Macmillan has made an interesting move to hedge against disruptive technologies to cope with future proofing its business. It has opened a new division, New Ventures, that acts as an investor and innovation hot house focused on digital publishing but housed outside of its core activities. Troy Williams, former CEO of eBook company Questia, which was sold to Cengage in January 2012, is leading this new division at Macmillan which is focusing on investing in and buying start-up technology companies in the publishing space.

To me, this seems like a smart way to keep the existing publishing business rolling while still keeping a hand in fostering innovation that can help it gain market share in the future. Presumably Macmillan will invest and test these technologies until the time is right to bring them into its the core business activities. Alternately, if the start-ups don’t fit in with Macmillan’s activities, the company can simply sell them on or use their resources to help leverage publishing partnerships that can help make the new businesses more successful.

For anyone running a start-up business, and I know this from personal experience, having the backing of a big name like Macmillan has the power to make or break your business. It’s a branded vote of confidence.

A large section of the media were quick to suggest that this move was a sign that publishers are starting to acknowledge their doomed fate, but I think it is merely a clever play by a forward-thinking publisher, keen to explore new opportunities and ensure it doesn’t get left behind in the fast-moving digital advancement of the industry.

At Ingenta we continually invest in innovation of our own as well as keeping a keen eye on businesses to invest in. The content technology industry has great potential to innovate and it’s great to see a publishing house investing in innovation in this way and we will be keeping a keen eye on the businesses they buy and their successes and failures.