The Challenge of Text Book Writing
Business to Business: As a business to business product, it’s a complex task to create a product that satisfies the needs of the gatekeepers (Academics who set the text) and wants of the end users (students who pay for the text). The balance between the need of the academic and student is under researched in many aspects – for example, are photos and colour illustrations needed to break up the text and make it interesting, or are the texts just not being sufficiently interesting, and the demand for pictures is a symptom of a bigger problem? Other problems exist with the lack of market data on what supplemental materials are used, useful and what supplements are problematic and adoption stoppers. Since the text is chosen by the lecturer, targeting to the students also requires some finesse – writing a readable and enjoyable text can fall flat where the lecturer perceives the text as “too lightweight” to be credible simply because they believe texts should appear difficult.
You have to be in it for art, not the money: Selling 2500 copies at 10% royalty sounds great – until you calculate that out at $8 per book, over three years, split between authors, and then taxed as a payment beyond our salaries… You don’t write textbooks to retire on the earnings unless you’re Kotler, and he hasn’t exactly retired now has he?
Is it teaching or research? The Dann and Dann franchise are firm believers in the power of academic research, and incorporate new content, original research and peer reviewed work into their texts. With SIM1.0, original material developed in Stephen’s PhD thesis was first published into the textbook as a way of ensuring cutting edge material was included into the text book. With the journal article production cycle nearing three years from submission to publication, the Danns have found it easier and faster to release new content into the textbooks – Competitive Marketing Strategy was commenced on in 2005, and on the shelves in 2007. This was half the time it takes for a paper to make it through the review and revision processes for a journal article submitted to most of the Tier 2 publications. Similarly, the majority of Dann and Dann texts have been subjected to a blind peer review process to ensure the content is contemporary, relevant and accurate, and still turned around inside a three year time frame.
We even documented that original research of the book, and the publications directly tied to the work we generated through writing it – six original models/analysis, and two journal articles from the work.
Yet the Australian Federal Government regards anything with a set of questions in the back of the book as non-research, despite the book following the same rigorous guidelines for peer review as expected of conference papers and journal articles.
We had our Competitive Marketing Strategy text denied as a research book because the National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication Data listed it as “Marketing – Textbooks.”. No other reason, as we met every single requirement for research, and research led work, only to be told that a classification scheme for which we have no say and no input determined that our work was not ‘research’.
You’re not going to get the support of the Administration: Most of the time the Danns have written their textbooks are around their dayjob commitments, and periodically, despite of orders from senior management to cease production. I was once commended on the achievement of receiving a glowing textbook review in the Times Higher Education Supplement and then cautioned to never do that again and ordered to stop writing books immediately. Said advice was ignored, and I don’t work at that University anymore. That’s no a coincidence either – the university sector wants textbooks to be written, but wants other people who aren’t their staff to be doing the writing.
The Concluding Thoughts
Textbook writing was immensely rewarding for the depth of knowledge you gain in the area, and the reward of actually paving the way for others to teach, and for giving voice to new ideas and knowledge. It’s just something you have to want to do for reasons other than career or finances, since it doesn’t really help either these days. Which is why we stopped – you can fight the future by barreling into a brick wall for only so long, and even our track record of wall breaking innovation eventually met with a wall just one version number higher than what we had at our disposal.