In 2013, Magnolia Media Network (formerly Future of Ink) listed online courses among its top ten digital publishing trends. That same year, the Independent Book Publishers Association mentioned Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in its Independent magazine as a rapidly growing industry. The article went on to suggest that publishers embracing online education were likely to see less disruption in their textbook sales. And then again in 2014, Digital Book World’s Ten Bold Predictions for Ebooks and Digital Publishing mentioned verticals in general as a viable way for publishers to become known for specializations.
For those who need a reminder, “verticals” refers to vertical markets, which are business models that allow publishers to use their existing content and expertise to create new revenue streams in an effort to further engage their current community while reaching a new audience.
An online course is only one example of a vertical, but it’s one that has become increasingly more common. Shambala started offering online multi-week courses in October 2013. Simon & Schuster launched its online class website, Simonsays.com, in January 2015. Rodale launched Rodale U in March 2015. Hay House launched Hay House Radio, which airs live seminars, in 2005, and later launched videos on its website, Healyourlife.com. Wiley also offers online courses for some of its titles. F+W offers webinars and courses through its Craft University and Artists Network TV.
The difference between a webinar and a course, F+W President Sara Domville clarified for me, is the length of time. Webinars are generally 60 minutes and offer an introduction to a subject while courses are more in-depth and for a longer period of time, e.g. multiple sessions over a 4-8 week period at F+W.
Thought Industries CEO Barry Kelly told Publishing Executive that he believed publishers began developing online learning programs because their access to the content, the credible sources, as well as the built-in marketing and distribution channels made it an obvious plan for success. Even more importantly, the program ensures that “learners are engaged longer and are getting a high-quality experience with the brand, publisher, or even a product,” thereby boosting the reputation of the author and publisher.