The Scope of Textbook Publishing Today

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There are more than thirty million students nationwide in kindergarten through eighth grade in both public and private schools. The dollar volume for the sales of all elementary and high school texts is about $2 billion a year.

Educational publishing is the largest and, without question, the most profitable segment of publishing, with profit margins of 20 percent or more.

Many book publishers vie for this large and lucrative market. There are about a hundred elementary and 130 high school textbook publishers listed in IMP. These publishers overlap, since many produce both elementary and high school texts, and some publish college texts as well.

Focus on Silver Burdett Ginn

Silver Burdett Ginn, a division of Simon & Schuster, one of the world's largest publishing organizations, is itself the industry's foremost publisher. Ginn started as a reading-text publisher in 1867, while Silver Burdett, which specialized in mathematics and science textbooks, originated in 1885. The two companies merged in 1986.

The combined company produces textbooks and related materials that supplement basic texts, such as interactive video products, multicultural resources, films, and workbooks. A recent series, The World of Reading, developed by Silver Burdett Ginn, is estimated to have cost $40 million. In its preparation, the company used two thousand children in a series of focus groups. It is estimated that fully half of the nation's thirty million kindergarten through eighth grade students read Silver Burdett Ginn books. Its entire line encompasses about nine thousand books in print.

To attract the schools to its diversified line, Silver Burdett Ginn has one of the largest sales forces in the industry, about a hundred people, many of them former teachers. In addition to the domestic market, Silver Burdett Ginn sells its books and other educational products to more than a hundred foreign countries.


Textbooks are written by academics. Although these people are specialists in their fields, many are not skilled writers and do not have the expertise necessary to write textbooks. This creates opportunities lor staff writers and copyeditors at textbook publishers, as well as for freelance people. When writing and editing talent is coupled with expertise in specific fields such as science, history, computers, and so on, it becomes a very marketable commodity.

College Textbooks

More than three hundred publishers compete in the lush college textbooks market. Some issue hundreds of new titles each year and maintain backlists of ten times that number. Included in this mix are texts about such diverse disciplines as anthropology, theater, computer science, educational psychology, and mass communications.

The very nature of the college textbook has changed dramatically in recent years. Industry analyst John Dessauer points out that today's college textbook is part of a text "package," which includes a core book, tests, solution manuals, study guides, workbooks, and teaching aids for the instructor. Dessauer also notes that a successful text package in a basic subject can have an annual volume of a hundred thousand copies.

Technology has also made a difference in the preparation of material for the college market. A publisher can deliver the "textbook" in print, as well as on-line, on CD-ROM, on film, and on interactive laser disks. One publisher uses a new system known as electronic manuscript management (EMM) to make users comfortable with the new technology. Of course, new technology demands retraining for editors and writers, and invites the participation of new people familiar with this environment.

An advantage, too, for job seekers in the whole field of educational publishing is the diversified location of publishers across the country. There are, for example, major publishers in Belmont, California; Carthage and Deerfield, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Englewood Cliffs and Old Tappan, New Jersey; and Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. In applying for internships and jobs in this field, consult the LMP.

As of this writing, in terms of size, the ranking of the largest U.S. educational publishers is as follows:
  1. Simon & Schuster Educational Publishing

  2. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

  3. Scholastic Inc.

  4. Houghton Mifflin Company

  5. McGraw-Hill/Macmillan Book Company
Dictionaries and Reference Books

One of the reference works I use is The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged. It has 315,000 entries in twenty-five hundred pages and includes fifty thousand new words and seventy-five thousand new meanings from the previous edition, which was copyrighted in 1983. This indispensable bulk of knowledge and information weighs eleven pounds. One cannot possibly author any book without this or a comparable dictionary.

The staff of The Random House Dictionary is considerable, with an editor-in-chief and managing editor at the top, ten senior editors, an assistant managing editor, five editors, three pronunciation editors, and five assistant editors. At the support level, the staff includes ten editorial assistants, ten proofreaders, four copy editors, research assistants, etymology assistants, artists, and production and design people.

Key to the preparation of a work such as The Random House Dictionary is its group of consultants on individual subjects. It lists about three hundred consultants and another fifty special consultants.

Although The Random House Dictionary is a single-volume work, many other reference books are multivolume; for example, the Encyclopedia Britannica. Reference books represent a huge investment in research and must be constantly revised. Some are issued annually; others even more frequently.

Many reference books, particularly encyclopedias, are sold by direct sales or direct mail. About 90 percent of these books are marketed to individuals, with the balance sold to schools and public libraries.

In the business field, reference books are traditionally sold by subscription. An advertising agency, for example, uses dozens of different reference books, some that are published monthly.

Textbook and reference book publishing is hardly a glamorous area. It does, however, offer job stability. The marketing phase of this field is both sophisticated and challenging.

Career Tip

There are about fifty publishers that publish a half-dozen or more computer books each year. Consider computer publishing as a career choice, especially if your training and background is oriented in this direction. Editorial salaries are higher than in general trade publishing, particularly at the entry level. Publishers are decentralized, which is significant for those who don't choose to work in New York City. Read Publishers Weekly for its twice-a- year major coverage of computer publishing. At your library consult Books in Print and, under "Computer Books," jot down the names of the publishers that publish these books. Then research these publishers in Literary Market Place for names, addresses, and other salient information about the companies.
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