Cleve compares the old internet to a pipe. We would passively consume content that was very much top-down, expert-created, static. It was a continuation of how publishing had worked for the last 500 years. Since 2002 we got what we call the new web, though it’s not new anymore. This is an open platform where we contribute, collaborate and create content. This is where need to locate ourselves as content creators, as materials designers.
The content continuum – the fundamental driving force behind the way materials design is going. On the one extreme, we have traditional publishing (the old web, the “pipe”) and on the other extreme we have a bottom-up self-publishing model. To allow this bottom-up stuff is the advent of web and web-technology. With a blog, we can publish to thousands of people, for free, in a very short space of time.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The top-down model is expert-created and high quality, but it is also a generic, one size fits all. 5 year publishing plans are normal. And it runs into a barrier. The bottom-up model is faster, up-to-date and isn’t restricted to a 5 year plan. It can be specific to language culture and student need. It is the difference between generic content and specific content, along a continuum. There are times when the top-down model is appropriate, and the one-size fits all is fine, this isn’t to knock publisher content. But there are also opportunities on the other end of the continuum, which Clive wants to look at with us.
The power of open platforms.
E.g. Encylopaedias: on the top-down side, we have Encyclopaedia Britannica, on the other end we have Wikipedia. Wikipedia contains multilingual, user-generated information, meaning that for example things that don’t have much coverage in the traditional encylopaedia can in Wikipedia. It is much more localised.
ELT also has a general to specific continuum. From General English to English for Chemical Engineers or any other ESP or more specific e.g. English only for Brazilian students. Most specific would be materials designed for an individual student to meet their needs.
From a self-publishing perspective, let’s imagine you are going to design, on your own, some materials. How do you focus what you are looking at? If you are looking at low tech, general English, that is the difficult to succeed area because that is what publishers know how to do really well and they have lots of money to put into it. If you try and make an app for General English, then it’s still difficult because you are competing against the publishers, with all their money. There are platforms you can use, but it is tough and expensive. If you move towards the more specific end of the spectrum, then making an app is still ambitious but you at least will not be competing with the publishers when you are aiming towards something more esoteric, so it is ambitious in terms of technology rather than competition. In the middle of both spectrums is the sweet spot (not too hot, not too cold), if you get more specific, then the market is much smaller e.g. English for chemical engineers, but it is needed.
There are of course exceptions to all the above. E.g. the case study that we will look at. Which is by Vicki Hollett. She started with the difficult to succeed, scary area. She already has content published in traditional models but she is doing this anyway. And her content is multi-modal. Online teaching, you tube channel, website. Her revenue model for You Tube is the advertising.
What are the success principles for Vicki Hollett?
The next case study is English Success Academy by Jaime Miller. It’s one exam. Nothing but TOEFL prep. She is engaging, has lots of videos, a well-designed website, she does one-one teaching her content is multi-modal. Her revenue model is premium price e-books.
What are her success principles?
The third case study is Deborah Capras. She wrote a book and is delivering it on Amazon. Very specific topic. Business, politics, small talk. Her revenue model is print book sales. And the mainstream publishers then took notice of her.
What are her success principles?
The final is Claire Hart. Blended English for Engineering. She used English 360 platform. There is an online component but then there are also face-face lesson plans and all the handouts you need, for the university department customers. Importantly, she copyrighted it. She can sell it by way of other channels. Claire can take the content and repurpose it into a print book on Amazon, or put it through YouTube as videos, she can use it in any way.
Her revenue model is revenue share between Claire and the platform who takes 40%. If you use a platform with a good user base, the marketing is there for you.
What are her success principles?
- Rather than thinking of self-publishing, you are thinking of developing a new product. So you are an entrepreneur. You need to think like a business person. You need to think about “sales-y things”. The hardest part is the marketing. How many videos are there on youtube? How many books are there on Amazon?
- You need to get an editor. Very important, indispensable, in order to maintain a good level of quality. Clive thinks that peer editing could be an interesting possibility. So that there is a network of self-publishers that support each other.
- You need a niche. Be the very best at one specific thing. That is the most powerful way to move forward. E.g. Ros with regards to English for Medicine. There’s a lot of ways to get specific. Combine your teaching with it. Niches are much easier to market to. Go to professional associations, look on LinkedIn. If you market to a niche, it’s not expensive, if you narrow your focus it’s not and you can do it.
- Pull everything together on a website or blog.
- Think outside the box for customers. For example, can you add value to a Business?
To summarise, the future of materials design is bottom up. That doesn’t mean top-down will disappear, but bottom up is the way forward because it can be more specific than any top-down model can be. Britannica doesn’t have the resources to produce 17 pages on Salina, Wikipedia enables that.
In the Q and A time, Sue Lyon-Jones reminds us:
“Keeping your copyright doesn’t always mean you can publish your work elsewhere. Some contracts may grant publishers exclusive rights to publish in specific formats or for a set period of time, for example. Make sure you read and understand the small print, folks!”
When you use a platform (e.g. Instagram, YouTube), lots of times you give up control. So be aware.
To contact Cleve for more information about any of this: firstname.lastname@example.org