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Thomson Learning Moves into Coursepack Market
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Posted On April 7, 2003
Two subsidiaries of Thomson Learning (http://www.thomsonlearning.com), Gale and South-Western, have announced a marketing launch of electronic coursepacks for the academic market. Having tested the concept in a pilot project with Thomson Custom Publishing, the new initiative will partner with Lulu.com, an online marketplace for digital content collaborative software and publishing.

Initially, South-Western will contribute business and economics teaching content for merger with Gale's reference and trade press sources. The Thomson eCoursepacks service will supply a range of pre-packaged material, but will also-through Lulu.com's collaborative publishing tools-allow educators to create and customize their own eCoursepacks. Currently, the coursepack field is dominated by ProQuest's XanEdu service.

According to John Barnes, senior vice president of business development at Gale, content sources will include 3,000 full-text journals and newspapers, 200,000 biographies, over 450,000 company profiles, plus case studies, industry reports, marketing studies, trade and professional association overviews, etc. Sources will not, however, include lists of open Web resources or a Web search engine connection. Thomson Custom Publishing will allow users to reach content and format options beyond the Thomson eCoursepacks service, in particular print options.

Lulu's Web-based collaborative publishing platform allows faculty to add documents of their own to Thomson eCoursepacks, remove articles, include material selected from available content repositories, and add multimedia content, such as animations, video, or images.

"Gale is a world leader in the information industry because we go beyond just compiling information and ensuring its accuracy," said Barnes. "We aggressively seek new applications for our information, specifically focusing on opportunities to improve the learning and research process. Lulu provided us with an innovative technical foundation from which to build the eCoursepacks service and enabled us to quickly reach the emerging eLearning market."

"Lulu provides a buying and selling marketplace for turning digital intellectual property into revenue," said Bob Young, Lulu CEO. "The key factor is control--Lulu provides the creators and owners of intellectual property with the solution to a problem: how to distribute your digital content and at the same time manage your rights and permissions to that content."

The pilot project for eCoursepacks covered health, management, marketing, organizational behavior, sociology, and western civilization. The South-Western connection will supply business and marketing studies. By the end of April, according to Barnes, the launch should have 15 to 20 prepared packages available, but he emphasizes that generally they expect faculty to build their own tools.

Thomson Learning has a large collection of textbooks, which Barnes indicates they expect to tap in the future. Thomson Custom Publishing already builds textbooks in multiple formats drawing on an online database with hundreds of books contributed through partnerships with a number of publishers, particularly those in the vast Thomson family, such as Wadsworth. Barnes expects Thomson Custom Publishing to assist in the rollout and in handling licensing and rights clearance issues.

Thomson Learning, one of the four major Thomson segments that make up the giant publishing conglomerate, has over 13,000 employees, operations in 26 countries, and revenues in 2002 of $2.3 billion (up 24 percent over the prior year).

The new Thomson eCoursepacks will have to compete with the market dominance of ProQuest's XanEdu. Barnes even saluted XanEdu as having "done a fantastic job" and produced a great service as a leader in the area. However, he feels Thomson Learning and Gale can bring a different depth of content, beyond journals, and draw on the tremendous resources of Thomson Learning's textbooks in the academic market. The company plans to tap the direct sales force of Thomson and leverage its market strengths.

Thomson Learning may face an uphill struggle. Lew Gossage, senior vice president of ProQuest and general manager of XanEdu, didn't seem worried when I interviewed him. XanEdu's CoursePacks have pioneered the field and offer a full range of digital, digital plus print, and print-only packaging, while Thomson eCoursepacks will premier in digital-only formats. Gossage said that last year XanEdu's digital CoursePacks increased 44 percent and, in the first quarter of 2003, the company has already sold more than in all of 2002. Although Gossage indicates pre-packaged CoursePacks do not sell anywhere near as well as those where the professors can "get what they want when they want it," XanEdu does offer 500.

Rather than seeing the lack of a strong textbook publishing component in their parent, ProQuest, as a disadvantage, Gossage sees XanEdu's independence as a third-party aggregator as an asset. He said the company has licensing agreements with 8,000 publishers, including Harvard case studies, and will go after any source for which the market expresses interest. In particular, Gossage relished the strong ties XanEdu has made with campus bookstores and the expansion into publisher Web sites with "Powered by XanEdu" affiliations.

Though the growing market may offer room for competition, Thomson Learning has a ways to go. For more information on Thomson eCoursepacks, visit http://ecoursepacks.swlearning.com.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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