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Digital publishing and the world’s largest education company

As an arm of a 172-year- old publishing company, Pearson Education has experienced the digital revolution first-hand. Many saw the seismic shift toward digital as a klaxon sounding the imminent death of the publishing industry, but Pearson has managed to adapt and has remoulded itself into as much a digital publisher as a print publisher. Subsequently, it is the largest education company in the world.

Stacy Treco is VP and director of digital strategy at Pearson Education, as the latest role in a three-decade career at the company. Her focus has been on the pursuit of innovative excellence. This characteristic helped to catapult her career from sales rep to national sales manager, and from marketing manager to director of marketing.

After a number of stellar growth years launching an unprecedented number of successful first editions, her Marketing domain was extended to all of the quantitative disciplines in higher education including Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, Business and Economics. Stacy recognised the promise of digital innovation to higher education and created a new position, VP, director of digital strategy, that allowed her to bring student and faculty voices into digital content development.

We sat down with Stacy ahead of her presentation at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, taking place in San Francisco from 5-6 December.

How has content distribution changed since digital became the norm?

We’ve offered electronic versions of our texts for decades now. However, as I publish in the higher education Science space where many courses are two or three semesters long and quite rigorous, most students still prefer to own a hard copy print text. With all new print books sold, we include access to the e-text in conjunction with our online homework system, and students who take advantage of it appreciate the convenience.

We also offer an e-text app that is mobile and accessible and offers offline use, which makes access to their course materials extremely convenient.

Even the traditional textbook industry has been turned on its head by the latest digital publishing trends, as Pearson shows

The majority of Science faculty now prefer to assign homework online and I’ve had the good fortune of working on the Mastering platform, the leading online homework system in the Sciences with over four million student users annually. Many faculty attribute 10-20% of the total course grade to the work done within the Mastering online homework system.

On the instructor side, we offer all the supplementary teaching materials such as PowerPoint slides for lecture, art files from the text for presentation purposes, test item files, etc. in digital form, and digital is now the primary format for distribution. We also often send review copies of the text via electronic means.

Are you utilising SEO – if so, what strategies have you implemented?

SEO is built into the Pearson website as well as our homework platforms. Pearson’s Mastering platform is the leading online homework system in the Sciences with over four million student users annually. Pearson has a Global Marketing function who focus on SEO.

How are you exploring the multi-media options available nowadays including video, AR and VR?

Video and animation have been a crucial part of our offerings for decades. Science often involves learning about something that’s impossible to see with the naked eye, spans huge distances or time periods, or a complicated scientific process — and all this learning is served well by video and animation. Our challenge now is converting our legacy assets into fully mobile and accessible assets—a journey we’ve been on for over three years and have made great strides.

Pearson has started to explore VR and AR delivery and has recently spun up a new Immersive Products team who are partnering with external companies to create content that supports VR devices.

How are you monetising your content and why have you pursued this strategy?

The key to successful sales in the college publishing industry is if your product is required by the faculty — listed on the syllabus and reinforced during the first day of class. If students know that the instructor expects them to read the text and they will be tested on the content from that text (not just the instructor’s lecture notes), the student will purchase the text.

If students are required to do homework within an online homework system for a portion of their grade, students will buy that access. We invest heavily in the content for the text and the online homework system.

How do you ensure you are creating platform-specific content whilst maintaining a high-quality content output?

The higher education Science community has no tolerance for accuracy issues. If the content is not written by someone with authority in their field, and then thoroughly reviewed by a multitude of full-time faculty teaching the course at accredited universities, the content will never sell. We maintain a high-level commitment to exceptional quality content regardless of medium.

Pearson’s focus is on creating high-quality content that can be used both online and mobile – our goal is to support multi-channel distribution.

How are you fostering your staff to ensure a digital-first culture?

We are hiring more staff with digital skills (software product managers, technical product managers, engineers, Q/A, learning design, instructional design, data scientists, educational researchers, efficacy specialists, etc.) over more traditional editorial roles. On the production side, we are hiring staff with digital production experience who demonstrate strong project management, communication and organisational skills.

Pearson has moved to focus on hires with digital skills as part of their push towards a digital-first environment

The production staff has transitioned to working in a fully electronic workflow, as have many of our authors. We outsource traditional, hands-on production services such as copyediting, proofreading, composition as well as manufacturing to allow for more in-house staff with digital experience.

The line has blurred between content platforms and content producers – as a traditional publisher how are you adapting to this industry change?

Our medium of content delivery is shifting from print to digital certainly. However, as purveyors of Science content, we employ similar processes regardless of the medium. Our content requires an authorial voice, subject matter experts, content reviewers highly regarded within the higher education academic communities, accuracy reviewers, proofreaders, copyeditors, etc. Basically, the exceptionally high standard required for Science content in higher education is medium-agnostic.

Tracy will be one of many industry leading companies represented at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit this December 5-6 in San Francisco at the Intercontinental Hotel on Howard Street, an event which will bring together 150+ publishers, marketers, media execs and content experts.

Alongside Pearson, speakers from Mashable, Bloomberg, News Corporation, and LittleThings, among many others will be sharing expert insight. Co-located with the Mobile Innovation Summit, the event will explore how companies can best improve revenue streams through digital publishing, use data to drive their content strategies, improve their organic content discovery through techniques like SEO and how to increase reach more generally.

Memeburn is an official media partner for the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit

digital publishing innovation summit

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