Chief Executive’s overview
Increasingly across the world countries see that the effectiveness of their education and research is critical to their future success; schools, universities and governments look to trusted partners like Cambridge for the learning and research solutions which they need.
Our investment in outstanding new content, cutting-edge information technology and an expanding global footprint paid dividends in 2016–17 as we positioned Cambridge University Press to emerge stronger from the digital publishing revolution and more nimble in meeting our customers’ changing needs.
We are fitter, faster and more flexible than we have ever been.”
Our digital ambitions, as well as our enduring values, were captured in the September launch of Cambridge Core, one of the most important investments in our recent history. Cambridge Core is the new platform that brings our academic books and journals together in a single online home, making it much easier for researchers to cross-refer between materials. Incorporating many innovative research tools, it has been widely acclaimed by academics, librarians and even rival publishers. It underscores our embrace of the most advanced information technology in support of our central purpose: to promote learning, knowledge and research worldwide, and uphold the highest academic standards as part of the University of Cambridge.
However, Cambridge Core has been a resounding success not just because of its technology, but thanks also to the extensive consultation with our users, which we undertook from the start, to find out what they really want from their research tools.
Investing heavily in digital solutions and listening to our customers – be they researchers, librarians, teachers, students, or our authors – are two of the five strategic imperatives that have guided our actions in recent years. We have also strengthened our links with fellow University departments, undertaken an extensive internal reorganisation which has made us more streamlined and efficient, and boldly expanded Educational publishing as a strong third publishing group within the Press.
All this, coupled with the hard work and creative thinking of Press colleagues around the world has, I believe, positioned us for a bright future in the digital age. We are fitter, faster and more flexible than we have ever been, and we benefit from the ‘Cambridge Advantage’ – the University’s worldwide reputation for excellence and our deepening collaboration with other Cambridge departments to deliver solutions which help researchers, learners and teachers perform to their maximum potential.
Opportunities from the Cambridge Advantage are growing as, almost everywhere across the world, countries see that the effectiveness of their education and research is critical to their future success, and schools, universities and governments look to trusted partners for the learning and research solutions which can help them achieve the levels they desire.
Our deepening links with Cambridge Assessment, in areas like examination preparation materials and assessment for learning, were reflected during the year in new governance arrangements. We welcome the new framework as a spur for Cambridge to make the most of its opportunities to serve its customers better. We also look forward to the closer physical proximity we will enjoy early next year when Cambridge Assessment moves into its new home next to our Shaftesbury Road head office.
Our deepening ties with academic departments were underscored during the year by the University’s clear objective for our academic publishing and the new University Librarian to work together to develop a strategic partnership. Ideas are already emerging from this collaboration.
Cambridge Core may have been the most visible of the year’s technological initiatives, but across the Press we are investing heavily in digital products, which are now 36 per cent of our sales. Indeed, levels of usage for both our academic and learning platforms are ahead of other major publishers. The wider Cambridge community is helping our push. For example, our work with computational linguistics specialists has led to the development of machine learning tools that automatically mark and give feedback to language students on their English prose.
Our English Language and Education groups are working increasingly in partnership with large customers in China, Latin America and the Middle East to tailor products and digital services to their specific needs. Our Education group’s Educational Reform team, which works with governments to improve the performance of school systems, won new contracts in the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, the Maldives and Oman, and again drawing on the strengths of our sister departments in Cambridge.
The growth of the Press’s Education group has been one of our most outstanding successes in recent years – fully justifying the decision we took a few years ago to reinvigorate and reinvest in it. In 2016–17 it again enjoyed very rapid growth in sales as we strengthened our position both with international schools around the globe and in local curriculum publishing in key markets such as Australia and India. We opened new offices in Nigeria, a market of long-term importance despite its current economic challenges, and in Pakistan, where we are building on Cambridge’s existing strengths.
Our Academic group saw important gains in journal publishing, increasing the number of our titles to 391, with the addition of some prestigious titles. One area of particular note was in law, where we partnered with the American Society of International Law on their journal publications, including the flagship American Journal of International Law. From 2018 we will publish Legal Studies, one of the largest UK-based generalist law journals.
The Academic book publishing market remained difficult, with a decline in print sales across the industry amid tight library budgets and increasing price sensitivity. In such an environment one way we stand out is through our continued focus on quality. Our titles won over 150 awards during the year across a range of subjects and geographies.
Of particular note was our continued success at the annual Professional and Scholarly Excellence Awards (PROSE), the most prestigious for our industry, where this year we won six categories and received 11 honorable mentions. Our PROSE winners spanned the full range of subjects from Network Science, by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, which took the award for Textbook/Best in Physical Sciences and Mathematics, to The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare, which won Excellence in Reference Works.
Investing heavily in digital solutions and listening to our customers are two of the five strategic imperatives that have guided our actions in recent years.”
The English Language Teaching group saw strong momentum in 2016–17, buoyed along by excellent sales growth to schools in our key country markets and outstanding digital products. ELT’s internal changes last year have left the group more nimble in responding to customers’ needs, and more willing and able to take risks in an uncertain environment.
None of our achievements over the past year would have been possible without the commitment, expertise and passion of our people. As the skills we need evolve, we have been increasing our investment in staff training and in 2016–17 we introduced an innovative management development programme in which over 250 of our leaders from across the world are participating. Our focus is on creating the conditions for everyone to make a difference and develop personally, as well as on the shared culture which is essential to the alignment we need as we expand our presence around the world.
The external political environment was turbulent in 2016–17, both at home and abroad but, despite this, the world economy grew and the weakness of sterling added to our underlying growth, since some 90 per cent of our sales are outside the UK.
In the financial year to 30 April 2017 the Press grew sales by some 14% to £306m. On top of a strong operating performance our results were buoyed by the general weakening of sterling following the Brexit vote. On a constant currency basis growth was 5% with each of our three publishing groups increasing sales overall and particularly strong, double digit growth in our Education and Journals businesses. Operating profit before exceptional one-off costs was £10m higher, reflecting that growth in sales and the benefits – particularly in ELT – of the recently completed restructuring, resulting in the halving of exceptional costs this year.
Our focus on our five major strategic goals has helped us evolve over the past year and ride the digital revolution’s waves of change. However, successful change involves recognising the qualities to retain, as well as those to develop.
For us, that means continuing to reflect the standards of excellence embodied by the University, as we have done for nearly five centuries. It means being financially successful so we can continue to reinvest in our core purpose. I am confident that our deep passion for the advancement of knowledge, learning and research, as a member of the academic and educational community, will continue to prove a critical ingredient for our success in the years ahead.