The Doers and the Out-Dones
“Like it or not, we have to embrace complexity,” said Merriam-Webster President and Publisher John Morse, during the 2006 Book Business Conference and Expo (story on page 10), addressing “Book Publishing: the New Business Model.”
I don’t know about you, but when something I am working on seems too complex, my first inclination is to stifle the pain that has begun to fester around my eyes and move on to something I can get done quickly. Complexity means time. Time I just don’t have.
But when it comes to today’s publishing environment, the complexities can seem so mammoth that the festering, behind-the-eyes pain and inclination to ignore it can be that much stronger.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, Morse is right on the money. Besides being quite brilliant, Morse is what some might call a “doer.” He doesn’t “wait to see” what will happen or what others are doing. He just does.
For starters, he took his publishing company’s best-selling book product and put it online for free in 1996, a move lots of people would and did question. Merriam-Webster also began selling advertising on its sites almost 10 years ago. Some major publishing houses (who are known to be cutting-edge) are only now testing the waters of this unorthodox advertising-supported book publishing model. A few months ago, for example, HarperCollins put its book “Go It Alone! The Secret to Building a Successful Business on Your Own” online, with advertising space sold on each page.
Many Merriam-Webster products are available for download on hand-held devices, delivery on cell phones, and now on iPods. The company is not waiting for its competition to become the go-to language source in any of the new media. It is not waiting to be out-done and out of luck.
A more recent example: Morse and his company embraced the Wikipedia model of “collaborative” publishing (where readers post entries). While some questioned the merits of this type of site’s unscholarly approach, Merriam-Webster recognized its appeal. Seven months ago, it launched an “Open Dictionary,” to which visitors can submit their own entries. (See “Market Focus” on page 42.) There are currently more than 5,000 listings, says Morse.
Merriam-Webster, with its 90 employees, makes multimedia publishing seem simple, but perhaps because Morse has taken his own advice and embraced complexity.