If change is good, then the Educational Paperback Association, whose members serve the school and library market, must be doing really well, because the 35-year-old organization just completed a year marked by change. At a time of consolidation throughout various segments of the book business, the EPA broadened its base in 2009, absorbing the American Wholesale Booksellers Association, which had dwindled to a few regional wholesalers. Now EPA has begun courting wholesalers of e-books and other digital media. And as part of its outreach, the EPA is completing a year-long transition to a new name, the Educational Book & Media Association, which will become official at the annual meeting in Tucson, January 26—29.
“Educational wholesalers are growing,” said EPA president Neil Jaffe, who also serves as president of Booksource, a St. Louis, Mo.-based wholesaler that ceased its retail business at the end of 2004. “Educational wholesaling is not about what books are hot. We do a tremendous amount of finding books for school classrooms and libraries, and we provide a lot of other services, like labeling and sorting” Jaffe said. “Trade publishers are really not in the business of selling direct to schools. Our members have relationships with the 15,000 school districts.”
Jaffe anticipates a slow transition to digital books in the educational marketplace. “From my perspective, schools are not asking for it. We keep talking about e-books, e-books, e-books. But I think there’s going to be a 15-year window for print. The $3.95 Huck Finn is just not that expensive.” He predicted that sales of e-books and p-books will grow in tandem, but as the name change reflects, some EPA members have already begun embracing digital media. For example, Perfection Learning in Logan, Iowa, an educational publisher and distributor that also publishes some textbooks and whose senior v-p and COO, Dick Tinder, was past president of EPA, has been selling hi-lo e-books through Follett Digital Content Delivery for several years.
Part of the problem for wholesalers looking to move forward with digital media is that many school districts still rely on old technology. “As recently as two years ago,” noted EPA president-elect Dan Walsh, COO of Children’s Plus in Beecher, Ill., “we were selling cassettes to schools. That’s the equipment they have.” As he sees it, an affordable device and a universal platform are key before e-books become accepted in schools and school libraries. He said that the role of the wholesaler will continue to be that of an educational consultant. An editor might choose to publish a book because of its appeal to retailers, without thinking of the curriculum tie-ins, which is what educational wholesalers do, he explained.
Trade publishers like EPA board member Brian Kelleher, children’s and educational specialist for Simon & Schuster’s field channel, are pleased with the name change for other reasons. He will no longer have to explain to his colleagues that the EPA markets more than paperbacks. Misnomer or no, he calls the EPA and its annual meeting “terrifically valuable. I walk into that room, and I’ve got pretty much my whole library and educational market in one place—Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Follett down to the smaller wholesalers.”
When it comes to using e-books in education, Kelleher says, “Everyone’s feeling their way. As a trade publisher, our conversation on digital books has been mostly in retail. The other piece of the digital thing,” he adds, “is Web content.” Last year Simon & Schuster relaunched all its Web sites and has the capacity to offer rich content, which it can host on wholesalers’ sites.
In many respects, the new EPA name reflects an upheaval in the marketplace, not unlike the paperback revolution of the 1960s that led Jerry Ludington with Ludington News Company in Detroit, and recently retired executive director Marilyn Abel, then educational sales manager of NAL, to form the organization. Although much has changed in the industry, the goals of the founders remain the same: to knock down the walls between publishers and wholesalers and to help members do their business better.