We've blogged several times here about how when it comes to working with software developers on new publishing projects, the education publishing sector seems to take a lead. While initiatives like interactive textbooks have yet to turn a corner (though they might this year) there seems to be a real hunger among education publishers to look beyond the tried and tested format of the print book for new business opportunities.
So it's interesting that last week Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) announced that it was launching a Developer Portal, which will grant independent developers access to a range of Application Program Interfaces (APIs). These APIs have been newly created by the publisher's technology incubation division HMH Labs, which it set up last year. These APIs mark the first time that an external developer have had access to HMH's data and content. They have been made available so that these developers can create new products and services using them that could have wider applications in the market. To cement this move, HMH also announced that it would be holding a developer challenge in Boston MA later this year.
This is a very interesting move by HMH, as sees it borrowing the kind of software development methods that are more widely adopted by technology platforms than publishers. The company's announcement also contains a very interesting admission. In the press release, HMH CTO boldly admits that as a company that concentrates on creating content, it is has clear limitations when it comes to providing content consumption experiences.
Brook Colangelo, Chief Technology Officer at HMH, said: “As a learning company with more than 50 million users, we recognize that our customers are using myriad technology solutions which can often result in a fragmented experience,” . “By exposing our APIs, our goal is to provide greater opportunities for interoperability and ultimately an elegant, streamlined user experience for our customers. And by connecting to the HMH ecosystem, developers can ensure that their solutions work with those that educators already know and trust.”
In summary, what Colangelo is saying is that he believes that as content consumption fragments across multiple devices, formats and platforms, there is more value to a publisher in granting access to content and letting someone else (an independent developer) craft the User Experience than trying to keep hold of the whole process itself. This vision of a publisher as an information provider, and software developers as service providers is an interesting re-envisioning of what it means to be a publisher in a time when, as one senior Venture Capitalist executive puts it "software is eating the world".
Whether HMH's decision to pursue the API route results in new innovations, services and products that take its content to new markets and in new places only time will tell. But for the moment this move is a bold strategic statement about how one publisher sees the world, and how it is planning to ensure its place in the future of education publishing.