The Revolution in Educational Publishing

August 8th, 2008

Most folks who are following publishing today ignore how far the revolution is spreading. The challenge facing (mostly North American) newspapers grabs the headlines, magazine publishing produces a tear or two, while book publishing is embattled merely by those silly eBooks, that may one day change the landscape of publishing, but in the meantime are what Geoffrey Moore might categorize as favored by “early adopters.”

The only people who think about textbook publishing are educators and their students (and the publishers themselves). Pricing for textbooks has far outpaced inflation for several years now. One might say (if one was not an educational publisher) that textbook pricing has become outrageous. Beyond the pricing is the issue of the efficacy of traditional textbooks in an era of new learning techniques and technology. That argument generates a host of controversy, except amongst elderly educators and the larger textbook publishers.

It always intrigues me that textbook publishing is most unique for one factor alone: those who must purchase textbooks are not the actual people who make the purchase decision. Educators dictate which textbooks are required for a course and the student must pay up regardless. (I’ll ignore the influence of the publishers’ sales reps in this process.)

I’ve just added an update to my article on educational publishing. I’ve got some additional data to add later, but have recently been in contact with the folks at Flat World Knowledge, who are taking as radical a jump on where textbooks should be as any startup I’ve encountered.

Start with FREE. Start with great original content. Flat World’s digital texts can be downloaded for free (beginning next year). Of course “free” is not a business model, so there’s an option to get a printed version of the text for a third or less of traditional textbooks.

In talking to co-founder Eric Frank they’ve got other ideas to provide value for cash, and to me the concepts sound worthwhile. Time will tell.

I intend to continue on this site to cover the revolution in educational practice, particularly as it applies to publishing. I think that the innovations in educational publishing are amongst the most exciting developments we’re encountering and could well serve as a lesson to all other publishers.