Brits behind as book trade booms?

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London Book Fair

McGraw Hill Education and Cengage Learning are to merge, according to the Financial Times. The new company, which will include National Geographic Learning, will have projected cash earnings of US$3 billion. The strategy behind the merger is to expand the number of students, mostly in Higher Education, who subscribe to Cengage’s textbook subscription service, seen as a solution to the ‘affordability issue’ in Higher Education.

With all the major British ELT publishers’ increasingly focused on Higher Ed, English language publishing has taken a backseat, allowing smaller players to eat into the market. At this year’s London Book Fair, for example, the biggest ELT display we found belonged to MM publications, with two other European providers, Express and Global ELT, also having a strong presence.

Europe’s largest specialist ELT book distributor, BEBC in Bournemouth, confirmed to the Gazette that the big British publishing houses are losing EU market share to publishers who started out publishing for a local ELT market: Greece in the case of MM, Express and Global, Italy in the case of ELI and Black Cat.

“They understand the industry much better, they react faster. Express, for example, are about to publish the first course book for the Occupational English Test,” Nick Edwards of BEBC told the Gazette.

British publishers have switched away from using ELT-specialist sales people, often using the same reps for both ELT and Higher Ed. One result is that news of industry changes are not filtering back to the editorial teams. With most of the majors now already working on five-year publishing plans, the smaller, swifter players are in a better position to respond to market changes.

In the last ten years, most major British ELT publishers have concentrated almost entirely on general English course books for adults and on localised courses for overseas state school systems. With the exception of Cambridge University Press, they have also cut back on their supplementary titles.

This has allowed the European publishers to fill the gap with their own products: exam books from Global; graded readers from ELI and Black Cat; and methodology from Helbling. They then expanded their lists to include course-book publishing, particularly for younger learners in private language schools, a move which could help them gain a foothold in the UK.

Under-16s now make up half of all students coming to the UK, and the age of the youngest students has now fallen as low as three. However, only Cambridge University Press and National Geographic Learning are actively promoting products for this market, such as short summer school course books. The fast moving Europeans are anxious to fill the gap.

Meanwhile Anglo-American National Geographic Learning, now part of the Cengage McGraw Hill merger, are already the fastest-growing publisher in the BEBC charts.

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