What is the future of publishing? I moderated a distinguished panel at the IIR Education Industry Investment Forum in Phoenix last week that tackled this question. The general thrust was that publishers need to adapt to a new environment or they will be left behind.
Reid Lyon (bio) the architect of Reading First and CEO of Synergistic Education Solutions tackled the question of context – how materials are used matters more than the materials themselves. Publishers need to think build this into their products and business models.
Hakan Satiroglu CEO of xPlana covered how new tools are changing the structure of what is offered and how traditional publishers are struggling with this new paradigm (see my post on this topic here).
Bobbie Kurshan CEO of Curriki talked about how the Open Source community is going to play in the creation of content and how publishers can benefit for participating in the community. (see my post on Open Source in Education here).
As moderator I discussed how publishers need to move away from trying to recreate the book experience on-line to leveraging experiences only the technology can provide like virtual worlds and video games.
Follow the “keep reading” link to find an extended description of each panelist’s key points and some notes on the Q&A portion of the session. (If you are on an RSS reader you may need to click through to the original article to see this link).
The notes that follow are my rough capture of the discussion as it unfolded. I present the content as close to the speakers original words as I can.
This is the most interesting time to be in publishing since Gutenberg. But to succeed publishers need to recognize what business they are really in. They are not in the business of developing books, they are in the idea business. They find, secure, develop, and disseminate ideas. The format isn’t all that important.
Smart publishers will thrive in the new environment if they embrace three trends.
1. Products can be made much faster by leveraging technology to create materials and run development processes in parallel. The products are cheaper and they get to market faster.
2. The cost of sampling and trial has plummeted with free downloads of PDFs. This eliminates a huge bottleneck and expense in getting product out to niches.
3. Smart publishers will sell to more people globally driving down unit costs and prices dramatically.
As a result of these trends publishers can sell products for less and can create value in places they couldn’t do so economically before.
He said that he could drop the cost of college textbooks by 50% and pay a 10% royalty to participating colleges in a consortium if they would agree to standardize on one text per class type rather than letting professors pick any book they want to. They could then have their own faculty write the book and do most of the distribution on-line.
See my comments on the New York Times article on this topic from last summer.
Publishers have to change or be changed. It isn’t enough to provide the content – you also have to provide the context in order to get real and lasting results. Technology provides many of the tools to support this mission.
He is a scientist who has asked three basic questions for the last 30 years.
1. How do kids learn to read?
2. Why do so many have difficulties?
3. What kind of programs have a high probability of success?
He led a longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health that looked at these questions in a scientific way. They worked with 48,000 students for an average of 9 years and the study continues today as these students move through their adult lives.
Publishers really didn’t want to look at the results. Kids couldn’t read but the publishers were all making money off of reading programs. When congress looked at this in the mid 90’s they turned to NIH for help. Reading First came from this. For publishers it was change or be changed.
Now one of the questions he asks is how does publishing solve the underlying problems, not just make better books.
Through a comprehensive approach the NIH study was able to reduce reading failure from 60% down to 10% or less in urban schools. But do to this they took a comprehensive approach to the learning environment.
How have we done with Reading First? We have now sunk $6 billion into Reading First – but kids are reading better or worse depending on the professional development and the implementation. This is borne out in measurable results – we saw 15% gains for schools that implemented effectively and little or no gains for schools with sloppy implementation.
Good, current, and accurate content is what publishers do well. But you need a delivery system that presents the content and applies it immediately you don’t get learning that sticks. And you have to measure it rapidly and provide constant and steady feedback to the kids and teachers. It isn’t enough to just provide the content – you also have to provide the context. Technology like virtual worlds and simulations that allow learners to apply new knowledge can help significantly in this arena.
Schools are complex and dynamic environments. Implementation conditions are the black holes in the publishing business and the education of our kids. If we are going to see large scale change publishers have to take responsibility for this.
Whoever gets their hands around this will do social good and will build a strong business for the future.
xPlana works primarily with big publishers. Using their toolsets they digitize content in the form of on-line courses, ebooks, podcasts, and mobile technologies. The future of publishing ideas is technology that enables learners to tailor materials to their individual needs – the iTunes model.
Publishers struggle to bridge the gap between traditional materials and new technologies. Some publishers own 10 LMS and can’t make sense them all, much less innovate effectively. Publishes are also myopic. You can show them how they can drive costs down and reduce physical distribution and yet they will balk – saying “this product is great but it will cannibalize book sales.” They even say this for product that isn’t selling well.
Market dynamics have started to change in the last 5 years due to technology. In higher-ed in particular books are getting really expensive. Customers are demanding customized solutions – down to the individual student level. This expectation is growing out of Web 2.0 experiences with other media.
Technology is also shrinking product cycles from 2-3 years to 6 months. We have the ability to do rapid prototyping and push products into the market quickly.
Another big change is that with technology individual customers are beginning to matter more to the top line revenue than institutions. In higher-ed they want to sell directly to the students regardless of what the professors are suggesting. 20% of students in higher-ed don’t buy the recommended books (new or used) for their courses (no source available).
Next generation publishers will see much less distinction between print and digital. They will also need to think of students as lifelong clients. Today publishers have no idea who their customers really are (the students). But they have a great opportunity to build a brand of trust starting in middle/high school and carrying them forward.
When Scott McNeally started Curriki he described it as the 21st Century Publishing Model. 21st Century publishers are going to be more open, more creative, and able to engage multiple communities with the same materials. The members of SIIA and AAP were not really happy with this message since it directly challenged their business model.
But, it isn’t about who is going to win. It isn’t a competition it is a collaborative effort. Here are some key questions to consider.
How open is open? What is really changing? Publishers have had control of the content (they found ideas and packaged them). Will this really change?
Can you develop quality collaborative curriculum? To date curriculum development has been pretty top down from the publishers. States say what they want, but publishers end up dictating it in how they write the books. The adoptions process drives this. In an open source world we have to change the design, reduce the costs, and take community input more seriously.
Can open source materials be meet the regulatory and legal frameworks? Publishers worry about trusting the community to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. They have large legal staffs to make sure their matierals meet all the laws. This leads to mediocrity since it has to fit every law. Open source materials may be able to work around this by being highly individualized.
Why isn’t more venture money going into K12? No one asks the big textbook publishers to prove that textbooks improve achievement (although Reading First did do this). All the little innovative companies have to cross this hurdle that the textbook publishers don’t have to. This makes innovation really difficult and expensive.
Publishers can help by putting some of their out of date stuff into open source. They could take stuff that isn’t being sold to improve the next best books. This would allow new niches to be developed with the content as the community modifies and extends it.
Questions and Answers
Unfortunately I was not able to take lots of notes during the Q&A because I was moderating. In general the questions focused on:
Where is it happening now? Pearson was given high marks as the big publisher furthest along with the transition.
New business models – including sponsorship were discussed.
Professional development is a big issue – implementation is the key and publishers are not addressing this well yet. But it is also a question of will the money be available.
BitTorrent for textbooks is catching on in Asia – and probably here too. Students are able to find scanned images with fully searchable text for free. What can the publishers provide in this arena? Services, PD, etc.