Can both educational and trade publishers successfully extend their business and act as educators?

Yesterday I attended the International Digital Publishing Conference and Forum at City University. It was a real treat to attend lectures by key players in publishing, and also to hear talks by inspirational MA students. The topic of the day was ‘The Global Market place’ but I couldn’t help focussing on the content of the first plenary which left me wondering – can educational and trade publishers successfully extend their business and act as educators?

Stephen Bourne (CEO, Cambridge University Press) and Jason Cooper (Digital Director, Faber & Faber) led the plenary and swiftly moved from the tried and tested digital debate to a variety of issues, including the position of the publisher as an educator. Stephen Bourne headed the conversation with his predictions of the role of the educational publisher. He suggested that publishers will (and to some extent already do) take ownership of:

·         Formative assessment

·         Teaching Formal qualifications

·         Teaching and supporting teachers

·         Teacher training colleges

·         Virtual learning environments

·         Advising government on curriculum design

·         Mainstream schools; lightening the educational budgets of governments whilst increasing service offerings.

So what do you think of that? Privatisation of the education sector through publishing channels. Is it likely or not? I am not convinced that we will see such large-scale privatisation in any of our lifetimes. However, with this week’s announcement that Pearson is to offer a ‘degree’ course, changes in this direction are clearly happening and with time we’ll see how this will integrate with traditional education.

Listening to Jason Cooper, led me to analyse the correlation between trade and educational publishing. If the latter can promote themselves as educators (subtly masking the goals of corporate enterprise), then surely the literary knowledge of a successful trade publisher can be used to market words of wisdom too. This has been proven as a success by the Faber Academy, with remarkable stories such as Steve Watson, 39 year old author of ‘Before I go to sleep’ who, with a bit of support and training, transformed himself from an NHS worker into an international author. However, despite the success stories (we’ll wait to see what Pearson graduates emerge) I think the general public will always hold a cynical view towards publishers increasing profit through providing education. It’s viewed as a form of exploitation; of taking advantage of the ambitious desires of writers to get published. Take for example, the comments in this week’s bookseller* on the literary agency, Curtis Brown’s writing school. Reading these comments you’d never imagine that a writer might actually benefit from this.

So it seems as if educational publishers can lead the way, not only through digital advances (currently about 20% of educational publishing profits compared with under 5% of trade publishers), but possibly also in the provision of education. As these publishers move towards certification and can provide formative assessment, so too can they take a more active role in teaching. Take Pearson and the recent acquisition of the Wall Street English language schools in Japan.

It will be interesting to read more about the Curtis Brown writing school once it has taken shape, and to find out whether literary agencies can also make their mark on education. Surely expert writers teaching their more novice counterparts some tricks of the trade can only be a positive move?  

Laura Austin (


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  1. Really interesting issue.  With the demise of so many consultants at Local Authority level, many schools are unsure what will happen to their training and CPD support.  While many of the consultants may go ‘freelance’ and sell their services back to schools, there is a gap in the market here that publishers may find attractive. Rising Stars has been supplying insert training to support their educational resources like Literacy Goess Madd for a while now and to branch out into online training or more broad professional development is not much of a leap. All their resources are written by teachers or ex-teachers so they are more than qualified to deliver CPD training within their area of expertise, with Rising Stars providing the marketing and admin support.  Not sure about a full on degree as with the Pearson model but these are big brands in schools, and ultimately teachers like to buy from a known and trusted source. 

    1. Interesting take Julia. In a way it makes sense for Rising Stars to provide this training if they have, as you say, experienced teachers onboard. Surely to get external trainers would prove unnecessarily costly. It’s a fail proof model from a publishers perspective. I agree that the full on degree might take it a step too far, but let’s see…

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