.
Merriam-Webster’s President and Publisher John Morse likes to think of the reference giant not just as a publisher, but as an information provider. “You have to know that your core competency is your ability to develop new content for which there is [a] clear and present need,” he says of the company, which he has led for more than a decade.
One of Merriam-Webster’s latest endeavors in developing new content is the recent introduction of its “Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary”—an entirely new dictionary created by Merriam-Webster’s editorial staff, and the first advanced learner’s dictionary from an American publisher. The 1,994-page dictionary features in-depth coverage of contemporary English vocabulary, grammar and usage, including 16 pages of full-color art.
John Morse spoke with Book Business Extra about the process and business strategy behind introducing the “Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary” into the marketplace, a title which he says represents the future for not only Merriam-Webster, but for all reference publishers.
Book Business Extra: What market are you trying to reach with this new dictionary?
John Morse: This is a dictionary really designed to meet the needs of people other than native speakers of English. That is what we’re going after. I don’t think that means just the international market. One of the clear demographic trends we’re really aware of is the increasing portion of the domestic market [for which] English is not their first language. That has gone above 15 percent. … Clearly, this is a move to better serve international markets. [However,] it has become more apparent to us that this is going to be a significant part of our domestic strategy, too.
Extra: Why did you pursue the “Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary”?
Morse: … This has just been self-evident for us that this book was needed. A billion people around the world are learning English as a second language or foreign language everyday. It’s greater than people that have English as their first language. The market is growing, and the market is huge. The question is, “Why haven’t we already done it?” The answer is that it’s a huge job. It took us years and years and years and millions of dollars to create. That, to some degree, is an aspect of reference publishing that makes it different than other forms of publishing. The barriers of entry to move into a new product are staggering. If you want to be a player in the reference field, the investment is just a tremendous amount. … What was required here was not our decision of should or shouldn’t we. Of course we should. It was, “Were we really ready to dedicate ourselves and our dollars to a strategy where we spend a decade to create this dictionary?”