The eBookstore as a Community: an Interview with Neal Goff

While there are many online places for educators to purchase eBooks, Neal Goff, President of Egremont Associates and AEP Board President-elect, wanted to create more than a new shopping destination for teachers. In an interview with AEP, Goff talks about his plans for his new eBookstore K12TeacherStore.com and how he is building a bridge between educators and publishers through an online community focused on digital instructional materials.

Q. Why did you decide to create an eBookstore? What need did you see in the industry that you are trying to fill?

Obviously, more and more teachers are looking to use digital materials in the classroom. And while eBooks are available to teachers in a number of places, very few eBookstores are designed to make it really easy for teachers to find what they are looking for.

Q. Beyond selling eBooks, what is the goal of the store? What type of dialogue do you hope to create between publishers and educators regarding digital materials?

What I hope to do at K12TeacherStore.com is not just provide products that teachers can use but also provide a lot of useful information to them. In addition, we are building in feedback loops from educators to get a better handle on what they want so that we can refine the offering over time.

We are working very closely with the social networking site edWeb.net, where I host a community called Exploring eBooks for K-12, which now has more than 1,000 members. There are a lot of links between the two sites, and we have an ongoing dialog with educators at edWeb through the community’s blog and discussion forums. The whole idea is that K12TeacherStore.com is not just a bookstore; it’s part of a larger community.

I do hope, of course, that many of the community members will end up being  customers, and it’s clear to me after only a week in business that the store will feed new members to edWeb. The store will also distribute a few newsletters, and we’ll be holding online events at edWeb to give educators a chance to talk to each other about eBook-related issues.  In fact, I’m hosting an online chat at edWeb on Friday, April 29, at noon EDT on the topic “eBooks in Schools and Libraries: How, When, in What Formats — and at What Cost?” (To attend, go to http://www.instantpresenter.com/edWeb10.)

So, over time, the plan is to build what I think of as a 360-degree community of educators interested in eBooks.

Q. In an article with Reuters, one publisher talks about apps as the future of publishing–not eBooks. Do you see eBooks (PDFs, enhanced, etc.) as the future of educational publishing or a combination of apps working with eBooks?

I think it will be a combination. In fact, downloading of PDFs is a fairly low-tech way of bringing eBooks into the classroom. We’re seeing more and more publishers create enhanced PDFs with more interactivity as well as truly interactive eBooks that come closer to being apps. The dirty little secret, though, is that PDF downloads will probably continue to dominate in the short-term because the infrastructure for managing digital content across multiple devices in schools has not yet been built out.

Q. What do you think is the next step in the evolution of eBooks?

In the consumer world, the Kindle still is the dominant platform for eBooks. Although it’s developing, the retail marketplace for non-Kindle eBooks has not really been built out yet. The big unsolved problem related to eBooks in schools, though, is how to populate multiple devices with the right content. Right now, when a school decides to buy a hundred Kindles or iPads, someone has to sit down with each one and load up the content one device at a time. It makes much more sense for the hardware provider to deliver the hardware with the content pre-loaded, customized by student — or at least by grade. I’ve yet to hear of an elegant solution to this problem, although I know a few people are working on it.

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