Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Screw Textbook Publishers

I feel very fortunate in the time I have spent as an entrepreneur. Not only have I gotten to meet a great number of different people: partners, suppliers, clients, proteges, employees but I've also provided products and businesses of utility AND made money. I like think of myself as an innovator as most of my ventures have been firsts: 1st person to publish the laws of Kenya online, 1st person to launch a low cost business centre, 1st person to automate the company registration person; but I do not naively believe that I was the first one to come up with these ideas. Rather I was the first one to move from conceptual stage to actual implementation. As any real entrepreneur knows, implementation is 80% of the work.

If you regularly read this blog, you'll therefore know that when I get a new business idea I usually share it freely. No need hoarding an idea, get it out to there and then make it a race to see who can make it work first. It is with this same spirit that I'd like to share an idea I had today after a twitter chat with @ndinda_, a study on iPad tablet use improving student scores, and Kenyan textbook publishers recent intention to increase prices by 50%.

Currently the cost of purchasing new textbooks for a student in primary school costs about Sh. 5,000 (12 books) per year in public schools and upto Sh. 25,000 in private schools (where the prices are included in the fees and more books are bought). In high schools the costs are roughly 25% higher.  If these prices are increased by 50% we're looking at the lowest cost per year being Sh. 7,500 for textbooks.

Now instead of this imagine a situation where each student can get a 7" android tablet at Sh. 10,000 running an e-book reader, plus plenty other learning apps. Not only will the parents spend less money on textbooks  (on a 3 year use of the tablet) but their children would score 25% higher, and be ready for digital age right from the beginning.

Bored? I'm sure you've had or heard the same idea. What makes what I'm saying any different, what is special or workable about my idea?

To get this to work you need to sort out two things:

  1. Uniformity in deployment of the hardware - you can't count on parents to buy their own tablets you need to get the school to do it for them. Start with private schools who have much greater flexibility in their approach and routinely include textbook costs in the fees. The schools will also need an incentive - simple, offer them money. Let them make a margin on the hardware (which will also allow them to justify the WiFi you'll ask them to setup).
  2. Textbooks in e-book format. Of course you can try and get the existing kenyan publishers on board with the project but I suspect that would be a long, arduous, and ultimately unsuccessful mission. There is too much money they risk losing by giving in to something they don't control - not to mention their general conservatism.  The alternative is to get individual publishers who are trying to break into the market or screw publishers all together and put up free textbooks - widely available online. I can personally attest to the fact that the depth of quality of free textbooks beats many KIE publications hands down. This might be another reason to approach private schools first who are not subject to government control. After publishers see their sales crashing through the floor, they might just wise up and join you.
Is it easy? No. Is it possible?.... that's a rhetoric question.

When SoftLaw started converting over 50,000 pages of the text of the laws of Kenya into soft copy, many people laughed at us and told us we were on a fools errand. Now we get to have the last laugh as the cost of consuming all the laws of Kenya has dropped from as high as Sh.300,000 to Sh.0.

Can the same be done on textbooks? Of course. Am I going to be in the race? Hell Yeah!

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