Re-inventing Pearson Publishing using APIs

We hear about the struggles of newspapers, magazines, and book publishers to stay relevant in the digital age on almost a daily basis these days. Many of these publishers are sitting on a treasure chest of content, but are unable to understand how to unlock them -- to make the content accessible in a way that allows them to retain control, adhere to existing licensing agreements, and make money in a world quickly being dominated by the iPad and Kindle.

For those of us who live and breathe APIs, its easy for us to understand the power of a simple RESTful interace when it comes to content, but for publishing dinosaurs, it is much harder. I wrote a post back in May about the publishing company Pearson, looking to unlock their content with a new API platform. Pearson made good on their promise, and launched the Pearson Plug & Play Platform at the end of July. The platform includes three content APIs:

  • DK's Eyewitness London Travel Guide API: Provides information about hotels, restaurants, bars and shops in London, plus insider tips on everything from where to find the best markets and traditional pubs to great attractions for children.
  • Financial Times (FT) Press API: Provides access to over 500 articles on business, management, marketing and science from award winning authors who deliver timely and authoritative content.
  • Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English API: Rich multimedia dictionary containing over 230,000 words, phrases and meanings plus examples and pronunciations as MP3 and pictures.
At first glance these APIs may not seem like much. There are other travel, business, and dictionary APIs available already. But for a publishing power house like Pearson, this is a big move. These APIs will provide a model for how the publisher prepares, gives access, controls and monetizes content for any new material as well as their vast archives, in the future.

Take a look at the DK's Eyewitness London Travel Guide. You can purchase the guide and other related information on the TravelDK / London website, a model which has obviously proven lucrative for the company. But it is still a pretty limited way to monetize your content. With an API the travel guide information is available as a database, allowing other publishers and app developers to access just the information they need to create rich user experiences on the web, tablets and mobile phones. While the printed travel guide provided a great model for the last couple decades, the monetization opportunities through an API are only limited by the imagination of app developers.

APIs shed light, and provide access to content in ways that printed formats never could. Consumers can now access just a chapter, paragraph, sentence or a single photo from content without buying the whole book. Publishers can open up this access, while still maintaining control, and create entirely new ways of making money off entire collections or just the parts and pieces of their archives.

I'm always skeptical of larger companies when it comes to understanding how to leverage the power of APIs, but from what I see, the Pearson Plug & Play team has done a great job with their pioneering efforts in this space. They launched the essential building blocks for their API community using Apigee, providing the basic tools developers are used to when working with an API. The team also launched with a diverse set of APIs that not only provide valuable content to developers, but also gives Pearson a good place to practice when it comes to serving up content via an API.

What the Pearson Plug & Play team is doing can't be easy, I imagine they are up against some seriously entrenched management not just at Pearson, but with their network of partners as well. I will be keeping any eye on the Pearson Plug & Play Platform, and see what lessons we can pull from what they are doing with their innovative content APIs.