Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Guest Post - Emily Williams: (More) Education Market Predictions 2020

Fellow traveler, posted her 2020 Emily Williams posted her 2020 predictions on a list serve we both belong to and I asked her if she would like to also post them here.  Emily is Manager, IP & Partnerships at EL Education

Halfway through the last decade I started in my current role at EL Education, stepping one foot out of trade book publishing after ten years of working with agents, editors, and rights departments, industry analysis and reporting, and digital content acquisition. From where I sit now, I get to help publish a highly rated OER literacy curriculum at an organization focused on creating classrooms where students grow into passionate readers, thinkers, and citizens. It's been a steep learning curve in curriculum adoption and book sales, edtech, and OER during a time of upheaval and uneven change in K-12 education. When the chance came to offer predictions on publishing for the new decade, I couldn't resist chiming in from my odd outpost. Here are a few I came up with, based in optimism and hope that we'll grow into the opportunities this moment offers us:
  • movement toward more research-based reading instruction will prompt more school districts to buy curricula that use trade books instead of textbooks. This will cause growth, especially for children's, middle grade, and YA titles rich in information and/or historical context - small growth for big publishers and big growth for some small publishers - in one of the few remaining sales channels not dominated by Amazon.
  • These publishers will get better at understanding and nurturing the virtuous feedback loop that school adoptions can cause for retail sales.
  • The K-12 world will reach a better understanding of the value proposition of OER in K-12, which is different than in higher ed or academic publishing.  In K-12 there are real benefits for districts to OER - security of access to content over time (vs. term-limited licensing models), sharing of resources and best practices, and the ability to create and hold onto adaptations made to fit local needs. However, state and district initiatives are still focused on creating large-scale customized versions, which come with significant and ongoing production costs and cut them off from being able to tap into an ecosystem of resources built on the national versions of these highly-rated core curricula - including multiple format versions, ongoing updates and improvements, ancillary products, professional development, and assessment tools. For core teaching materials that need to be launched and supported across a big, complex system, approaching an OER adoption as a chance to customize up front comes with real tradeoffs. 
  • The shrinking dominance of traditional educational publishers with their one-stop-shop solutions, maturing tech platforms in need of content, and the growth of the OER ecosystem will push the K-12 educational publishing world towards the kind of standardization in format and metadata that the rest of publishing adopted by the beginning of the 2010s.
  • The push for OER and other forms of lower-cost, digitally-delivered curricula that are used in classrooms year after year will lead to a more acute understanding of the need for stable digital resources online, driving educators to digital libraries and other repositories that don't break from link rot.
  • Ebooks in K-12 will continue to be used to offer students access to a big catalog of titles for choice and research reading, but will coexist with paper in the classroom as unequal access to internet and devices at home limit their usefulness outside of school.
  • Audiobook platforms will get better at serving the needs of K-12 schools, and audiobook publishers will get better at supplying the titles they want. Audiobooks will increasingly be used in regular instruction and not just as an optional format for school library books. There will be increased demand for podcasts that support learning, and for tools that allow students to create and share their own audio recordings.
  • A movement toward greater cultural responsiveness and representation reflecting the diversity of students in public schools will create consistent and growing demand for books by diverse authors, about diverse characters - not only in contemporary fiction, but in historical and nonfiction titles as well.
  • The growth in numbers of public school students who are English language learners, from diverse language backgrounds, combined with the movement toward improving cultural responsiveness, will create a demand for more access to books in other languages, especially children's, middle grade, and YA titles. Digital publishing and reading platforms could play an important role in providing access to titles in underrepresented languages from Africa and south and east Asia, if solutions can be found to the challenge of digital supply chain and publishing in the countries of origin. This could turn into an interesting foothold in the US market for international children's publishers.
Emily Williams is Manager, IP & Partnerships at EL Education.

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