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16 April, 2014 - 14:09 By News Desk

CUP rolls out digital products across the globe

Peter-Phillips

Having published continually since the days of Henry VIII, and acting as it does as a department of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge University Press may not be considered as a revolutionary, but its approach to digital publishing is leading the way.

Digital technology is in a rapid state of change in the worlds of academic and educational publishing. The first phase – turning existing print content digital – has been taking place for many years and is very mature.  The second phase – introducing rich interactive media – is also well under way. The industry is now in a third phase, which will see data forming the heart of publications, to create new and more personalised experiences for the ‘reader’.

The fast pace of change has brought about many challenges for the Press and other publishers. The company has sought to keep satisfied those authors and users who continue to want to operate in largely unchanged ways, while at the same time building something quite new.  

New issues have arisen: such as how to protect copyright when information is available online; and how to communicate the value of peer reviewed texts in the age of user generated content.

Cambridge University Press’s chief executive, Peter Phillips, said: “The move to digital publishing is both an opportunity and a challenge. We have made some important changes to the way in which the Press operates, while crucially maintaining our high standards and academic integrity.  The pace of change is accelerating so every day brings fresh opportunities and developments that we need to consider.

“The skills we need have already changed substantially. We have people from a much wider range of backgrounds: from consumer goods and sports companies in marketing, from technology companies, from research and education and so on. I personally have been able to draw on ideas and insights from my time working in the field of broadcasting.”

Perhaps the most profound change emerging from the use of digital platforms is the creation of a direct connection between the end user and the publisher. 

More than anything else, the resulting data and interaction is helping Cambridge University Press to reshape its products both radically and quickly, to meet the evolving needs of its customers.

The appetite for change is particularly apparent within educational publishing. With Press content being used daily in classrooms across the globe, digital publishing is at the heart of learning for the next generation. 

The world of education is undergoing change every bit as fundamental as publishing. Global competition amongst universities for the best students and researchers; use of digital material to enable teachers to be coaches rather than blackboard-based instructors; international comparisons between educational systems; and simultaneous pressure to reduce public spending yet improve educational outcomes: all these are having profound impacts on education and the educational publishing industry. 

Technologies and techniques also vary dramatically from one region to the next. Through its global network of offices, the Press is able to apply its learning from one part of the world to another constantly.  

Australia is a country with huge use of digital technologies and the Press is rolling out digital products that have been developed there to other countries.  

Many Asian countries have very high use of tablets and smartphones so Cambridge University Press is taking apps developed there and rolling them out elsewhere.  

The UK has been at the forefront of the use of open access to research material via the web and the Press’s teams are using that knowledge in other markets.

So are we on the verge of a paperless future, when all books will be supplied and consumed digitally? Almost all of the Press’s publishing is already available digitally and so in one sense that time is already here.  However for some users – for example schools – digital formats still represent a small proportion of use.  

For other users – particularly for academic journals – the vast majority of use is already digital. While current trends suggest that digital will account for a larger and larger proportion of all use, the team at the Press isn’t currently predicting that print will disappear altogether around the world – at least not for a long time.

And what of the role for the world’s oldest press?  In a digital world of almost infinite choice, Cambridge’s world-wide reputation for academic rigour is a powerful symbol of high quality products and materials. In the era of user generated content this will become ever more valuable. 

Crucially the team at the Press believes that being part of the communities that the publisher serves, sharing the same essential the values of the University, and maintaining a worldwide reputation for quality, are factors just as relevant for the future as they have been since Cambridge University Press was founded by letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534.

Phillips said: “As the world’s oldest media company, for more than four centuries we have been passionate about sharing the world’s best learning and research – elite but not elitist.  

“Our purpose has been to advance knowledge, learning and research around the globe. As part of one of the world’s greatest universities, that will remain our purpose. 

“We will remain global; “90 per cent of our sales are already outside the UK, but we keep the University of Cambridge at our heart. So the question is less what we do than how we will deliver that in the future.  

“The answer I feel is a wider range of digital products, complemented by a range of services based on our content. As one example, we are working closely with our sister organisation, the exam board Cambridge Assessment, in developing new services like adaptive learning.  

“That means understanding and responding swiftly to the needs of different communities of researchers, students, teachers and librarians around the world.”

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