Sunday, February 8, 2009

Let's catalyze the reinvention of the textbook business

read at
"But these are the resources our schools do have: My fourth-grader learns hands-on science from professional scientists through the Xerox Science Consulting program. He takes part in literature circles run by volunteers from St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and is enrolled in accelerated math and advanced English/language arts classes."
We are already investing some of our very precious increasingly scarce resources in the public schools in Rochester. That's a very good thing. But while we are doing good, let's help our Printers do well.

Consider, everybody -teachers, admins, school boards, students and parents - agree that textbooks are broken. They are too slow, expensive and their one size fits all doesn't in fact fit anyone. There is little doubt, that the Xerox Science Consulting program, which I just found out about from the web, has better, more up to date content than any textbook.

Here's the use case:
Science teacher X is planning a lesson on Y science topic next week. It's been really hard to keep the class on track because that's always the way it is in a real life classroom.

She goes to a website. The content is vetted by our Science Consulting Group, who are presently doing the work anyway.

At the website, she chooses the content that is right for her classes, next Monday.

One of our local Print providers in Rochester prints and delivers 30 booklets - say 16 pages - for the class in a day or two. If the content is aligned with standards and a quiz is included, why wouldn't anyone prefer this to a heavy out of date textbook that you can't write in?

Here's the secret sauce and the next big thing!
The students could be required to highlight - in the physical magazine - the parts they don't understand or find particularly interesting. If a quiz is included, the booklets are collected at the end of the unit. That gives the teacher great guidance on which student gets it and which students don't. It is guidance that can be taken home and mulled over. As opposed to a meaningless test score that can be used for sorting, but is meaningless for feedback to teach.

Given the social capital on which we have already spent a gezillion dollars over many years, why not help our vendors do pretty well, while we are doing very good.

My bet is that much of the social capital that is being destroyed by short sighted decisions to placate the idiots on Wall Street by "cutting staff," could be repurposed in the service of creating even more social capital where you live, in Rochester and the Mid State region that needs lots of investment

Textbooks is an oligopoly market. As such, they command silly legacy profits. They have the same problem we do, legacy overhead that is no longer necessary. As we well know it's a very tough problem. The reason they can't do this is the same reason we can't make fast decisions. Most everyone knows what to do. There are no new ideas. But protecting a legacy overhead is a huge drain that can sooner or later destroy any company.

It's the same problem for the textbook publishers. But that's there problem. We have our problems.

Even as some textbook content drifts to the next Kindle, the teacher in the K-12 classroom needs Print. Mostly for the granular stable information it gives the teacher to better craft their individualized approach for each student.

Meanwhile, as we continue the painful process of eliminating overhead that is no longer producing value, we can help people who no longer fit in our business to monetize their experience in a way that will work for them.

To be clear, this is NOT about setting up even one more overhead item. It is about being the catalyst, to create a new, huge market for digital printing.

If it works in a pilot in Rochester, why wouldn't every school district in the United States do it?
Why wouldn't most of our printers sell it on the ground? If we can get the incentives for referrals to Global Imaging think of the on the ground sales force at $0 extra expense. Given our deep penetration in the education systems, this seems like a no brainer.

Perhaps PARC can become truly income generating without destroying their extraordinary social value by being the "go to" place for appropriate content for tech, engineering and science for every school district in America.

If the plan is to expand in India and the Middle East, why wouldn't we do this? If the plan is to expand in China with our partnership with Fuji, why wouldn't we do that?

No more firing.
Just taking responsibility for the necessary transitions.
It will do wonders for morale, on the day the program is announced.

For shareholders it means an organically growing market.
More clicks for everyone!

If the Wall Street "analysts" don't like that story, let's just do more and more dividends until the next bubble comes along. The problem is speed of response - timing is not only everything, it is the only thing. But I bet that some of our recent retires could get on this tomorrow.

Plus probably many of them have spouses already teaching. Start this pilot program with them. Do not waste valuable time talking to busy people at the top of the pyramid that are facing the same problems that are facing our top management.

Then all we have to do is host some meetings between them and our smart people.

Hosting meetings is value add. The value creator is making links.
Having meetings is legacy overhead. The value destroyer is wasting time.

Since I'm just a blogger,who doesn't go to meetings, I just can't see the hard part.

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