The Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) and the Association of American Publishers School Division (AAP) announced their intent to merge last week. I’m currently the Board President at AEP. As one of the principals in the deal I thought it would be useful to share my perspective on why we are combining forces.
- Associations water networks of influence. By providing a neutral ground where industry leaders can meet associations provide for idea diffusion, business development, evaluation of issues of common concern, and expanded professional relationships.
- Associations advance the policy positions of a group with shared interests. An industry that is subject to the shifting policy positions of government needs to track those changes and have a platform for making our voice heard in the discussion.
- Associations provide professional development for industry specific needs. Educational publishing has some quirks. As new people enter the industry or advance within companies formal training programs accelerate their effectiveness.
- Associations advocate standards of professional practice – They do this indirectly through awards and recognition programs that validate the best work going on in the space. They also do this directly through participating in the development of standards.
What Has Changed?
- The shift to digital content, driven by tablets and LMS platforms. This is affecting virtually everything about how educational publishers are structured and is reshaping product development, distribution, patterns of competition, and investment priorities. Our professional networks and professional development need to follow suit.
- The emergence of Open Educational Resources (OER) as a viable option. The shifts that digital libraries and user generated content have caused in other IP based markets are now reshaping the educational publishing landscape. OER itself is a positive addition to the mix (many publishers are embracing OER). However, in the face of “free” content the old distinctions between basal and supplemental are relatively unimportant. We need a voice for high quality, professionally produced, pro-grade tools that save teachers time and save schools money.
- Purchasing processes are merging. It used to be that schools purchased digital content very differently than print content. They also took very different approaches to buying core programs vs. supplemental materials. Now schools demand that all programs have digital components and they are looking to address the needs of all learners with core and supplemental resources at the same time. In other words, the rationale for distinct professional associations that supported core vs. supplemental or digital vs. print have evaporated.
- Basal vs. Supplemental. As a general rule AAP was largely seen as representing the large basal publishers while AEP concentrated on the supplemental space. The changing purchasing patterns are eliminating this distinction.
- Large vs. Medium/Small. AAP has historicaly been the domain of the largest publishing houses. AEP was scrappier and focused more on the needs of the mid-market and smaller companies. In a rapidly evolving market with uncertain outcomes getting all the innovators together makes good sense. The large companies can deploy at scale and the small guys can iterate innovations rapidly. Many companies were members of both associations, but often to address the needs of different parts of their organization (see Basal v Supplemental in particular).
- Print vs. Technology. Since schools themselves had different decision making processes for buying books vs. tech it made sense to have separate associations. AAP tended to be more print focused, AEP was a blend of print and digital, others focus solely on digital. Since schools now demand blended materials this distinction is no longer relevant in policy. This is also creating an urgent professional development need, one of the central challenges publishers face is blending the radically different paradigms of print vs. technology development.