Education Publishing – A Wave of Change Sweeps Over The Industry – Introduction

Textbooks and Education Technology are changing in disruptive and dramatic ways. Technology substitution is driving a great deal of this change. The recent sale of Harcourt’s various divisions to Pearson and Houghton/Riverdeep is only the tip of the iceberg. Education Publishers of print and technology products, large and small, are all wrestling with these changes.

654584_at_the_fair____7.jpgThe changes are affecting every aspect of our business including how products are created, priced, sold, packaged, promoted, and even what the basic definition of a product is. I believe these changes are only beginning and that they will accelerate in the next several years. Anecdotal evidence includes attendance at shows like the recent IRA (empty) and NECC (swamped). Sales of electronic whiteboards (Promethean, Smart, RM) are skyrocketing. Pearson swept the California Social Studies adoption with a hybrid technology and print product.

We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

A Quantitative View

460802_statistical_tables.jpgThere is a more quantitative way to study this change. Over the next few days we will be publishing a study done by Paul Schumann a futurist and business analyst who has studied the sources and rate of change across many industries at IBM and as an independent consultant at Glocal Vantage. He has taken a detailed look at the Education Market and his findings have profound implications for where our industry is headed. Paul has published another version of this study on his blog Innovation Travelogue.

Paul’s analysis is a quantitative tour through what we can expect in the coming years. The punch line is that we are at the beginning of the product substitution shown in the chart below. Don’t discount the dramatic nature of this prediction. When disruptive technologies hit an industry the change often sneaks up on the unprepared and is largely over before there is time to react. Consider the tale of print encyclopedia’s which saw the value of their products plummet from over $2,000 to under $5 in a 3 year period in the 1990’s when CD-ROM based products were bundled with other software.


Here is a small sample from the report:

“One of the interesting, and most insidious aspects of this type of substitution, when the substitution is taking place in a growing market, is that a large percentage of the substitution has taken place before the old technology sees two successive years of decreased revenue. This is the case [in Reference Libraries]. Fifty percent of the total time to 90% substitution has elapsed before the print media have experienced two years decline”

Think about that.

Other Articles in this Series

Part 1 – Reference Libraries and Open Source

Part 2 – Supplemental materials, Basal textbooks, Student Devices (Laptops, handhelds), Delivery Platforms (CD-ROM, Internet), and Electronic Media.

Part 3 – Conclusions & Recommendations

Below the fold a bio of Paul Schumman

About Paul Schumann

Paul Schumann is a futurist and an innovation consultant. He is the founder and current president of the Central Texas Chapter of the World Future Society. He is the president of Glocal Vantage Inc. and The Innovation Road Map. He is a member of the advisory boards of the Marketing Research Association and ACC’s Center for Community-based and Nonprofit Organizations. He is also active in Texas Forums.

Paul is leading an international volunteer effort to understand the principles of a successful innovation commons through the Innovation Commons Network. He has coauthored two books and has written numerous articles and book chapters. He writes extensively on the web on three blogs –
Innovation Travelogue

Central Texas Future

Innovation Commons

Prior to forming Glocal Vantage, Inc., he had a 30 year career with IBM as a technologist and technology manager in semiconductors, an internal entrepreneur creating the first independent business unit in IBM, and a cultural change agent. He has BS and MA degrees in physics from the University of Texas. His current interests are in understanding the power of media to shape how we perceive and think about the world, and in extreme democracy, and other applications, that utilize the power of social technologies to facilitate change.


4 responses to “Education Publishing – A Wave of Change Sweeps Over The Industry – Introduction”

  1. Sean says:

    While I understand there is a growing demand for the delivery of curriculum via technology (no demand vs. some is an infinite increase,) my experience shows we are still years from widespread acceptance of technology-based instruction signaling the massive redesign of the traditional K-12 publishers’ business model. Ten years ago people in the industry were betting their paychecks on the death of the print book. Yes, smartboards are more prevalent, but by and large the increase of technology in the classroom is dismal. Aside from some basic applications, the vast majority of teachers are not even using what is available now, acceptance is glacier-like. The anectodal citation of IRA attendance (or lack thereof) was a function of the location in Toronto, and many districts do not approve “international” travel, although IRA was closer for the entire eastern seaboard and midwest, than frequent locations in CA. Ed Tech enthusiasts are disappointed in the lack of innovation probably as much as those in the industry, which has prepped for the change for a decade. The comparison of textbooks and encyclopedias is not a fair comparison. While students would whole-heartedly accept digitally delivered instruction, by and large teachers are the inhibitors (and their lack of harware.) The encyclopedia is a fine example where the end user is a student or parent and has been ready to move for years. Paul mentioned the gaining market share of tablets, aside from the one off examples, this technology is not readily available in classrooms. School districts missed the whole cycle of desktop to laptop to tablet, they simply stopped at the desktop and the pentration of this widespread is dubious (if you need an update of Windows 95 visit a school.) Until there is a massive investment in technology infrastructure (and equally massive training effort of teachers) and the means to maintain it(we are talking billions, it would make NCLB expeditures look like a drop in the bucket,) the sad reality is the bulk of our classroom instruction will indefinitely be tied to print-based materials. While companies such as HM and Pearson are preparing for the shift, now all that is needed is a healthy demand from the customer. If only students and parents were making the purchase decisions.

  2. Lee Wilson says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I agree that many of the hurdles you mention are very real. On the other hand we have full fledged browser based phones that are going to under $200 pretty quickly and with software as a service many of the barriers your cite will be lowered (not erased).

    What I think is different is that all of us – teachers, publishers, students – are finally starting to learn what technology can do that print can’t.

    Paul’s hypothesis is that eventually education will follow the same pattern that we have seen through numerous industries and through many technological disruptions – steam for example. The 20-25 year span from introduction to actual real growth seems to be more a function of people’s ability to change behavior and paradigms than of the technologies ability to do anything.

    I’m also a strong advocate of the idea that technology is not going to replace books. See my post for more on this. Books are never going away – but for all intents and purposes they have become commodities as everyone writes to the same standards for the same three states. From a business perspective (what this blog is about) the competitive differences are showing up in technology.

    To your point – it remains to be seen if this will actually get market traction beyond a couple of teachers in every building.

  3. Sean says:

    Thanks for the follow-up Lee. I whole-heartedly agree that technology is evolving into differentiator in the eyes of the forward looking consumer. The real acceleration will be when the generation brought up with computers ascends to decision making positions. Great post and I am looking forward to next week. Glad I found this blog!

  4. It has been said that if Rip Van Winkle awoke in the 21st century after his hundred-year-slumber, he would be shocked at all of the changes in the world, but would still recognize the classroom. It is true that the classroom hasn’t changed much from when our grandparents were learning – we still use textbooks and black boards. And, while other industries have made the transition to digital content, the movement in education has been slow going.

    Every year in the spring, the textbook publishing industry receives a windfall in the high-stakes sum of $8 billion from our nation’s K-12 schools. However, new print editions of our children’s’ textbooks are only distributed every five to seven years, so although their math books might be relevant, their social studies and science texts are vintage the day they come off the press.

    I do agree with this blogger that until there is a massive investment in technology infrastructure, and a major training effort of our teachers, the bulk of classroom instruction will be tied to print-based materials.

    However, I have witnessed hopeful signs of transition. In my role as CEO of an Internet education company, I have seen a meaningful upswing in schools investing in digitally delivered content and products and have been pleased to see that teachers and students are increasingly embracing the Internet for educational tools and resources.

    For example, in many classrooms nationwide, students are now learning with engaging digital content delivered via white boards, or podcasts, creating presentations using multimedia materials and collaborating on these projects using blogs – all signs of progress towards where our classrooms need to be to meet today’s 21st-century learning environment.

    My company is witnessing this progress as well. Specifically, from school year 2006 to school year 2007, subscriptions to our K-12 product netTrekker d.i., — delivering safe, relevant digital content to every desktop– saw an 84% increase. We recently hit the 10 millionth student mark and netTrekker d.i. is now used in 19,000 schools – an increase of 2,000 from last year — in all 50 states including adoptions by key districts and states nationwide.

    So who gets the credit for these promising signs of change? Teachers and students are playing a grand role in the digital transition. Many teachers see their jobs as preparing students for the technology-driven world they’ll face as adults and understand that technology offers new solutions for differentiated instruction. And our digitally-native students are raising the bar by demanding that they are taught in the same way that they receive the bulk of their daily information and entertainment – electronically!
    And, remember your old school librarian – glasses on a chain around her neck and the Dewey Decimal system on her mind? Well, meet today’s librarian – now also called “media specialist” – whose responsibilities include integrating digital media into both the library and classroom. No longer does she see herself only as the facilitator of information from books and traditional print media – she is now a conduit to all forms of information, print or digital – in whatever format her students need. This is an exciting transformation and one I’ve seen many librarians/media specialists nationwide embrace willingly.

    An upcoming independent research study from Interactive Educational Systems Design (IESD) will query both principals and library/media specialists looking at educational issues relating to students, teachers and the Internet. The study will hone in on issues such as Internet safety, information literacy and the professional development and tech-savvy of our teachers. Perhaps the results of this research will be more telling – and promising – in terms of changes in trends and attitudes. In the end, the future of our children depends on the progress of our educational system. We’re at a pivotal crossroads. The transition from textbooks to digital content – the embracing of the Internet for its contextually relevant, safe educational content – is vital if our children are to be well equipped for the global challenges of the 21st century.