How & why to research your textbook market
Because having a market for your idea is one of the most important criteria for publishing your textbook, it is important to research your textbook’s “market promise” before contacting a publisher, said Mary Ellen Lepionka, author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook. A textbook’s market promise, she said, “is a clearly identifiable audience for your textbook, such as all undergraduates taking organic chemistry.”
“By spending time researching the market for your textbook, you will be able to identify your customers’ wants and needs; make useful contacts; learn what to tell a publisher about your book; appreciate the marketplace challenges your book will face; become a market savvy author — which will not fail to impress the publisher; and last but not least, your research will help you commit – or not – to your project,” said Lepionka.
The larger the audience for your textbook, the better, she said: “A large market has many potential customers among faculty members, whose course assignments give them control over a large number of textbook adoptions. Thus, large markets are the most competitive and the most lucrative for publishers and authors.”
The largest markets today are for introductory textbooks, said Lepionka: “Despite rumors of market saturation there is usually room for a new introductory text in any field. The reason is that a good intro – one that your students can read and like and learn from, that covers adequately material you regard as important, and that is revised often enough to remain current – is hard to find.”
To learn about the market for your text idea, she said, do your homework. Make it your business to know about potential publisher’s products. Before contacting a publisher about your manuscript, acquire and study the publisher’s catalogue of books in your field, she said. Order examination copies of any books that seem like the one you want to write or are in the same market.
“Do not be concerned if the publisher already has a similar book or one that is pitched to the same audience,” Lepionka said. “Large houses, especially in this era of corporate mergers, often have several directly competing titles that are marketed successfully in successive copyright years.”
In addition, study other companies’ textbooks intended for your book’s course. “Those books are real competition, and your publisher will want to know how your textbook will attract market share away from competitors’ titles,” she said.
Publishers’ websites are the best sources of information about external competition, Lepionka said. You can find them directly or via online publisher directories. Other online sources for learning about textbook markets, she said, include:
- The higher education division of the Association of American Publishers (click “Higher Education” in the right sidebar).
- A source of textbook reviews is Monument Information Resource (MIR), which provides (free to faculty members) detailed market information on leading college textbooks.
- Higher education directories, which be used to locate colleges and departments where your course is taught, such as U.S. University, by State: www.utexas.edu/world/univ/state. Survey their course syllabi, especially at top schools for your subject.
- The National Association of College Stores (NACS), which publishes industry information on college textbook markets.
- Read the following article on the American Textbook Council (ATC) website.
Other ways to conduct your own market research, said Lepionka, include:
- Browsing through textbooks at your university’s campus store.
- Checking out textbooks at Amazon or other online retailers.
- Asking your published colleagues.
- Writing a blog or starting an online discussion group as a forum for developing your textbook.
- Visiting websites of professional organizations and publications in your field. Survey their indexes for information and contacts you can use.
- Visiting the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education. Textbook authors should know the latest news, developments and trends in their subject area. A prospective publisher will want to know how your textbook will reflect these developments and trends.
“Also, critically survey sites that serve as advocates for textbook authors, such as TAA’s,” said Lepionka.