Selling to the Education Market

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October 2014
by Michael Riley

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In the last couple of years, as more federal funding has reached schools, there’s been much more activity in educational publishing and educational sales. Major publishers continue to dominate textbook publishing, pouring hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars into textbooks, including some that don’t get adopted. But independent publishers can be successful with secondary and supplementary resources.

At Independent Publishers Group, we sell three main types of books into the educational marketplace:

✓ Teacher resource books. These are professional development titles designed to help teachers improve their skills and support their mission in the classroom. Some of them help teachers build character in their students and school counselors solve childhood development issues.

✓ Workbooks. Expressly designed for use in the classroom, workbooks are titles that teachers use in building lessons and curriculums.

✓ Children’s nonfiction books with activities. These are generally trade books that cross over into the educational marketplace, and that teachers can use for classroom activities and in building lesson plans.

Paperback is the standard format for resource books and workbooks. These usually have a trim size of 9″ x 11″ and are generally priced between $14.95 and $19.95.

The nonfiction titles for kids to read are all paperbacks, generally priced between $4.99 and $6.99, and schools usually buy classroom sets rather than individual copies—say, 30 units per classroom, suitable for several different levels and grades.

CONDUITS TO CUSTOMERS

bigstock-illustration-of-education-obje-32455577 [Converted]Today’s education market is dominated by specialist wholesalers and mail order catalog companies that reach hundreds of thousands of teachers across the country.

These businesses sell to schools, to grant-funded educational projects, directly to teachers, and to teacher supply stores, which are independent retail operations whose customers are teachers and parents looking for new educational resources.

For many years, the IPG special sales department included an educational sales specialist who focused on the wholesalers and mail order companies serving the education market. But after seeing the strong growth in educational sales in 2013—a 17 percent increase—we realized we needed to hire a specialist rep force to call on the independent teacher stores.

There are are about 125-150 of these stores across the country, and selling to them calls for reps on the road, working face-to-face with the stores’ buying staff, just as selling to independent bookstores and gift stores does. Accordingly, early this year we added two new rep groups—about 20 sales people—to get coast-to-coast coverage in that market.

We also realized we needed to strengthen our in-house efforts in the education market. Instead of relying on an individual in the special sales department, we now have an educational sales team. Two people sell the big accounts. We are ramping up a strong expansion into the Spanish-language education market. And we are using quite a few gift reps who also sell to some education market accounts.

ESSENTIAL ASSESSMENTS

Anyone selling into today’s education market needs to understand at least three buzzwords: “Common Core,” “GRLs,” and “Lexile.”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is designed to establish consistent educational content in language arts and mathematics for K-12 schools across the country. It is a set of educational standards that emerged strongly last year and became the driving force behind the publication of many new education resource books. Although it is too soon to tell what will come of it, roughly 40 states have adopted the Common Core. While there has been a backlash against it in some states, they are essentially accomplishing the same thing but doing it at the state level rather than adopting CCSSI standards.

GRLs stands for Guided Reading Levels. They do not simply specify that a particular book is appropriate for a first grader, that another particular book is appropriate for a second grader, and so on. The reading levels are much more nuanced than that, and teachers have to be able to determine which books are at the right reading level for each individual child.

Like GRLs, Lexile ratings help teachers find the right chapter books and readers for each student, but they address the problem in different ways.

Both GRLs and Lexile ratings are now essential. Teachers and librarians today insist on having that information, and you can outsource the work of getting it. We generally use MetaMetrics for Lexiling and have partnerships with other organizations for GRLs.

More information is available on Common Core at www.corestandards.org; on Lexile ratings at www.metametrics.com, and on GRLs at http://www.fountasandpinnellleveledbooks.com/.

TOOLS FOR SPURRING SALES

Driving sales in the education market requires publicity and promotion. Although it has fewer outlets for publicity than in general trade book market, some magazines, such as Educational Dealer, serve educational supply buyers. We work with our client publishers on advertising in those magazines. We work with Creative Catalog Solutions to help our client publishers get additional exposure and store placement for their books.

Creative Catalog Solutions sells its catalog of educational titles to teacher supply stores across the country. Each store gets to imprint its own name on the front of the catalog, but the catalog content is the same for every store. Hundreds of retailers use this catalog, and inclusion in it can lead to selling lots of copies.

Libraries are also customers for some educational books, particularly teacher resource books, provided that the books are favorably reviewed in publications such as School Library Journal and Booklist. Reviews in their pages will significantly support a book’s sales in public libraries and school libraries as well as in the educational marketplace generally. Educational workbooks don’t sell well in the library market, since libraries don’t like consumable books for their collections.

FORESEEING A BRIGHT FUTURE

I believe that growth in the education market will continue over the long term. Our long-term growth to date has been solid and consistent in this marketplace, and activity centered on several solid trade shows in this arena indicates that educational books will sell strongly for a long time to come. These shows include the National School Supply Association’s Ed Expo; the International Reading Association’s IRA; NAEYC, which is for educators of young children, and ECRM, a newer trade show featuring educational books and supplies.

I also believe the education market will continue to be one where independent publishers can compete and thrive. Because indie publishers are much more nimble and reactive to changes in the market, we are having a lot of success with their educational books.


Michael Riley is sales director for special markets at Independent Publishers Group, which was the first independent press distributor and is now the second largest. This article is derived, with permission, from an interview with him conducted by Curt Matthews, IPG’s CEO, and posted on his blog.

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