19 October 09 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf

As part of the Education Forum taking place in Hall 4.2, there was a CEO roundtable this afternoon to discuss “Four Big Ideas that Will Change Your Business.” With representatives from Lightning Source, the British Educational Suppliers Association, Smart Technologies, and Bowker/ProQuest, this promised to be a very interesting and useful discussion.

Larry Brewster of Lightning Source opened up the meeting with a visionary talk about print on demand and how this is altering the overall business publishing model—not just for educational publishers, but for traditional ones as well.

In looking at the benefits of single-copy POD, Brewster emphasized a few key advantages, some more obvious ones (low inventory costs, smaller capital investment), and others that are a bit more subtle (one that he really beat home was the fact that having books available on single-copy POD ensures that a publisher wouldn’t miss a single sale due to a book being out-of-stock).

What was most captivating about his speech wasn’t necessarily the advantages to the publisher of having their books in a POD system, but the implications of this. For instance, the idea of “Distributed Printing” opens up a whole new world of cost-savings and instant access. His vision was that POD machines would be located throughout the country/world, in both warehouses and bookstores. This would allow publishers to transmit digital files to a plethora of locations where the physical books could actually be printed, thus destroying the traditional method of printing a bunch of copies and paying astronomical amounts to ship books across the country. (Not to mention the additional cost of having these shipped back from all points of the globe in form of returns.)

Taking this one step further, he touched briefly on end-user creation, which could really appeal to educators. Under this model, a particular educator/reader could pick-and-choose things that they want in a book and then have the POD machine print up the exact number of copies they need. Customization that’s currently impossible . . . The opportunities are very broad, especially once color POD machines are available and the cost of POD printing falls to that of traditional offset presses. And like Brewster said, “this is a model that works. It’s a just-in-time system that will continue to grow.”

The next two presentations focused a bit more on the idea of “disaggregation” in educational publishing. Ray Barker from the British Educational Suppliers Association touched on the way the British government has invested billions in Interactive Classroom Technologies, such as interactive whiteboards and now, “learning platforms.” According to Barker, all UK schools are supposed to be using a “learning platform” by 2012. Which, he admitted, might be a bit ambitious and will probably be bumped back a few years. Regardless, this is a huge opportunity for educational publishers, especially those able to figure out how to produce disaggregated content—content that is segmented and that educators can pick and choose from.

Nancy Knowlton, the CEO from Smart Technologies talked about the desire on the part of educators to get things for free. This is an issue that’s starting to impact the entire publishing industry (and will for years to come, especially with the rise of e-books), and although it sounds completely damaging at first, Knowlton suggested that there are opportunities here as well, especially for businesses that are willing to reach out to potential customers and listen to what they have to say and be willing to educate educators on the relationship between quality and a fee.

Finally, Andy Weissberg from Bowker/ProQuest talked about gaming in education and the need for there to be a stronger connection between games and the curriculum. (As an example, he talked about his two daughters coming home from school and either playing Farmville online or some “educational” games on the Leapfrog, but that neither of these activities really related to what they were covering in school.) In terms of pure opportunity, from my perspective, this seems very attractive, especially with the proliferation of iPhones and other such devices and the relative ease with which people can create apps.

I’m not terribly sure there were four big ideas presented at this roundtable, but a few of the pieces were pretty thought-provoking. To be honest though, I was really looking forward to hearing from Mike McGuinness of Scribd about “viral marketing and piracy protection.” He was advertised in the events brochure, but bailed for whatever reason. And seriously, viral marketing and piracy are two ideas that most definitely WILL change your business.

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