"Our principal approach to e-publishing is a belief that content has value, and, therefore, we won't give it away," says Wendy Strothman, executive v-p, trade and reference division, Houghton Mifflin. "In addition, the editorial integrity has to match what we do in print. We won't lower our standards for e-publishing." Available both in print and on CD-ROM, one of the highest profile reference works on Houghton Mifflin's list, of course, is the newly revised fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary.

Strothman emphasizes that what Houghton Mifflin has embarked upon is a very active licensing program. "Working with our e-partners, we've licensed our American Heritage Dictionary in all kinds of exciting and sophisticated ways. We have a very robust database with all sorts of search capabilities," she explains. "If you go to a Glassbook Plus reader, the American Heritage Dictionary is there. [Glassbook also offers Houghton Mifflin's illustrated Taylor's Gardening Guides.] If you take a book out of netLibrary, which is one of the more active e-book providers, our dictionary is embedded in that book." It's available online, as well: When someone at the netLibrary site is reading Pride and Prejudice, for example, a window on the left side of the screen provides an easy means to look up any unfamiliar word in the American Heritage -and also to hear it pronounced.

Electronic publishing, Strothman comments, allows for the development of reference content that wouldn't be as feasible in a printed work. "We're about to publish a newly revised edition of the Encyclopedia of World History," she tells PW. "In the book edition, we'll have black-and-white maps. In the electronic format, we'll have color maps. We have usage notes throughout the American Heritage Dictionary, and electronically you can scan all of the notes without having to turn every page. A publisher can also produce a version of a book with more content if it is being done electronically. Price sensitivity may be an issue with print. You can similarly update electronic material more quickly and at a lower price margin."

The editors for print and electronic reference products are pretty much the same at Houghton Mifflin. "They all edit online, so everything's integrated-although we do have a special electronic licensing team," Strothman notes, "because our corporate customers are different. Their needs are different. We do an awful lot of marketing online for our books. Our complete catalogue is available on our Web site, as is a page showing what's available for electronic publishing. That information provides all the specifics: what kind of database it is, how big that database is."

A visit to that Web site reveals a listing of almost 50 products that can be licensed from Houghton Mifflin, everything from the American Heritage Dictionary to the Great American History Fact Finder. The file size of the History Database, incidentally, which includes seven trade and reference history titles, is 23,634 KB. A great number of companies have signed on to join up with Houghton Mifflin, including Blackboard.com, Dictionary.com and Bartleby.com. WebMD.com has licensed the Yale University School of Medicine Patient's Guide to Medical Tests. "Guru.net [which has just changed its name to Atomica.com] has licensed nine different titles of ours," she notes.

The Web site itself is considered a marketing tool, says Strothman. "We may put up a sample from our history encyclopedia, but we'd never offer the whole work or the dictionary either, because we don't believe in giving them away."

Reference information is likely to develop the most successful opportunities for growth in electronic publishing, says Strothman. "Embedding information in e-partners' products is the way this whole area is going to go. I don't believe that electronic publishing will expand into expensive handheld devices. I think it's a mistake for anyone to believe that that will happen in the next couple of years."