Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis of Hodder Gibson

October 26th, 2016 by amandasarahbain | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis of Hodder Gibson
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Mention the name Hodder Gibson to anyone who was educated in Scotland and there are immediate flashbacks to countless hours spent revising with their past papers. So when Peter Dennis, Managing Director at Hodder Gibson arrived on Thursday afternoon, it was like a blast from the past for many of us.

Hodder Gibson is a small educational publisher based in Paisley, Scotland. Their editorial office consists of a small team which strives to keep up-t0-date with the market, by forming close working relationships with students, teachers and the SQA (with whom it exclusively publishes the official past papers for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher). Peter Dennis described educational publishing as an easily defined market, which is less of a gamble than traditional trade publishing, thanks in part to the SQA who publish exact lists of student numbers, however as it is a small market, it is important to get in first if you want to turn a profit.

For Hodder Gibson, their relationship with the SQA is mutually beneficial. The endorsement by the SQA permits Hodder Gibson to use the official SQA badge on the cover of their educational texts, resulting in increased sales for them and revenue for the SQA. However, due the growth of digital platforms and the availability of past papers online for free, Hodder Gibson have had to change their strategy in order to protect their income. Dennis described revision textbooks as an “anxiety” purchase and therefore it is no surprise that Hodder Gibson have expanded their range of products into practice papers and revision textbooks, thus competing with publishers such as Leckie & Leckie and Bright Red.

Like most educational Publishers, Hodder Gibson’s target market are school pupils in S3-S6, who have the required fear of examinations and suffering from the subsequent panic, want to buy revision materials. According to Dennis, teenagers who are desperate to get into their chosen university make up the majority of Hodder Gibson’s customers. There are currently 364 secondary schools in Scotland and Dennis himself believes that good relationships with schools are always good for business. Although Hodder Gibson sell direct to their customers via their website, the majority of their sales come through high street retailers (discounted at 40%). Dennis describes this discount as “too much of a sacrifice” and therefore the publisher is now attempting to generate the majority of its sales directly via schools (discounted at 20%). For Dennis and his team, price is important and it has to be right for Hodder Gibson and its competition.

Although sales are vital for Hodder Gibson, much of the publisher’s work goes into the creation of their texts. Dennis described commissioning as “begging, pleading and bullying” both experienced teachers and those who are newly qualified (exploitable) and eager to prove themselves, to create content for revision textbooks. For educational publishers creating content can be difficult due to the tight timescale and limited budget to pay busy authors. Dennis himself recounted sending sarcastic emails to authors who have missed deadlines, only to discover one author was about to give birth and the other was in ICU (he was bored and finished writing from his hospital bed)! Following the creation of content the majority of the editing and design process is done by freelancers in order to save money and because as Dennis himself describes, the job of a copyright researching is a very boring, “Sisyphean” effort. Printing can often be done abroad for a fraction of the price if publishers factor in the additional time needed for shipping.

Hodder Gibson is incredibly aware of the evolution of the digital market. Today’s students want options and it’s important for publishers to move with their market. Dennis believes that students are “suffering” in schools without Wi-Fi, given the social media landscape in which students find themselves. Hodder Gibson don’t want to just reproduce their print content in a digital format because students may not pay for it and the demand changes from subject to subject. Dennis firmly believes that the future of educational publishing is digital, so it’s no surprise that Hodder Gibson are striving, as always, to stay ahead of the market.

by Amanda Sarah Bain