Content in Context Conference Addresses Evolving Educational Publishing Industry
At the recent Content in Context Conference, held in Washington, D.C. by the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP), "transition" was the buzzword being bandied about. With an agenda geared toward helping educate attendees on how best to evolve their print-focused businesses into multimedia, multiplatform content providers, this year's conference had an air of change to it.
Charlene Gaynor, CEO of the AEP, shared her thoughts with Book Business Extra on what she thought were the major takeaways from last week's conference, as well as where she sees the future of educational publishing heading.
Book Business Extra: What were the major themes of this year's conference?
Charlene Gaynor: The subtitle of the Content in Context Conference was "education beyond the book." I think that phrase articulates the overall conference theme very well. AEP is an organization of content experts, so the conference addressed the nitty-gritty of moving from traditional print to multimedia, multiplatform content delivery. Sessions explored the impact of the digital transformation on the classroom, the board room and the global marketplace. Developing content for the interactive whiteboard [a large, interactive display that connects to a computer and a projector, often used in classrooms] and the resulting teacher training needs was a particularly "hot" topic.
Extra: How did this year's conference compare to previous years in terms of attendance?
Gaynor: Registration was slow until the last 30 days, then picked up to an unprecedented pace in the last 72 hours. We ended up with the largest attendance we've ever had—close to 500 overall. Anyone out there who does a conference can tell you that this is a crazy way to run an event.
Extra: What were some highlights of this year's conference in terms of content?
Gaynor: In rebranding the annual AEP Publishing Summit as Content in Context, we took a calculated risk and it paid off. Our goal is to clearly define AEP as the content organization. Going forward, we intend to keep the conference focus on Content in Context and adjust the sessions and speakers to reflect current issues.
Our overall idea is to create an event that borrows from the music-festival format—big events on the main stage with smaller, special-interest offerings going on simultaneously. Two such offerings this year were the resource team and the innovation lab. The first offered attendees free, 30-minute consultations with key industry experts; the second showcased vetted, cutting-edge technologies that educational publishers should have on their radar screens. These two offerings were well-received, and I'd say both have the potential to become better and better over time.
Extra: What are the biggest challenges facing educational publishers today?
Gaynor: Clearly, the impact of technology on publishing is the single greatest challenge facing the entire publishing industry: XML-type production, online delivery, digital asset management and intellectual property protection systems. … How to incorporate these revolutionary technologies into the print publishing model is enough to keep most publishers up at night. In the education arena, it's particularly tricky because publishers must gauge the pace of change in schools and anticipate the impact on the market of educational technology itself as well as of public policy, demographics and the economy, to name just a few. Figuring out when and where to invest in change is an ongoing challenge for educational publishers.
Extra: With many universities trending to digital curriculums, how do educational publishers remain relevant?
Gaynor: It's important to clarify the term "digital publishing" when you're talking about market relevance. The fact is that the K-12 instructional materials market is still primarily a print one, and it's probable that print will remain a part of teaching and learning for a very long time. However, educational publishers need to position themselves to respond quickly to changing market demands, whatever those might be. That's why AEP's goal is to help move publishers to the capacity to deliver high-quality content in any medium or format 24/7. This is our definition of digital publishing. Achieving this outcome will keep educational publishers relevant well into the future.
Extra: How do e-books factor into educational publishers future plans?
Gaynor: E-books are one item on a menu board of platforms and media (including print) that can deliver quality instructional content. As publishers hone their production, acquisition and editorial processes, they'll be able to seamlessly push content to e-books or any other platform a particular school or school district might demand.