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Summary:

Troubled Boston-based publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which restructured and emerged from bankruptcy last month, is apparently back and ready to make its books available on all devices, including those that are not available yet. Is that a smart strategy?

Microsoft Surface Blue

Troubled Boston-based publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which restructured and emerged from bankruptcy last month, is back and ready to make its books available on all devices, including those that are not available yet, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which publishes K-12 educational books and general trade books, will focus on — what else? — tech. CEO Linda Zecher, who was previously a corporate VP at Microsoft, tells the WSJ that “she is pushing Houghton to strike more partnership deals, which she described as far more common in the tech business.” The company is also pursuing a “device-agnostic” strategy:

I want to broaden our technology partnerships. Bringing in your own device will one day be important in high school. We need to have products on all those devices, be it a Kindle Fire or a Microsoft Surface.

Microsoft’s Surface tablet, which the company announced last month, isn’t for sale yet, and pricing and availability details have not been announced. Saying that your books will be available on all devices sounds good, but in reality the cash-strapped HMH is likely to have to pick and choose which platforms to invest in. As Meredith chief digital officer Liz Schimel said at paidContent 2012 in May, “We get approached by a lot of companies and say no. HP knocked on the door, and we said no, we’re not going to do that one.” Most of Meredith’s readers are women, so if a platform or device is “too male-centric or too niche, we don’t do it.”

Likewise, HMH will need to look at where its readers are — and look at the types of devices high-school students are actually likely to own — and plan accordingly.

  1. It’s not a technology issue if the new readers take ePub. It’s really just an issue of the business value of the partnership.

    Don’t imagine there is some magic to distributing an eBook.

  2. I don’t understand the argument being made here. Won’t choosing a single common eBook file format allow them to have their content on all devices (ePub, PDF, etc.). That would tend to help a cash-strapped company rather than increase its eBook publishing costs.

  3. David Thomas Monday, July 2, 2012

    Yeah I thought device dependent decisions went the way of the betamax. Zecher’s statement sounds more like opportunity to sound contemporary, a sweeping generalization that merely means “we don’t know who or what is going to wind up on top so we’re covering all bases.” HMH is in an entirely different situation than Meredith, being a very general trade publisher and even more general K-12 publisher. There is no luxury to play favorites as a mid-size trade publisher, and with school budgets slashed to the bone there is no room for risk in K-12.

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