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Premium Content: Vander Ark Revisited

SETDA’s report, “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook
in a Digital Age,”
put a solid stake in the ground for moving from print to
digital.  The report offered a
rationale for the shift, four case studies of states that are well down the
path toward making the shift, as well as thumbnail sketches of other states
making policy moves. It also provided insights for the necessary conditions for
making the shift, and offered specific recommendations to address K-12
instructional materials needs. Throughout, the report presented indications of drivers of the change,
including the economy, the desire for flexibility in funding at the district
and school level, concomitant changes in assessment and professional learning, and,
of course, the changing nature of students and how they interact with
technology and the world in general.
We did not, however, take a detailed look at drivers.  In a recent post on Getting Smart, Tom Vander Ark did.  Most who read Digital Content Chronicle probably saw Tom’s post, but even if you
did, it is worth another look.

Tom knocks down the straw man of the death of premium
content and traditional textbook publishers, provides a list of twelve trends
shaping the development of digital content and even adds examples of products
or services for each.  He lays out
a strong case for a continuation of a need for premium content, but only in a
different looking system in which the content is “smart” and the need for
content related services grows.  He
lists specific growth areas such as professional development, and argues that
it may take a decade for the market to shift from 7-year adoption cycles to
subscription bundles for content and related services.

I wonder if publically traded companies like the major
textbook companies will be able to withstand a decade-long transition where
revenue is dwindling in the old model. Can they wait for the new model to kick
in? Tom does note how those publishers
are sticking their toes in the water, but no one seems to be jumping in. Others are diving in head first. Grants from a
variety of philanthropic organizations and entities like NSF are providing
funding and new energy to the field.

Some of us have been calling for an active effort to create new
business models for years, and that is one of one of the core recommendations
of “Out of Print.” The accelerator will be new business models that are developed collaboratively with states and other major purchasers to encourage rapid ‘buy-in.’ Vander Ark’s post
is chock full of examples and rationale both for why and how the shift will
continue with some things old, some things borrowed, and a lot of things new.  Check it out; it is worth a bookmark for future reference to see how things are progressing.

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