More Dollars For Textbooks Draws Sellers
Publishers are pouring on the "freebies" and sales pressure to woo districts and teachers--and the record amounts of money states have allocated this year for textbook purchases.
In Florida, wall charts, transparencies, teachers' manuals, and activities books are being offered in abundance to teachers and textbook administrators in exchange for bulk orders of books and other materials.
"One publisher is trying to outmarket the other," said Tom Morris, the instructional-materials administrator for the Duval County, Fla., schools. "It's a regular Madison Avenue technique."
And across the country, textbook sales representatives are plying their wares at education conferences and meetings--even at the schoolhouse door.
Publishers large and small are experiencing record sales, thanks in large part to additional state dollars allotted for replacing aging textbooks. The healthy economy and the push for new academic standards--and textbooks that are aligned with them--have made the past couple of years a boom time for the industry, observers say.
The largest textbook-adoption states--California, Texas, and Florida, in that order--have fueled the demand, but publishers are realizing big profits throughout the country, according to Al Branch, the editor of Educational Marketer, a newsletter published by the Stamford, Conn.-based Simba Information.
"This is an even more robust year for publishers. Although they're going to care most about the larger states, there is a trickle-down effect," Mr. Branch said. "There's probably not a state in the country that's not affected."
After some lean years at the beginning of the decade, the market has shifted. Between 1992 and 1996, the latest year for which figures are available, sales of textbooks and other educational materials increased by $538 million, for a total of $2.6 billion, a nearly 26 percent increase, according to the Association of American Publishers. The current leader in educational publishing, McGraw-Hill, saw a 23 percent increase in its educational and professional division, with $1.6 billion in operating revenue last year.
In addition to the thriving economy and a general increase in education spending in many states, rising enrollments and the scheduled adoption of texts in several key states contributed to a 13 percent increase in sales so far this year.
That figure could skyrocket on the heels of California's record budget package. Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, and the Democratic-led legislature recently approved more than $682 million to be spent on books and other instructional materials this school year.
They set aside $172 million in general textbook funding, as well as $250 million in new money for books that meet state standards in the core subjects, $158 million for new library books, $71.5 million for science laboratory materials, and $30.9 million for phonics-based books for grades 4-12.
"With the focus on improving student performance and increasing accountability at the school, district, and state levels, one of the first priorities is to place new textbooks in the hands of students," said David A. Wan, the president of the K-12 publishing group for Simon & Schuster, based in Upper Saddle River, N.J.
In Florida, the instructional-materials budget has increased about 80 percent in the past few years, to $183 million--an all-time high for the state.
Texas has projected a $177 million textbook budget this year, the second consecutive year that the state has had significant funding for books. At least eight other states plan major textbook adoptions this year.
In all, 19 states require local jurisdictions to spend the bulk of their state textbook allocation on approved texts. Those "adoption" states buy books in cycles, allowing publishers to project the need for products.
The California legislature has approved a total of $1 billion over four years to buy textbooks, but the state's 1,000 districts will not be rushing to spend the money this year.
"The interesting thing is that while they have a lot of money to shop with, there is nothing out there they can actually purchase," said Cathy Barkett, who overseas textbook adoptions for the California Department of Education.
The state school board is still in the process of approving books that match the state's new standards in mathematics and English/language arts. The social studies and science standards--and the corresponding texts--also have yet to be approved.
Much of states' new money for textbooks is flowing in response to public anger over schoolbook shortages. ("Despite New Money, Districts Say Textbook Woes Are Chronic," Feb. 19, 1997. )
A survey conducted in California by the AAP earlier this year found that residents favored spending more money on textbooks than on any other educational need.
News reports about tattered and outdated books and too few materials for students in the Los Angeles school district, the second-largest in the country, led officials there to issue $25 million in emergency funds last month to remedy the situation.
Policymakers in Hawaii, North Carolina, New York, and other states also have been pushing for increased funding.
Though the gains will go a long way toward easing shortages, the extra money still will be inadequate in many places, according to Ms. Barkett. An earlier survey by the publishers' group found that as many as one in four of all teachers in California did not have enough textbooks for their students.
Some states have greatly increased per-pupil spending on textbooks in recent years--California's jumped this year from about $29 per elementary school student to more than $43--but it is a costly endeavor to supply expensive texts, workbooks, and teachers' manuals to every classroom.
While many states require that the bulk of textbook money be used to buy materials adopted by the state, publishers go to great lengths to make their approved products attractive to local educators, especially in large districts where there is potential for greater profits. The competition for the pot of state money is fierce as publishers try to recoup their development and printing costs, which could run up to $40 million or more for a series of texts in a major subject.
At a conference for Texas math teachers last month, publishers anxious to make the upcoming adoption list in that subject handed out free materials and hosted "happy hours," parties, and other events with representatives on hand to explain their products and services.
Teachers exercise their influence on textbook purchases before and after state and local adoptions, through participation on selection committees, and in making their preferences for various texts known to administrators.
Teachers and administrators may not be swayed by the glossy packaging that characterizes many of the texts, but the free materials impress them, said Kathie Jewell, the director of textbook distribution for the Texas Education Agency.
But the free offerings often have strings attached, requiring the purchase of large quantities of books. And many times, the price is actually built into the cost of the textbooks, Ms. Jewell said. The products of smaller publishers, who often cannot afford to give away additional materials or send armies of sales representatives to several states, are sometimes overshadowed by the industry's giants.
The top three adoption states--California, Florida, and Texas--continue to be concerned by such practices. In Florida, Mr. Morris of Duval County said textbook administrators will be discussing the issue at their state association's meeting next month.
California requires publishers to list the products they intend to give away, offerings they must make available to all districts in the state. The state also requires publishers to donate up to 150 review copies of the books they want the state board to approve so that educators throughout the state can see the materials before they purchase them.
And in Texas, an ad hoc committee on textbooks will be taking up the issue this fall. At one time, the state board there had tried to eliminate the free products, but teachers resisted.
Education officials argue, though, that the giveaways are anything but free.
"I always put the term 'free materials' in quotes," Mr. Morris said. "Nothing is free. We would rather see them put the money into good, strong textbooks and teacher editions for a lower price."
Vol. 18, Issue 4, Pages 1, 12Published in Print: September 30, 1998, as More Dollars For Textbooks Draws Sellers