By Edward Nawotka
In publishing nowhere are the stakes higher than in the eduction sector. For all the talk of innovation and experimentation and “our digital future,” it will mean little or nothing if we as publishers don’t equip the future generations of readers, workers and leaders with the skills, knowledge and tools that will prepare them for dealing with the ever changing expectations, demands and challenges of a fully globalized and digitized society.
In this way, our future and that of our children relies on education publishers getting it right today.
Over the past several years, Schilling — a Copenhagen based publishing software and consultancy house — has produced a series of White Papers looking at the future models of publishing: In 2011, “European Publishing Towards 2015,” focused on the general challenges in the trade publishing market and solicited the views of 18 leading executives from European publishing houses on the top “battles” facing the industry in coming years; and in 2012’s “Author and Publisher Relations – How Publishers Stay Competitive in Digital Publishing,” Schilling surveyed 20 key players in international publishing, including authors and publishers, as to how to meet the challenges posed by digitization, self-publishing and new emerging platforms.
This year, for their latest look at the industry, titled “Educational Publishers of the Future,” Schilling spoke with dozens of executives from educational publishers in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Holland, the UK, and the US, as well as selected headmasters of private and public schools, asking: “What are the most important challenges education publishers face in the coming years? What do customers need? And what will publishers sell?”
The answers reveal the true face of educational publishing to come and should give clues to interested parties on how to best proceed for the foreseeable future.
Several key takeaways emerge:
- No surprise — the top concern of all was how digital educational content, services and tools will be incorporated into classroom and other learning environments. And while the demand for traditional textbooks, it is clear, will continue to fall. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a shift in priorities — publishers still believe that focusing on “didactics,” or traditional core services that offer “content plus learning” is key, even if the distribution methods are different.
- With this shift toward digital, skills are a concern and publishers are working hard toward incorporating new skill sets into their staffs and finding ways to bring existing employees up to speed in technical fluency, or else finding suitable partners who can assist in new development processes.
- The role of politics in education publishing “should not be underestimated.” This goes beyond budgeting decisions that fund schools, but strikes directly at the heart of the type of content that will be in demand, and accordingly, publishers will want to be in a position to supply. As political priorities ebb and flow, often fast than publishers can react, it is always a cause for concern. Vigilance of the shifting political landscape is paramount to not being taken by surprise.
- New competitors, largely emerging from the internet, should be watched closely, particularly as they operate on business models that allow for more flexibility and continue to disrupt not only the education landscape, but learners’ expectations. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from top universities is one obvious example, but so is The Khan Academy. Started in just 2006, it now offers more than 4,300 free high-quality teaching videos online. Look too for Apple and Google to continue to develop their education offerings.
When it comes to education publishing, it all comes down to the student’s willingness to embrace the content. The administrators are the gatekeepers, but the student is the consumer and their success if the top priority of the education system. Ultimately, the way forward for education publishers increasingly looks like one of customization and individualization of learning products. Products and tools that enable real time interaction with a student, offer educators quantitative assessment of their work, and can tailor themselves to each student’s individual learning style, will be in highest demand.
This, of course, will require creative approaches — gamification is one factor being utilized by several publishers cited in the new White Paper — but creativity must be collaborative: customers, be they students or educators, must be incorporated into the development process as early as possible and be kept abreast of developments, with their ideas and reactions incorporated into the development cycle. This, it appears, is the surest path to giving customers what they want in the way they want it.
It also happens to be the surest path for the survival and continuing prosperity of education sector publishers for the next generation and — hopefully — for generations to come.
Denmark’s Schilling is a company that develops innovative software solutions that support and empower educational publishers not just to meet the challenges brought on by increased digitization heads on, but to help the industry fulfill its growth potential by meeting customer demands for new products, both print, digital and combined solutions. They offer support for the entire publishing lifecycle management process, with integrated publishing solutions for contracts, rights and royalties, editorial work, product development, author relations, sales and more.