Thursday 22 April 2021

Product development for the digital age - how do you drive value and innovate?

In order to thrive as a business, scholarly publishers increasingly need to exploit and extend the value that lies within their established products, such as books and journals, whilst also exploring and establishing new products.  

Traditionally, scholarly publishers have not separated or defined the different innovation streams needed to both support existing products and develop new ones. This often means failure to do one or the other - or to do them well. But this must change if publishers are to prosper amidst an ever-changing landscape.

Map your business model portfolio to understand where the risks and opportunities lie

Image A shows an approach we use to help publishing clients that is based on the Strategzer portfolio management tool. After categorising the products as existing or new, the idea is to then develop a strategy to move business models up and to the right, increasing return and reducing risk.  

Understanding the ‘direction of travel’ - whether a business model is increasing or decreasing risk - and defining its ‘product value’ both contribute to our analysis. By taking this whole picture view, a publisher can assess if it has a balanced portfolio, where improvements and digitisation are needed and where they should focus their time and investment. 

As the pace of change in scholarly communications continues to accelerate, it may be difficult to predict where your products are headed next. The good news is that publishers are able to minimise risk simply by having a technology foundation that enables them to be flexible, data-driven and user focussed.

Image A Business Model Portfolio based on the Strategyzer Method

Image A: Business Model Portfolio based on the Strategyzer Method

Understand your product value

To improve, prioritise and plot products so they take the right trajectory, the publisher also needs to understand where it sits in the value pyramid (Image B). Where do you think you are on the pyramid? If you, like many publishers, sit towards the bottom of the pyramid, you probably feel like your technology is controlling your decision-making, rather than the other way around. 

Researchers now expect ‘personalisation’ and products and services that offer ‘knowledge’ and ‘insights’. If you fail to deliver these, then you'll risk losing business. Moving up the value pyramid allows you to leverage your core assets and mitigate the risks of the distribution disruptors.  

Image B Digital Product Value Pyramid

Image B: Digital Product Value Pyramid

Control and adjust - take back your technology

You have a vision and plan for your business portfolio. You have an understanding of the value in your products and how to develop them to provide the sophisticated experience users have come to expect. Now you need the control, speed and agility to enable it all.  But how do you get there?

Firstly, you need to regain control of your core asset, your content and data. Far too many publishers store theirs within a monolithic vendor platform that is only supporting a single front end product.  

To move up the value pyramid, you will also need a modular, component-based IT architecture that puts you in the driving seat and allows you to adapt and adjust, test and then build new products and business models.  

Unless you have a significant technology team within your business, finding a technology partner to help you is a key part of your digital transformation journey. It is important that the partner you choose follows an agile approach which will give you the flexibility to adapt over time.

ALPSP has a new product development training course available from 2021. To find out more, visit:

About the author

Sam Herbert, CEO, 67 Bricks

67 Bricks is a software development consultancy that works with some of the most respected names in scholarly publishing. If you are thinking about how to drive value and innovate in your publishing business, contact Sam at or tweet @67Bricks.

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