Big Three Publishers rethink K-12 Strategies (EducationWeekly)

By Megan Bollinger

Education Weekly wrote an article a few years back about school districts transitioning to digital-based text books and curriculum and how some of the biggest textbook publishers were meeting new expectations.

According to the article, some school districts in the U.S. have decided to completely eliminate the publisher all together, while others are working with the publisher to develop a better product for their students.

An example of a school district that circumvents the publisher cited in the article is Vail School District in Arizona.

“We are not beholden at all to the big textbook publishers,” says Superintendent Calvin Baker. “We used to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in the textbook cycle, but we don’t do that anymore.”

Instead, the school district creates its own curriculum by taking material from many different sources and all for free. It’s understandable that a school district trying to balance its budget with increasing difficulty each year would look to eliminate a big drain on its resources: textbooks. However, this process they employ should be of concern to everyone, not just those of us in the publishing industry. Without the publisher who takes on the responsibility of validating their materials, what assurances do those students and their parents have that they’re reading content that’s accurate?

Another approach documented in the article and taken by the Virginia Department of Education is to work with the publisher. When the iPad debuted and made its way into schools, head of the department, Tammy McGraw, reached out to the big textbook publishers and asked that they develop curriculum housed on the iPad. And they did. They worked directly with McGraw and Virginia students to learn what they wanted and needed in an e-textbook.

“We expect that right out of the gate they’re going to deliver something perfect,” McGraw says. “We have to do more to develop opportunities to give feedback to publishers, and we need to assume responsibilities for shaping better products.”
Publishers have been meeting the demands schools districts are placing on them for new and inventive learning tools. London-based Pearson bought up a company, SchoolNet, that provides personalized education software.

According to Luyen Chou, the chief product officer for K-12 technology at Pearson, the company’s strategy is “to create a technology platform that allows for digital content to be distributed to educators. The platform will be content-neutral so the digital curricula it will share with Pearson customers may not necessarily have been created by Pearson content specialists, and it may even be free.”

The article says Chou believes “there’s a new role for Pearson in curating and organizing electronic content and using its own experts to vouch for quality, particularly when it comes to open, or free, educational resources.”

That is the key. To survive the digital age, textbook publishers need to prove their companies value all over again. They must show educators that they can still provide quality educational material, at a cheap price, in the digital platforms their students demand.


Opportunities in Mexico for Digital Growth

The Frankfurt Book Fair, slated for October, will feature a new addition to its conference roster: Global Publishing Summit 2015.

Emerging and evolving book industries around the world will be discussed, including our neighbor to the south.

“The book market in Mexico has its peculiarities,” says José Ignacio Echeverri, Chairman of the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM), explaining that the country has two markets: national and private.

According to an article by Digital Book World, while national institutions generate significant demand for books in all Latin American countries, it is generally private publishing houses that obtain and promote the wide variety of titles produced in the region.

The article goes on to say: “There is room for development in the Mexican book market, which currently lacks bookstores and libraries, efficient tax regulations for exports and imports, support for reading and, above all, readers.”

With 73 percent of the 122 million Mexicans classified as non-readers, according to the article, there is a largely untapped customer base.

Industry experts and current studies predict a strong upturn in coming years in the Mexican book market, the second largest in Latin America after Brazil, according to the article.

While the majority of us in this cohort may not venture into publishing in other countries, we can’t deny that we will work heavily in digital publishing — and the Internet knows no borders.

Keeping an eye on what is happening in the Mexican and Canadian book markets is smart. Being such close neighbors, our businesses have the potential to impact the others.

Additionally, with the increase in Spanish-speaking people in the United States, it would behoove us as future publishers to consider how we can reach that sector of the market.