Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Growth Market for Graphic Design

It's not advertising. Unless you are a tech involved in SEO. Besides Brand Advertising is probably over for most of the world of ad supported publications. Check out SeekingAlpha to sere what I mean.

The new paradigm for advertising is the early Sears Roebuck catalogs. Useful information delivered in a clear way to people who want to buy stuff.

The new opportunities are in education, health and government. Education is the one closest to my heart, so I'll talk about that here and leave health and government for another day. The next industry that is going to fall is textbooks. Everyone knows they are dumb. They don't work. The kids don't like them. The teachers don't like them. They are expensive and slow.

Consider if a really smart editor at a newspaper, say the Science editor, assembled a team to focus on science, not for daily publication to some ill defined audience called their "readers." The science editor at a good newspaper is a trained experienced professional who can translate specialized language into stories that people can understand. Kids in K - 12 are people.

The missing piece is the standards in place in formal education systems. The good news is that finally those standards are being translated into normal language. Google "Berks County Intermediate Unit Standards" and you'll get to a PDF that you have to download. Once the standards are accessible, the good journalists have exactly the right skill sets.

The remaining hard problem is inventing just the right forms that delivers the information to students in K-12 (and college, by the way.) Solving hard problems earns real value.

Go get'em. The story continues here and here and here.


  1. Yep, I seen similar standards to the Berks County grid for teaching ESL material. I think the team needed for intermediation from standards to content needs to be broader and deeper than you imply, but doable if there is sufficient scale.

    Compilation "newspapers" for young readers certainly exist now. It doesn't matter if the stories are a week or a month old; school age students, at least K-8, aren't in rhythm yet to the daily news cycle. Plus, in an age of litigiousness cum paranoia, the stories have to be vetted for age appropriate content over a broad range of "community standards", a big and complex job.

    But I agree totally that, for the right audience, the content is there, but needs a delivery system that combines enticing form with dirt simplicity.

  2. Try this for another view of commercial art, in the larger context of tangible result-driven education.


  3. Points well taken. As to stories being vetted, that could mean that the journos have to spend time understanding their audience. That's what they are supposed to do anyway. Every newspaper has an "appropriate" discourse.

    The difference is between a "compiled" newspaper as opposed to a "curated" newspaper. For compilation a computer is fine. But curatingneeds a person.

    Exactly! when you say the kids "aren't in rhythm yet to the daily news cycle" IMHO, that's one huge problem with education. The sense of time in a school vs the sense of time in the real world, is one of things kids that defines citizenship.

    As for ESL. Think of how many of the different language newspapers are looking for a new revenue stream. Then the store of dual language journalists all worried about their jobs. Then the amount of money that is poured into ESL education, that mostly doesn't work very well.

    Dirt simplicity? How about a newspaper delivered in the morning twice a week? The NYT already drops a gezillion copies in every high school in NY. Maybe they can be convinced to stop doing that..and deliver something that's useful to floks in the school, instead.

  4. Thanks for the post to the article about the subversion of liberal arts education at the Times.

    My take is that real liberal arts education has always been rare. It still exists at top tier Universities.

    My problem is that it's pretty close to defrauding the consumer to charge top dollar for the vocational education that most schools exchange for $30K+ a year.

    That's another business that is ripe for creative destruction.

  5. A system that lists fresh stories (pre-vetted for age or level specificity) in an iTunes like grid, that the students in a class can vote for, a la American Idol, then load into a format that includes appropriate pre-determined exercises, downloaded to a print center in the classroom, then distributed to the class.

    Once a routine is established that would take about 15 minutes of class time. Let's say once a week a teacher is willing to do it, for a language arts of social studies class. Given the limits of frequency and reach, is there enough potential revenue to justify the model? If a school district pays for this, what do they cut?

    Not textbooks; textbooks are not going away. There's way too much invested on all sides; the teachers, the publishers, the curriculum leaders in the school districts, the teachers' colleges, the parents. There's not enough top down incentive to change.

    Any successful scheme for this kind of publishing must come from the users, ie the kids. iTunes succeeded because it replaced the already successful Napster, et al, with a more formal, less risky, more inclusive format, at a low perceived cost. It was not supported or encouraged by parents, teachers, supervisors or record company execs. What in-place news delivery mechanism favored by students would the proposed system replace? Is there an existing end user need that it would fill, bypassing the educational structure?

  6. The problem I have with this approach is that it doesn't meet the "dead simple" criteria in an earlier post. Too much development. Too much overall. Not to say it might scale over a longer period of time, but . . .

    Re: textbooks are not going away and too much invested: Lehman Brothers, Merril Lynch, the Chicago Tribune...and probably sooner rather than later the AP.

    The top down incentive is going to come from the economy combined with continued pressures to teach kids. The infrastructure is pretty much in place. More in some places than others, but enough to scale. Meanwhile, every school district in the country has to invest more efficiently. The may not want to, but who wants to change, anyway?

    The real driver is the financial squeeze on the newspapers. Sooner or later they will look at the secure revenue stream in the textbook market. Once that happens, textbooks will disappear as quickly as investment bankers.

    Once Amazon comes out with the next Kindle the whole house of cards is going to fall.

    The good news for Print is that Print, not an e screen, is the optimal media for "compare and contrast." And "compare and contrast" is at the heart of learning.

  7. Just another thought..
    If you were a school adminstrator would you rather to have content produced by Pearson, Houghton or McGraw Hill or content produced by the folks at Reuters, the NY Times, Bloomberg or the Washington Post?

    Especially if it were up to date, fresh every week, aligned to standards and had weekly quizzes. And maybe had a page they could give to the school to publish their students' art and writing.

  8. I agree with the compare and contrast thought.

    I agree with the Kindle thought, but am not sure about the need for print. A Kindle-like device in every student's hands means a statistics collection device on every administrator's desktop. In a numbers nutty society, obsessed with measuring and accountability, there's a whole raft of powerful reasons for school districts to invest in a wired rather than print solution.

    By dirt simple, I was talking about the user (kid and teacher) experience. The infrastructure is, admittedly, way complicated, but maybe no more so than a serious Facebook app.

    BTW, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter look great. Good deeds indeed pay off.

  9. Rte the need for Print. The internet is great for niche markets. But if you have to communicate with everyone, if Print is not part of the mix, you lose.

    Your point about Kindle is right to the point. But...imagine the change in culture that a newspaper has. The Kindle is one at time. A newspaper is many at a time. That's where culture lives.

    Also, Kindle's get lost. Some kids have them. Some don't. They break. They have to be tracked. What a nightmare in a school.

    Newspapers sit quietly on the side of the desk or in the lunchroom. If you're waiting on line you scan the newspaper. Print is not only the best tool for reading. It turns out to be the best way to scan for something you didn't already know.

    As for the Kindle being dirt simple for the teachers? I guess you haven't been in a school lately.

  10. Well, no, I haven't been in a school lately, and I think you're right about a kindle-like thing being too complex at the moment. But to mirror your argument about Merrill Lynch, Lehman Bros, et al, 10 years ago the cellphone, iPod and digital camera were expensive, specialty devices for early adopters, with clumsy, nerdy online apps and little mass market appeal.

    Why is Dick Cheney in a wheel chair? What did I miss? was I too obsessed by front-page preselected by editors content?

  11. Cheney says he strained his back moving boxes. The chances of that being true? About the same as the Print is Dead folks being correct.

    Fair enough about the 10 years ago stuff. But who has ten years to wait?