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Tapping the Educational Market

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Does your book have educational market potential? Have elementary or high-school teachers told you that it would be appropriate as a supplement for their courses? Could it be “adopted” in junior or four-year colleges? If it’s a children’s book, have you explored the Pre-K market?

Giving tips on the wide range of educational market opportunities is a tall order for one brief newsletter article. I’ve spent my entire publishing career trying to figure out how to market and sell text, trade, medical, and professional/reference books. But here are some preliminary “how to get started” ideas that will help you determine if the educational market is right for your book without falling into nasty, expensive potholes.


Help Is at Hand

Teachers represent one of the largest professional audiences in America. And the great thing about teachers is that they are usually willing to help. (After all, that’s what they do for a living!) This means that you have a ready-made focus group and a source of market information right in your backyard. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have struggled with a marketing problem only to solve it by calling a teacher or visiting a school and talking with the people who receive, review, and decide what books will be used.

So my first piece of advice is… Develop several “up close and personal” associations with the people who are prospects for your book. This means establishing an advisory panel of educators who you can call on a regular basis to ask questions and get direction for your marketing efthe s. Hey, this activity doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money either. Taking your group of teacher advisors out to a lunch once a month can drive you a long way down that educational freeway to success. (Note to small publishers: This advice applies to you too. You need only one or two teacher advisors to benefit from this technique. We can all come up with at least one or two teachers!)


Don’t Forget the Librarians

I love librarians. I think of them as the information conduit to academic institutions. They’re a lot like you and me. They are always short staffed and under tremendous budget constraints. They have learned to accomplish wonders with just a few dollars and very little support. But the wonderful thing about librarians is that they know everything that is going on in their institutions! So if you want to learn more about marketing books to elementary schools, high schools or colleges, make a librarian one of your advisory panelists. And don’t overlook the library market as a source of both long-term sales and recommendations. Unlike many bookstore managers, librarians really care about what’s between the covers of a book and will refer new, attractive educational information to the teachers they support. Sometimes a complimentary copy in the hands of the right librarian (or a kind word) can cause an entire faculty to become aware of your book’s special strengths.


More Help Is Only an 800 Number Away


Have you spent 20-30 years marketing to educational institutions? Is your sales staff comprised of several hundred reps who call on teachers or professors? Can you tap into a marketing budget of several million dollars? If your answer isn’t yes to these three questions, you probably aren’t going to be able to compete with the really big publishers who capture state adoptions worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s best to get those grandiose ideas out of your head. But remember, you are the sly fox! You are the entrepreneur who can turn on a dime. You are the marketer who can dart in, steal a small piece of business, and then drive to the next school to grab the low hanging fruit! That’s the philosophy you should adopt. Don’t go head-to-head with the big guys; use your head and drive around the roadblocks!

This means that you need to develop a targeted direct-mail campaign and mail to just the right group of educators. Yes, the big guys are doing this too, but because “everyone’s equal in the eyes of the US Postal Service,” you also have a chance to capture a teacher’s attention.

Fortunately, several educational list compilers are interested in selling you just the right names. And they have 55 ways from Sunday to select the best list, whether you want to mail to 2,000 or 2 million. Several of these companies overlap in their market coverage, so you may need to explore the offerings of each one. Be sure to ask each company for a copy of the current catalog because, along with “lists of lists,” these catalogs contain valuable data about the size and scope of the market and tips on the best way to reach specific audiences. Also ask about seminars, which many of these companies offer in different parts of the country. These seminars are an inexpensive way to find out even more about how to market to the specific educational audience you are trying to hit.

The list companies I recommend are:

Pre-K and Elementary:

Mike Wilson List Counsel, 800/445-2089, and Market Data Retrieval, 800/333-8802.

Elementary and High School:

Quality Education Data, 800/525-5811, and Market Data Retrieval, 800/333-8802.

College and University:

Market Data Retrieval, 800/333-8802, and MSGI Direct (formerly CMG Direct), 800/677-7959.


Mailing Piece Magic!

After you identify the right group of teachers or professors, you need to create a first-rate mailing piece. Remember, the big guys do mailings too. They also have sales reps who call on teachers, send free samples, and talk with them face-to-face about why their books would be best for courses. So you need to be very creative in order to compete. Unless you have a background in advertising and promotion, I encourage you to find a good freelance marketer or small ad agency in your area that can help you.

To compete with the big guys, you have to sprinkle a good deal of magic fairy dust on your promotion piece. Obviously, if you are marketing a specialized professional/reference or medical text, your fairy dust has to be of a different consistency than if you’re marketing to the elementary/high-school market. But the bottom line is that you must distinguish your brand and what you have to offer in order to capture the attention of your audience.


How do you know if you’ve got the right mail piece that will capture the attention of your audience?


Go back to your educational advisory panel and ask them! Make sure they agree that your message is targeted appropriately and that you are not too cute or too formal in your presentation. And don’t overlook your author. Authors who are academics may also be good sources for free counsel and suggestions about what to say and how to present it.

Remember, too, that educators want a message directed specifically to them. Librarians need to know that you have a library binding and a complete index for your book. They want to see the full Table of Contents, to know whether the book has a glossary, and to be told how many illustrations and photographs it includes. Professors want to know the title of the course this book is appropriate for as well as the tone and point of view that the author takes. School teachers want to make sure that the reading level is appropriate for their students, that the book has been “piloted” in classrooms, and that the claims you make in your mailing piece are true! Including endorsements with the educators’ names and titles listed is always a good idea.

But the single most important part of your mailing package is the bounce-back card (See below). The bounce-back card is a way to determine who will receive the “examination copies.”


Big Dividends When It All Works

As you can see, it’s not a good idea to speed onto the educational marketing on-ramp without a good road map and without first doing some analysis about whether this road is right for you. But if you have the right product and you are able to place your information in front of this audience in a creative, attention-getting way, the education market can pay big dividends. And, unlike the trade market, returns are low, discounts are reasonable, and the audience really cares about what’s between the covers, not just what the cover looks like and the discount!

Robin Bartlett is the Director of Marketing and Sales for the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia, PA. A former member of the PMA Board of Directors, he is responsible for planning and organizing PMA University and contributes frequently to it and to the

“PMA Newsletter.”Readers are invited to e-mail questions to him at rbbartlett@aol.com.

How to Create

the All-Important Bounce-Back Card

by Robin Bartlett


You’ve decided to do an educational mailing (for further background on the educational market, see page __), and you’ve written the letter and designed the brochure. You’ve discussed all the features and benefits for your book and included a full Table of Contents and an author bio. You’ve also listed the number of photos and illustrations in the book and indicated that you have an extensive index. In addition, you’ve cited some important endorsements that the book has received together with the names and titles of the endorsers. And now you’re ready to start tapping the education market for your book with a smashing direct-mail package. You’re shooting for “adoptions.” This means that you want teachers or professors to review your book and, if they like it, to order copies for the students in their classes. If a lot of students are taking their courses, you stand to profit handsomely.

But wait! There’s one more item to include, and it’s the most important part of your direct-mail package–the bounce-back card!

If you’re marketing books to an educational audience (elementary, high-school, college, university, or medical teachers/professors), you will need to send out “examination copies.” There’s no way around it. Sending exam copies is a cost of doing business in this market. (And, no, you can’t ask that the book be returned if it is not adopted and, no, you can’t charge the professor for the book!)

Sending out free copies for adoption consideration can be very expensive. However, if you design your bounce-back card carefully and thoughtfully, you can control the number of freebies that go out. This will also place you in an excellent position to follow up with those teachers/professors who are ideal candidates for adoption.

The bounce-back card is a form that the teacher or professor fills out and mails (or faxes) back to you to request a free copy of your book. Here are some tips for creating it and for evaluating responses.

1. Don’t pay the postage.

I know that having a “BRC” or Business Reply Card where you pay the return postage is a standard principle of good direct-mail, but I recommend that you NOT pay the postage. Why? Well, making the teacher/professor hunt up a first-class stamp and pay the postage is a small price to pay and a small indicator of how serious this person is in requesting an exam copy. Will a teacher/professor who isn’t willing to pay the postage be willing to review your book seriously when it arrives?

2. State that “all blanks must be completed.”

The only way you have to control the distribution of a free copy is to make the teacher/professor provide full and complete information about the course he/she is teaching. If they are not willing to do this, you should not be willing to send the free book.

3. Ask for the name, complete address, phone, fax, and e-mail.

You have every right to receive all of this information and you are going to need it to follow up since you don’t have 200 reps making sales calls for you.

4. Ask for the teacher/professor’s title.

Is this person the department chair, a full professor, assistant professor, adjunct, TA, or part-time? Usually, only full professors and assistant professors have authority to select a book for use in a course. All the others use the book that the department head has selected.

5. Find out whether a committee or individual makes the decision.

If it’s an individual decision, you will need to follow up with only one teacher/professor. If it’s a committee decision, you need to know who the committee chair is, whether to send books to all committee members and, if so, what their names are. Be sure to ask for all this information.

6. Get the adoption date.

This date gives you some idea of when the committee or individual will make a decision on the adoption for the course. Backward planning from this date will help you to schedule your follow-up calls.

7. Ask for the title of the course.

Look to see whether there is a fit between the course being taught and the content of your book. If the fit’s not there, don’t send the book!

8. Find out how many students are in the course and how many sections of it are taught.

It’s important, of course, to know whether the adoption would mean selling 30 copies or 300.

9. Ask what the likelihood of adoption is (Excellent, Good, Slim, or None).

This is my favorite question. Be sure to ask it. It’s amazing how many teachers/professors will request an exam copy and still check the Slim or None boxes. Obviously, you don’t send books to these people!

10. Get information on the school’s bookstore–the name, phone number, text buyer’s name.

Then, if you get the adoption, you’ll be able to contact the store and advise them on how to place orders.

Now for the most important part of the card–the signature! Here’s the statement I like to include and ask the requesting teacher/professor to sign. Note that by signing his/her name, the teacher/professor makes a commitment to review the examination copy when it arrives. This is the minimum commitment you should expect from anyone who wants to consider your book for use in a class.

Upon receipt of the complimentary copy, I agree to review your book and consider it for adoption. If I adopt the book, I will contact the bookstore and request that they order the book in quantity from you. If this book is positively reviewed but not adopted, I agree to recommend it to the library for purchase.

Signed: __________________________________


Robin Bartlett is the Director of Marketing and Sales for the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia, PA. He is a former member of the Board of Directors for PMA and is responsible for planning and organizing PMA University. Bartlett is a frequent contributor to the “PMA Newsletter” and to PMA University.


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