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K-12 Digital, Print Sales Surging for Education Publishers

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The school publishing industry appears to be reaping benefits from rebounding state and local budgets, increased demand for materials aligned to the common core, and the continued evolution from print to digital products.

Sales for print and digital instructional materials in schools jumped 25 percent in September and 9 percent in October over the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Overall, year-to-date sales for 2013 were up 7 percent over the previous year.

Those numbers represent a significant turnaround from the nadirs of the "Great Recession," noted Jay Diskey, the executive director of the pre-K-12 learning group for the association. He outlined the sales resurgence recently in a webinar arranged by the Copyright Clearance Center, a Massachusetts organization which describes itself as a global rights broker for the licensing of content.

The association's sale data is based on real, not estimated, monthly revenue of K-12 educational publishers, Diskey told Education Week. The organization has been collecting the information since the 1970s.

"We haven't been in the 7 percent [growth] territory since 2005," Diskey said during the presentation. "It's been eight years of pretty much a drought."

In 2010, shortly after the official end of the nation's recession, sales of instructional materials crept up about 1 percent. But they plunged 12 percent in 2011, and fell 15 percent in 2012, according to the association.

(Economic downturns tend to have a prolonged, negative impact on school funding, partly because of K-12 systems' reliance on sources of revenue, such as property taxes, that are slow to provide fiscal relief.)

But now, several factors have ripened the climate for spending on instructional materials, and are likely to continue to do so in the near term, he said. Economic conditions are improving in the states, easing the money flow in K-12 systems. States and districts are looking for materials that will help them meet the demands of the common core standards and tests (despite strong resistance in some quarters to the common core).

In addition, school officials have also become increasingly focused on finding and buying resources that can provide "personalized" learning for students through digital means, as well as blended learning, Diskey explained in his presentation.

Interest in creating new teacher-evaluation systems, and early-childhood education, among other factors, could also shape the market, he said. (Education Week recently looked at the surge in the market for K-12 testing products, driven by the common core and the evolution of interim, formative, and other types of assessments.)

The overall market for K-12 instructional resources stands at about $9 billion, Diskey said. That's a big number by some standards, though the association official said it represents less than 1 percent of public spending on K-12 in the United States.

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