Investing Millions: Merriam-Webster’s John Morse on why the costly “Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary” will pay off.
Extra: How does this project represent the future focus for the company?
Morse: I see Merriam with an opportunity to expand business along three dimensions. One of the oldest growth strategies [at the company], really going back to the 19th century, is to grow it from being a domestic company to being more international.
… There’s two other dimensions that are equally as important, beginning with moving from print platforms to electronic platforms. That’s a strategy that we have really had in place for the last 10 years or more. We made the decision back in the 1990s that we would take all the content of the “[Merriam-Webster] Collegiate [Dictionary],” our biggest source of income, and we would put the content online for free. A scary thought at the time, but my thought was that print would not go away. I thought it was very important for us to be [online] as a way of winning new customers and to ensure to new dictionary users that Merriam product was available wherever they wanted it, and that we were dedicated to providing content wherever.
The third dimension of growth and what we are launching right now is that if we are really to succeed now in international markets, we really need new content. That’s the “Learner’s” content—content designed especially for English as a second language [speakers]. When we say that this is the beginning of a new kind of publishing, to meet the needs of non-English speakers, it will allow us to really fill out those three growth dimensions. … What I have told people here in the company is that we’re not just launching a new product, but we’re launching a new future for Merriam-Webster.
Extra: In what other forms will we see this “new kind of publishing”?
Morse: First off, we know we need smaller abridgments of [the “Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary”], both domestically and international. If this is a dictionary we’re putting into the hands of students, we know price is very important. We need to do a first product of this price ($29.95) to introduce Merriam-Webster to teachers, so they know the authority and depth of knowledge we bring to this area of publishing. It will be the smaller and lower-priced products that sell better. … We also have to create books that are more localized for specific markets. We have to create semi-[bilingual] versions. There has to be something in there that the native speaker of another language recognizes. … The third piece is [that] this has to be licensed for various kinds of use in handheld devices around the world. Particularly in Asian markets, handheld devices that hold multiple dictionaries dominate the reference market.