Have you ever noticed that the majority of the marketing you see, whether it be related to a movie, a book, a car, or music, is focused on the newest stuff? If you go into Barnes & Noble in the coming weeks, the first thing you are sure to see is the newest releases from popular authors. But then if you look at the best-selling list, you may notice that not always do those newest books show up.
I was recently reading a post to Seth Godin’s blog – simply named “Seth’s blog” – titled Understanding the backlist (for everything, including books). For those of you who haven’t heard of Seth Godin, he is an author who writes on many different topics. He’s probably best known for his writing on marketing, leadership, and change. In the post he was talking about the difference between backlist and frontlist items. Backlist items are those things that a company has been making for a long time, while frontlist items are the things that are brand new. A great example of a backlist item would be a Dr. Seuss book – people don’t buy those books because they’re new, they buy those books because it’s what everyone buys. On the other hand, frontlist items are the hot new thing that we don’t really know how long they’ll be around.
Earlier I asked if you had noticed that marketers focus on the newest stuff, but think about where consumers spend their money. If you decide to pick a book as a present for someone, what are you more likely to choose? A new book that you know nothing about, or that classic that you’ve read several times and love? Book publishers make 90% of their profit from books that they published more than six months ago, but they put just 2% of their effort into promoting and selling those books.
In education, there are a lot of things that would be considered backlist items. My first copy of the book Best Practice by Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde is copyrighted in 1998, and it is a second edition, with the first edition coming out in 1993. Many of the strategies that are defined as “new standards” are things that I recall happening in my elementary and secondary education in the 80s and 90s. The book has been updated a couple more times, and is currently on its fourth edition, however if you compare editions, you’ll notice that the key ideas haven’t really changed. I think we all can agree that in education there are backlist items that have been around for a long time and we use them to help our students learn.
At the same time, there are frontlist items that come along in education. It might be the shiny new learning tool, some new curriculum idea, or a new app that works wonders. Some of us are early adopters and try out all the new things to see what works in the classroom, while the more cynical of us might say “I’m just going to hold out and see if this is just going to go away.”
Companies are really good at watching the frontlist items, seeing how they perform, and if things look right, they will make it a core product. I remember when the first smartphones (think Blackberry) came out, and I thought I would never need/want one. Then the iPhone came out and it suddenly seemed like something that I had to have. Currently I’m on my 4th smartphone, starting with a Droid, and then moving to the iPhone. Frontlist items can become a backlist product with time.
In education, not all of us need to be the early adopters or early innovators, but when we find a tool that has shown student success, it’s hard to justify not giving it a try. I know that there are some among us who don’t see themselves as innovators, but keep in mind that as the youth we serve interact with the world in new and changing ways, that will affect how they learn. There are some of those best practices that guys like Zemelman shared over 20 years ago that will continue to be valuable for our students, but some of those innovations will serve our students just as well, if not better.
What are some of the things that you have tried that are new that you couldn’t do without? I know we have some early adopters out there, and the ideas you share could serve as a resource to the rest of us. Share your thoughts and successes in the comments below!