Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Depending on where you live within the world of publishing and whether you follow developments in K-12 education, you may have heard of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Chances are, though, that you have only a general idea of what the standards are about and why they might matter to you. If you publish content that you think can be useful in today’s K-12 classrooms, it’s worth having at least a rudimentary understanding of CCSS. More importantly, there are things you can do to maximize your chances of benefiting from the movement to the Common Core and its attendant impact on what kind of content schools will be buying for classroom use.
First, some background. Before CCSS was adopted, each state in the United States had its own curriculum standards, specifying the skills and knowledge its students were expected to acquire in each subject at every grade level. The patchwork quilt of standards that was in place made it hard to compare students’ educational achievement across state lines and caused educational publishers to have to customize their materials for each state to match to their different curricula. Recognizing the inefficiencies inherent in this setup, the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers got together and agreed to adopt a set of common standards in math and English/language arts (ELA), which became known as the Common Core.
Because educators and parents alike would hesitate to buy in to anything that looked like a national curriculum, they made adoption of the standards completely voluntary at the state level. They also made clear that the standards were not a curriculum; rather, they were a set of educational goals, and it would be up to individual school districts to decide how to shape their curricula to meet the new goals.
This strategy clearly paid off, as 45 states plus the District of Columbia decided to adopt CCSS. (A 46th state, Minnesota, is adopting the ELA standards but not the math. The non-adopting states are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia.) The federal government got on board, funding the development of new assessments based on the standards, which will be administered in the Common Core states at the end of the 2014–15 school year.
What will the impact of CCSS be on trade publishers?
If you don’t publish books suitable for use in classrooms, it won’t mean much, but if you have content that might be useful in a classroom context, the Common Core will open up lots of opportunities for increasing your sales to K-12 schools. (To give you a sense of the scale of opportunity, while appraisals vary, most analysts estimate that the size of the non-textbook K-12 instructional materials market is in the range of low single-digit billions of dollars.)
The ELA reading standards call for students to gain mastery of many different text types, broadening the variety of materials that teachers will use. Specifically, they shift the emphasis away from fiction toward use of informational texts, particularly in the upper grades, so schools will be buying more non-fiction books (as well as non-fiction materials not necessarily in book form).
What specific actions can trade publishers take to increase their K-12 sales in the age of the Common Core? There’s no silver bullet, but assuming there are books on your list that are suitable for in-school use, here are a few pointers:
- Have the books “leveled” (i.e. analyze their content to assess their reading level) so that educators have a sense of the grade level at which the books are likely to be useful. There are several different leveling systems; one of the most common— and the one likely to give you the most bang for the buck—is the Lexile system, developed by Metametrics, Inc.
- In your marketing materials, organize your books into bundles—by grade level, topic, theme or genre.
- Consider creating a Common Core section of your website or separate sell sheets to highlight the Common Core–friendly elements of your list.
- Market your list not just to K-12 schools but also to the wholesalers that serve the K-12 market, such as Booksource.
We don’t have enough space here to delve into this topic in the detail it deserves, but if you want a deeper understanding, you’ll find it in Demystifying the Common Core: How Trade Publishers Can Profit from the New Curriculum Standards, available in the Digital Book World store. If you are attending the 2014 Digital Book World conference, you might also attend the session scheduled for Tuesday, January 14, at 2:30 pm entitled New Opportunities with Common Core and Digital Content in the Classroom, where a panel of experts will discuss the Common Core and its implications for publishers and educators alike.