November 11, 2011
It will come as no surprise that we at Eleven Learning like the number eleven. When we have our weekly meetings, we rate our progress on a scale from 1 to 11. It’s good silly fun. Heck, we named ourselves after a joke in a movie.
So when we looked at our calendars and realized that 11-11-11 was coming up, we suspected that this was a rare event: a quick consultation with a mathematician friend confirmed that it only happens once a century. Some folks in the Valley have declared it Nerd New Year and are throwing a block party.
A different 11-11-11 that happens every year is Veterans Day. (There is no apostrophe: ‘Veterans’ is attributive, not possessive.) Our government likes to mess with the dates of holidays so we can have long weekends. Veterans Day is important enough that it escapes this fate. Here’s why: in 1918, the First World War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. After 1567 days, a conflict that killed somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of the planet’s population was finally over.
About a decade ago I was walking through a midsize college town on my way to a meeting. The churchbell started ringing on the hour, and I began to hurry because I was running late. But it didn’t stop ringing, and I realized that everything in the downtown area had. just. stopped.
For one minute.
Like many entrepreneurs, I’m blessed with a healthy ego, and I tend to look at a lot of things and think, “I could do that.” I have a ton of respect for the people who do things that I know I cannot. To them I wish a happy Veterans Day.
August 25, 2011
I’ve never met Rob, so I only know him through his work (and through his colleagues at Xplana). Rob has been THE thought leader on topics such as the future of textbooks and learning management systems. My friends in edtech pass around his blog posts all the time. This is a real loss, and I hope he pops up somewhere else soon. And Rob, if you happen to read this, you’re always welcome to do a Guest Lecture post here!
A few months back, Rob made a video in which he laid out the future of the textbook industry far more clearly than I ever could. If you’re in tl;dr mode, the part about Eleven Learning starts 53 seconds in.
August 22, 2011
When I was growing up, my friend’s dad told him that the best part of having kids was naming them: it was all downhill from there.
I didn’t take many parenting lessons from that guy, but I’ll give him credit on this one. Naming stuff is a blast. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
How We Named Eleven Learning
We get asked this all the time. To everyone’s surprise, we spent much more time worrying about the second word than the first. We like ‘Learning’ a lot more than ‘Publishing’, ‘Education’, and the other words that legacy publishers use to brand themselves. Learning is something you do, not something that happens to you.
As for ‘Eleven’, that was easy. It’s one louder:
The new name for our short-form textbooks is…
When announced our intention to publish shorter, focused textbooks, we knew we’d need a quick way to describe them. That led us to set up a poll, and the feedback you gave us was fantastic. One educator pointed out that ‘razorbook’ was a very masculine name that might alienate half the planet’s population. That hadn’t crossed my mind: we were thinking of Occam’s Razor. ‘Razorbook’, for what it’s worth, came in dead last.
The winner-by-a-landslide is Picobooks. In the SI scale, the prefix pico- means something that’s 10-12 of a whole. (This is either one billionth or one trillionth, depending on whether or not you’re a native English speaker.) We’re saving ‘zeptobook’ and ‘yoctobook’ for our next project.
One thing we haven’t finalized is how to pronounce the name: is it “pie-ko” or “pea-ko”? (Off-topic: to my surprise, orange pekoe tea is pronounced “peck-o”.) This is a subject of much internal debate on our team—it’s me against everyone else—and the internet does not speak with one voice on this matter, either.
The Latest Naming Project
A few days ago I was speaking with someone who loved what we were doing but questioned why were still calling them ‘textbooks’. To her, textbooks are giant, static, linear, and print-only. And that’s not what picobooks are about at all. We just haven’t thought of something better: “Contextualized curriculum-driven learning objects” doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Anybody have any suggestions?
July 29, 2011
As my colleague Stephen mentioned a few weeks back, we’re launching a new series of short-form textbooks. Feel free to read his post to see the full description—or if you’re interested in writing a book for us—but the short version is that we want books that are very focused on specific topics. Our authors get to write the interesting parts and don’t have to give equal weight to the boring stuff. Our books are not attempting to be all things to all people; instead, they’re exactly what some people want.
We need your help
Part of what makes Eleven Learning different is crowdsourcing. It’s how we peer review our books, and as you might recall, it’s also how we selected our slogan. So now it’s time to name our new line of books. Here are our options. Vote early and often. If you have a better suggestion, please add it to the comments below.
One more thing: we decided against artsy, clever names that required explanation. We’re looking for a name that a potential author will see and think, “Ah, I know exactly what they mean!”
I’ll finish off by sharing how we ended our previous poll: everything still holds true:
As you no doubt expect, we don’t cross-my-heart-hope-to-die swear to follow the results of this poll. If somebody suggests something that’s absolutely brilliant, we might use that instead. So consider this fair warning that we reserve the right to claim ownership to any slogans people suggest in the comments below. (That’s Eleven Learning-style legalese for you, folks.) And if we notice themes in what people like that aren’t reflected in the final outcome, we might pick something else. Or we might just pull rank.
June 30, 2011
We at Eleven Learning are officially announcing our intention to publish a series of short-form textbooks. I say “officially” because it’s something we’ve discussed internally for a while, but we haven’t pulled the trigger until now. Since it’s possible that we could un-decide to do this, I’m going public with a call for authors before my colleagues can stop me. Muahaha.
So what, you might ask, is a “short-form textbook?” Here to explain, without further ado, are my good friends Bullet 1 and Bullet 2:
- Short-form textbooks are tightly-focused texts that capture the essence of a well-defined subject area. 100-300 pages should be sufficient for a deep dive on a particular field. Many disciplines have a dominant, 1000-page textbook that is still weak in certain areas: a short-form textbook can serve as a companion to fill that gap. Unlike the ‘concise’ editions published by conventional publishers, our shorter titles will be no less rigorous than a standard text: they will feature the pedagogy, exercises and problem sets found in a bigger book.
- This is the approach that we’re asking authors to take: think about how you would distill your expertise into a textbook that you could use to give your Thanksgiving dinner guests a meaningful understanding of a particular subject.
So, who wants to be a short-form textbook author?! Before you answer that, here are a couple more bullets:
- We’re an open source publisher
- We publish under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 3.0 license (CC-BY-NC-SA)
- This means that there will always be a free version of your book available. We charge money for premium print and online versions of the book;
- Like traditional publishers, we pay royalties on the sales of those premium versions;
- Unlike traditional publishers, we view our authors as partners, so we pay much higher royalty rates. As high as 25%, depending on sales.
- We provide editorial and marketing expertise
- Your manuscript will be part of our peersourcing peer review process, done online in collaboration with potential adopters of your book;
- Working with both you and the reviewers, we help spread the word about your book to the instructors in your field.
- We are currently recruiting authors for books in computing, math, and social sciences. We’re happy to entertain other ideas if you want to make a case for them.
Still interested?! Good! The last set of bullets cover what you should provide so we can consider your idea:
- An outline that is broken out to at least the “A” heads (major sections within a chapter);
- A 1-paragraph description of the content of each chapter;
- An overview of the audience for the book, and the course(s) it might be used in;
- A quick comparison to current titles on the market, and the gap it’s filling;
- A brief overview of any special features, pedagogy, problem sets, etc.
Questions? Need more info? Want to submit an outline? Email me, and together we’ll solve the Textbook Problem.
April 28, 2011
Before the end of the month is upon us, I wanted to update our Kind Readers on some of the topics we discussed in previous entries. (I’ll be nice and give you a break from discussing peersourcing in this post. I promise.)
- A while back I noted that “stealing textbooks” was the search term that most commonly led people to our site. You guessed it: it still is. The irony is that, since our titles are open source, it’s impossible to steal them.
- We’ve changed offices. Although it hardly seems possible, we’ve moved even closer to the Central Square subway station, shaving our commutes by 30 seconds.
- The last time we mentioned Seth Godin, he was swearing off the traditional trade publishers. This time, he offers a critique of something closer to home: the Bizarro World that is textbook publishing. (Yes, his post is several months old. That’s why I labelled this post “housekeeping” and not “breaking news”.) I want to add two thoughts:
- Big Publishers encourage the convolutedness he describes: it acts as a barrier to entry against their traditional rivals, the second-tier publishers that play by the old rules.
- We are, of course, out to change all this.
January 24, 2011
Hopefully you read the title of this post to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s masterpiece “New York, New York.” We’re all about the Big Apple because we received some excellent news last Friday: Eleven Learning has been invited to participate in the Startup Showcase at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference on February 15.
Now in its 5th year, Tools of Change is one of the premier industry events. It brings together a diverse group of professionals who are actively working to shape the future of publishing. The Startup Showcase is new for 2011 and will feature twenty or so companies that highlight the creativity and variety of the industry. We’re very excited to be a part of it, and we look forward to getting feedback on progress we’ve made.
We’ll be in New York on the 15th and 16th of February, so if you want to grab coffee, please drop us a line.
January 18, 2011
When we originally developed the editorial plan for Eleven Learning, our strategy was to focus on publishing in math and computer science. Both disciplines offer many great opportunities to publish up and down the curriculum…places that The Big Publishers can’t or won’t touch, but for which there is a clear need for good textbooks.
We decided to focus on math first. Our plan was to round up the cream of the free and open source math textbooks, convert them to XML (we store books in this format so that they’re easily portable to print, the web, at so on), and put them into our peersourcing process.
We found some great books, including Jim Hefferon’s Linear Algebra, Grinstead and Snell’s Introduction to Probability, Stitz and Zeager’s College Algebra, and Edwin Connell’s Abstract Algebra. Linear Algebra went right into the peersourcing process and became our first community-reviewed title. Anticipating good things, we readied the other manuscripts.
And then…a funny thing happened on the way to the browser. We discovered that it was hard to render math in XML.
Time to Pivot
Like, REALLY hard. Though there are some tools available for rendering complex math in XML, the amount of handwork needed is significant. Put in the context of a 600-page abstract algebra book, it became clear rather quickly that despite our efforts to find an inexpensive, scalable solution, executing our math publishing strategy was going to be difficult.
So, we did what all (smart) start-ups do when confronted with these kinds of problems: we changed course. Excepting Linear Algebra, which we’re committed to publishing, we put math aside until the technology for converting it to XML improves, and we’ve redoubled our efforts at acquiring computer science titles. We’re making great progress, and if anything, CS authors have been even more receptive than their colleagues in the math world. We’re also testing the waters in the social sciences as we think about expansion in 2011.
A word to the wise for math, though: someday, we’re coming back for you. And we’re not going to be nice about it.
November 18, 2010
In case you missed it, we were recently featured in Josh Kim’s “Technology and Learning” blog over at Inside Higher Education. We were very pleased with what Josh wrote about us, and we think he got most of it right. I just want to follow up on a couple of things from the piece that I don’t think warranted being dumped into the comments section of the blog post, which has a different vibe going on.
- I can’t really argue with the description of us as a “long tail” publisher, but I prefer to think of us as an “ignored tail” publisher. Our goal is to breathe new life into the books The Big Publishers no longer touch because they are so focused on churning out the big intro books. The markets for those books still exist, and we think we can do a better job of reaching them.
- Josh makes reference in the post to The Big Publishers pricing for a “65% profit margin.” What he really should have said there is something like “up to a 65% gross profit margin,” which is more correct. None of the sales, marketing, or other overhead costs associated with each book are reflected in what Josh wrote; his description of the economics is purely focused on the editorial/production costs. Sales, marketing, etc. costs are derived from that gross profit margin and result in a lower net profit margin.
- For all intents and purposes, a “successful” textbook will be one which recoups its plate and PPB before sales get completely sucked into the black hole known as the used book market. Unit sales figures vary widely, and can’t necessarily be relied on to indicate “success” anymore.
The piece stimulated a lot of comments about our peersourcing process; if you’re an academic and would like to be a part of the ongoing peersourcing project, please get in touch. Our community is also open as a private beta test right now; people interested in joining should contact me.