From Garage Publisher to Google Prominence
Evan-Moor Educational Publishers Inc. hasn’t always been a major player in the education market. In fact, the company got its modest start more than 25 years ago in a garage, with a staff consisting of three people and an entrepreneurial spirit. Today, Evan-Moor is home to 65 employees and is housed in a 20,000-square-foot facility churning out 60 titles a year in 35 countries. The company provides a compelling example of a publisher who has succeeded in areas other publishers have failed—generating online revenue, profiting from e-books and building an effective search engine strategy.
Turning on a Dime
It’s funny how a little bit of irony can change the course of one’s direction. One day two teachers-turned-educational writers are thrilled to find a publisher interested in printing their first book, and the next they’re launching their own publishing company. That’s what happened to Evan-Moor’s Bill Evans, Joy Evans and Jo Ellen Moore. After an editor uttered the words, “What you ought to do is start your own company,” the trio did just that.
That off-handed advice was given in 1978 to then first-grade team teachers Joy and Jo Ellen. They had taken a sabbatical from their Title I school to write an educational book and enlisted the help of Joy’s brother Bill, a journalism professor at the time. Upon completion, the three mailed the manuscript and received a bite from publisher Frank Schaffer. Schaffer was so impressed with their first title he hired Joy and Jo Ellen to write six more books. He promised to keep them busy for years to come. “It was exciting,” says Bill Evans, now CEO of Evan-Moor. But it was an editor they encountered upon delivery of one of their books that triggered Joy, Jo Ellen and Bill to consider their situation.
“We were invited to tour the publisher’s warehouse, and before we knew it, we’re exploring the inner workings of the book publishing business,” says Evans. “The editor (talked) about royalties and how long it takes to make money off educational books, and made that statement that would change our lives.”
In 1979, Evans incorporated Evan-Moor and launched the company with six titles—the first being “Art Moves the Basics Along: Animal Units.”
Meanwhile, Bill pursued a law degree, passed the bar exam and continued practicing law for six more years while Evan-Moor got off the ground.
Learning to Grow
The first six books Evan-Moor published were the same six books Joy and Jo Ellen were slated to publish via Frank Schaffer. After that, Evan-Moor began producing 32-page books for the average price of $4.95 or $5.95, says Evans. “Over time, we found that those price points did not work so we decided to place more value in our books and market them at a higher cost,” he says. “That’s when we realized it cost the same to sell a $4.95 book as it does to sell a $15 one.”
This was Evan-Moor’s first step toward growth, which turned into a valuable learning experience. “We had to keep asking the question, ‘Is this the best way?’ and then move forward.”
The decision on price was a good move for Evan-Moor. By the mid ’80s, Bill Evans shuttered his law practice, and Joy and Jo Ellen retired from teaching.
Still, adapting to change proved to be the biggest challenge. “The way you continue to grow is by coming out with new innovative educational products,” says Evans. “The challenge that happens is that as you’re growing from $1 million to $5 million, $10 [million] and beyond, the answers to running your business are constantly changing. I’ve realized that, in business growth, the question is eternal, but the answers are always changing.”
He discovered that what first worked in warehouse operations didn’t work a few years later for the expanding Evan-Moor. “We needed to figure out what we wanted to publish,” he says.
For instance, he notes, Evan-Moor’s customers continue to constantly change. Twenty-seven years ago, people weren’t using computers for research, and no one could fathom the idea of an e-book, but today these practices are very normal. In fact, says Bill, Evan-Moor now has teachers who are selling e-books. “We’re even promoting [electronic] wipe-board friendly PDFs on our site now, something we wouldn’t have dreamed of before.”
Evan Moore also is offering a brand-new service via a Web site—TeacherFileBox.com—containing intellectual property from previously published content that has been chopped up, indexed and made available by subscription. “Teachers can get what they need,” says Bill. In addition, Evan-Moor is servicing larger classroom sets. For instance, the company is putting out a box set, which will sell for $200. “This is a new price point for us,” says Evans.
“E” Spells Success
Asked to highlight one product that is performing well for his company, Evans refers to e-books, which have experienced a 100-percent increase in sales.
He explains that Evan-Moor works to format all books into PDF files, which can be made available to teachers instantly with no freight costs. “Our monetary investment is in making storage space available on the site and in security provisions to ensure teachers use the file appropriately,” he says.
Evan-Moor also is very enthusiastic about its “preview” feature. Launched four years ago, the feature has contributed to a uptick in Web site purchases, says Evans.
“Sales are up by 28 percent, and we’re finding more people are compelled to order off of our site as opposed to ordering through our 800 number,” he says. “Customers love it because it’s like being in a book store. It’s like trying something on from Lands’ End before ordering it.”
Evans says that 22 percent of Evan-Moor’s revenues are driven from Web site and catalog sales, while remaining sales come through special markets and purchases by Double Day Book Club, or other publishers using Evan-Moor’s books. “About five percent of our sales come from overseas, since we are distributed in 35 countries,” he adds.
The company’s free e-newsletter is also faring well, with a circulation of 200,000 to elementary educators who receive it once a week. The newsletter includes lesson plans for the upcoming week. “We’ve promoted this service through trade shows for a few years, and now we collect e-mails. Teachers can also sign up via our Web site,” explains Evans. The newsletter is also featured prominently in Evan-Moor’s catalog, which is mailed to two million people a year.
The Google Effect
Type in the phrase “educational publishing” to Google, and Evan-Moor comes up at the top of the page above 59 million results. Such a coveted position doesn’t come easily, and Evans isn’t about to let the cat out of the bag as to the company’s specific strategy for getting there.
“We try to very carefully metatag our site and make it search engine friendly,” he says. “We employ a staff of people who work on our Web site, and they are paid very good salaries to do just that. It’s certainly paying off.”
No doubt Google is drawing high traffic to Evan-Moor’s site, but Evans emphasized that the attractiveness of his company is also the result of the thoughtfulness Evan-Moor puts into providing the materials and services teachers need, and on changing educational environments.
“We do our best to keep up with different learning techniques that are consistently introduced,” he says. “Years ago, the learning style was whole language, now there’s a greater shift back to phonics. It’s important to us that we attend conferences and trade shows so as to keep in touch with the classroom.”
One of the biggest projects Evan-Moor has taken on involves accommodating updated educational standards brought on by political changes. In response, Evan-Moor created Teaching-Standards.com, where teachers can access materials related to their states’ standards.
“We’re in an era where we must be prepared to teach through a variety of methods and within a variety of mediums,” says Evans. “We work to do that, and we believe that as a result we will continue experiencing double-digit growth over the coming years.” BB
Sharon R. Cole is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer serving the print industry.