Robert Shepherd posted this explanation of how the
publishing industry has changed and how a small number of corporate
giants control what students learn:

I think it important
to distinguish between
attempting to bring new products to market that will succeed or
fail in the market based on the merits of those products
monopolistic corporate giants
attempting to rig the market for educational materials so as to
shut out new competitors.
A little

When I started working in educational
publishing back in the early 1980s, a basal literature program
consisted of a student text and a softbound teacher’s guide
containing lesson plans and answers to questions in the text.
That’s it—a student edition and a softbound teacher’s
Then, over the course of many years,
the big educational publishers competed with one another by adding
new components and features, including many “give-aways,” to their
product lines.

So, for example, many years ago, one publisher of a
K-12 basal composition program added to its product a “free”
Teacher’s Resource Binder (a 3-ring binder containing lesson plans,
answer keys, tests, correlation charts, planning guides, and the
like). The other big ed book publishers rushed to follow suit, to
create their own “free” Teacher’s Resource Binders. And then, of
course, all the publishers upped the prices of their student
editions and teacher’s editions to cover the cost of the “free”

Over time, the big ed book publishers
added many, many more components to their basal programs—annotated
teacher’s editions, test banks, multimedia CDs, materials in
various languages, transparency sets, blackline masters, diagnostic
test booklets, test prep booklets, manipulatives, handheld student
response devices, leveled readers, cross-curricular readers,
various web-based components, etc. —and whenever one publisher
innovated, the others followed suit, and the costs of the student
and teacher editions went up and up and up to cover all these
“free” materials.
In parallel, state
departments of education in adoption states like California, Texas,
and Florida started issuing lists of adoption criteria that
REQUIRED programs submitted for adoption to contain these various
“supplemental” materials.

Where, in the past, when a school ordered
a literature text, it would receive student editions and softbound
teacher’s guides, it would, after all this change in the textbook
publishing racket, receive, with each classroom set, several very
large boxes containing supplemental products—boxes that came to be
known as Teacher’s Resource Kits. In addition, the sizes of the
student and teacher texts also increased enormously as the big
publishers competed with one another by adding features and
components to those.

To summarize: thirty
years ago, a Grade 10 basal literature program consisted of a
340-page student text and a 150-page, softbound teacher’s guide.
Now it consists a 1,200-page student text, a 1,400-page annotated
teacher’s edition, and about a hundred crappy ancillary products
shipped out in big, colorful boxes.
In the
past few years, every teacher I’ve talked to about this has told me
the same thing—he or she uses ALMOST NONE of the great mountain of
supplemental material that comes with the basal text and skips
ALMOST ALL of the junk in the annotated teacher’s edition.

At the
same time, the school districts pay HANDSOMELY for all these “free”
supplementals because the cost of developing them, plus a pretty
profit, is rolled into the cost of the student and teacher editions
and because, when one publisher starts charging for a key
supplemental component, the others quickly follow suit.

The upshot of all this is that textbook production has
gotten much, much more expensive than it was in the past.

Where a
couple decades ago a publisher might develop a new literature
program at a cost of, say, 6 million dollars, it will now cost 100
million or more to do this. And those state adoption requirements,
along with the customer expectation that programs will have all
these “free” supplemental components, effectively lock would-be
competitors out of the business. Only a few large companies with
deep pockets can play.
And so, where in the
past we had lots of small educational publishers with sizable
market share, now we have, basically, four big players in the U.S.

And what that means is that teachers and schools have fewer
products to choose from, and those products have a terrible
sameness to them because publishers with monopolistic positions
have no incentive to innovate. To the extent possible, they now
“repurpose” old material, change the headings and correlations to
accord with the latest educational fads, do some new design work,
and call that a new edition.

But they don’t innovate, really, when
it comes to what matters—in the areas of pedagogical approach and
curricular design.
The last thirty years have
seen an enormous amount of consolidation of the educational
publishing industry—a few large publishers buying up all the
smaller ones, and that consolidation also works against real
pedagogical and curricular innovation.

Ed book publishing is now a
monopolistic business, and state departments of education, with
their adoption requirements, have inadvertently helped to make that
happen—their well-intentioned pages and pages of adoption
guidelines have served to decrease real innovation in educational
products while dramatically increasing their cost.

So, basically, that’s how ed book publishing became a
monopoly business.
However, the Internet
presented a great threat to the emergent monopolies.

Almost all of
the cost of producing a textbook program was, traditionally, in
paper, printing, binding, and sampling of products to potential
customers. The high cost of producing physical basal textbook
programs with large numbers of supplementary/ancillary materials
effectively shut out any new competitors. However, pixels are
cheap, and some college professors even started SELF PUBLISHING
respectable introductory textbooks, in subjects like statistics,
philosophy, logic, history, business, economics, etc.—online for
FREE. Really for free.
This presented an
enormous threat to the ed book monopolies. They had to do something
to ensure that they could maintain their monopolistic market share
and continue to lock out new entrants, new competitors.

Well, one
way of making it difficult for new competitors to emerge is to
create national standards that every program must follow slavishly.
That keeps a new competitor from doing a better job than the large
publishers do of following the unique standards for a particular
state AND keeps new entrants from creating alternative curricular
designs that accord, better, with new, alternative, or competing

Another way to shut out new competitors is to create a
single national database of student scores and responses that
serves as a gateway for delivery of content. Those who can afford
to be connected to that system for content delivery can play, and
those who can’t will be shut out.
students, parents, and other stakeholders would be much better
served, of course, if small publishers with innovative ideas could
compete on an even playing field—if there were room, again, in
educational publishing for real entrepreneurship. The Internet can
help to make that possible—for small entrants, again, to have a
chance to compete against the big textbook companies.

Mountains of
federal and state requirements serve not the cause of the small
entrepreneur but of the existing monopolies, making it easier for
them to shut the small entrepreneurs out. And the big companies pay
lots of money to lobbyists at the state and federal levels to
ensure that there are plenty of requirements on educational
products that will make it difficult for new, entrepreneurial
competitors to emerge.
Here’s how to fix all
this: Return to site-based management. Allow individual groups of
teachers at individual schools to make their own decisions about
what products they will purchase and what characteristics those
products will have.