Valore Acquires Boundless: The Netflix of Education Publishing?

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swoop in and take Valore off the table if it gets much further. Not that traditional publishers are standing still, of course. They’ve been busy trying to reinvent themselves as software companies—and they have plenty of money and manpower to do it.

Take McGraw-Hill Education. Like many of its peers, the company has been trying to better understand the needs of teachers and students, says chief digital officer Stephen Laster. That has led McGraw-Hill to “take a Lego view” of its products and create “modularity around content,” he says, so that its digital materials are easier for teachers to customize.

Laster, who was previously CIO at Harvard Business School and a faculty member at Babson College, notes that McGraw-Hill is in a good position because it doesn’t have internally competing software platforms. “We’re focused on interoperability and standards,” he says. Ultimately, this could help give teachers “time to re-imagine what they teach.”

That’s a theme that rings true to Walker, as well. Far beyond e-books, he says, the real goal is “when digital is treated as an opportunity to rethink the content and fully leverage the power of tablets.” He’s talking about creating components of lesson materials and multimedia that can be mixed and matched to present concepts and assess students’ progress in learning. Valore’s role could be to provide a “marketplace for educational content in general, and use the Boundless platform to put it together and present it to students,” he says.

Ten years from now, the landscape undoubtedly will be very different—but it’s not at all clear what digital content in education will look like. “Some upstarts will be the ones who drive the form of the new model,” Walker says. “The big publishers will have less concentration of the market in their hands but will still be important players.” So far, he adds, “They’ve done a lot to innovate, but mostly around supplemental content, not core textbooks.”

Diaz, who will serve as Valore’s chief digital officer, makes an interesting (if hopeful) analogy to digital video. “Think about Netflix,” he says. “They had streaming way back in 2007. But they didn’t kill DVDs until 2011. Their growth was driven by both complementary products.” Then Netflix eventually created its own content—TV series like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.” The idea being that physical and digital textbooks might follow a similar path—though the education ecosystem is arguably slower to change.

“We’re like where Netflix was in 2008,” Diaz says.

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Editor in chief. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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