A Step-by-Step, SeamlessOnline Integration
Imagine you’re a medical student and, like all students, you’re facing major textbook expenses.
Enter Thieme Medical Publishers Inc., New York, a unit of Thieme International. Last year, this 27-year-old medical textbook publisher put its books for medical students online and is using the Internet to grow its business. The publisher wants to triple or quadruple its revenue from this market segment over the next three years, says Brian Scanlan, managing director of Thieme International, a division of the Stuttgard, Germany-based Thieme Publishing Group, founded in 1886.
While the Thieme Publishing Group is a $150 million company, Scanlan declined to disclose revenue contributions and market share information for Thieme Medical Publishers. The medical publishing operation is currently assessing the progress of its 2004-2006 three-year plan and developing a new three-year plan for 2007-2009, for which the focal point will be the medical-student marketplace, says Scanlan.
One of its major pushes is through an e-book library for medical students, which covers both the basic courses of the first two years of medical school and the clinical rotations in the third and fourth years. There are now 35 books in the library, with more being added each month. “It is a one-year license that costs the medical school $15,000 to $20,000 for up to 400 students,” Scanlan says. “Students pay for the use of these online electronic books [as part of] their tuition.”
To say the library has been well-received would be an understatement. “At the current rate of penetration, we should have 80 percent to 90 percent of the medical schools in the U.S. and Canada signed up within two years,” says Scanlan. “Outside the U.S. and Canada, there is also great interest.”
Thieme publishes more than 500 new titles annually, 90 of which are international English-language titles. These titles include the newly published “Thieme Atlas of Anatomy” series, which is divided into print and online in three areas—general anatomy and musculoskeletal anatomy, the neck and internal organs (scheduled for release in June), and the brain and nervous system (scheduled for release in January 2007). This series will also include a version combining all three of these atlases and flashcards online, and as a downloadable PDA product for medical students.
Other titles from Thieme International include “subspecialty” books in areas, such as neurosurgery, radiology and orthopedics. Thieme also publishes review journals that are offered in print and online. These include such reviews as “Seminars in Liver Disease” and “Seminars in Neurology.”
Currently, Thieme is using the Internet and its Web site to convert its journal subscribers from print to online, Scanlan says. “In fact, we are moving all customers to a combination of print and online, or online only. We are encouraging customers to do this by offering them packages of all of our online journals based on their existing business with us. They don’t have to pay a lot more to receive all of our titles,” he explains. “The increased online access means they are much less likely to cancel subscriptions in the future.”
Thieme also uses the Internet to distribute its online chemistry products, and it offers an online database called “Science of Synthesis,” used by synthetic chemists to research chemical uses and reactions, says Scanlan.
A Didactic Concept
“We have a big emphasis on quality—and not just concerning paper and printing,” says Scanlan. For example, “We use Medline, a [third-party] journal citation database that contains millions of entries. Using customized production software in conjunction with Medline, we can quickly fact-check references by authors to ensure accuracy. …
“We also remain aware that … how a visitor to our site receives the information is important. So, we work hard on a didactic concept and integrated approach in offering online books, “ Scanlan says.
This approach serves up slices of content a student must complete before moving on to the next “slice.” The step-by-step approach focuses on building a student’s understanding of the subject matter, he says. Clinical relevance plays a key role, and brief explanations on clinical situations are presented.
Thieme uses its Web site to provide order entry and processing within 24 hours, and same-day turnaround on inquiries. The Internet is used to conduct annual customer and staff surveys, direct sales, e-mail promotions, and to present Thieme’s electronic catalog.
Thieme’s entire catalog—containing 1,200 titles, updated weekly using a proprietary central database—is on its Web site. This includes the company’s “brain atlases,” which Scanlan says are considered “landmark works in the field” of medical publishing.
Using a Singapore-based technology partner, A*Star, Thieme has developed an electronic version of its “Brain Atlases” and licensed them to neurological equipment companies. There are more than 1,000 installations of the atlases worldwide on neurosurgical workstations in hospitals, Scanlan says, adding that surgeons are using Thieme’s “Brain Atlases” to help plan surgery. They electronically overlay atlases on MRI scans “to get a better sense of the complex anatomy of the brain and its relationship to the target area for surgery.”
Carefully plotting its growth through its three-year plans, Thieme will continue to rely heavily on the Internet to grow its medical publishing operation. According to Scanlan, the company presently enjoys a 95-percent repeat-business rate for its journals; a 90-percent rate for its online business; and an 80-percent to 90-percent repeat-business rate for its books.
The companies growth plans don’t stop there. It just opened an office in Delhi, India, in February, and is planning a co-publishing venture in Beijing later this year.
David S. Chartock is a New York-based freelance writer. He can be reached at Chartock@aol.com.