No textbook answers to ongoing contraction in education industry
FUTURE PROOF: Folens:Educational publisher Folens has battled to improve efficiency and recently announced 25 new jobs in online and mobile learning
IT WAS SPRING 2008 when educational publisher Folens first felt recession bite. Having provided educational textbooks to generations of Irish schoolchildren and their teachers, demand suddenly hit a wall.
“What we saw immediately was that where teachers had discretionary products on their booklists, they disappeared,” says Folens chief executive John Caddell. “There was an immediate contraction in that part of the business.”
Folens was founded by Belgian teacher Albert Folens in the 1950s as a result of demand from other teachers for his notes. The business has since grown to provide textbooks at primary and post-primary level and is the largest supplier of educational materials to teachers in Ireland.
The annual cycle of book-buying hit a speed bump on entering the 2009 school year, with both schools and parents tightening the purse strings.
Not only was spend on discretionary materials cut, but book rental schemes and second-hand book sales, always a feature of the industry, became more widespread.
“They’ve always existed so it wasn’t that it was a new phenomenon – but they just became more commonplace,” says Caddell.
Folens responded with a price freeze, which four years later is still in place despite input increases in the price of paper, which the company has chosen to absorb, says Caddell.
“But we’ve made cost savings and have done our utmost to become as efficient as humanly possible in how we run our business,” he says.
Alongside the costs associated with producing, printing, marketing and distributing books, he says the key input to Folens books are the teachers and authors who write them.
“We’re fortunate that our work with all of them is on a percentage basis, so it remains variable from a business perspective,” says Caddell.
Overall, he estimates the education industry has contracted by about 15 per cent in the past five years. But in addition to its recession strategy of cutting costs and freezing book prices, Folens has also been investing in its range.
In 2009, the company became the first educational publisher in Ireland to deliver content and textbooks for teachers online, through its Folensonline division. The materials include video, animation and audio clips to support teaching.
Earlier this year, Folens launched a selection of post-primary student eBooks available on Android, iOS (iPad only) and Windows devices. All its student eBook content is available offline too, including embedded audio and video content.