Here comes a great idea from Simon & Schuster as reported by Alexandra Alter in the New York Times on January 11: “…a new website offering online courses from popular health, finance and self-help authors.”
The idea is that since book sales have dropped at S & S, why not squeeze more out of authors who have boffo fan bases and deeply important messages to convey? Like Dr. David B. Agus, who wrote The End of Illness and Tosha Silver, who offers spiritual advice in her book Outrageous Openness. Authors will set their own prices for the online courses, and if it all works out, S & S will release a dozen or more additional courses this year.
And eventually, Ms. Alter tells us, “the online courses, which are planned as stand-alone products rather than supplements to books, could include videos by entertainers and experts who have not yet published books.”
In other words, unless I misunderstand this completely, S & S is simply going into the online course business. Or heading in that direction, anyway. It’s easy to imagine an expert in, say, hair styling doing a video about hair styling. Or a gardener demonstrating something gardenish.
But what kind of course is an entertainer going to offer? Lessons in how to strut? How to be a diva? Tell a joke? Come to think of it, why would an entertainer offer a course through the Simon & Schuster website at all? Entertainers have their own websites. So do plenty of authors, but the authors probably need the S & S promotion a whole lot more than the entertainers do.
A couple of years ago the Times published a piece called “The Year of the MOOC,” a comprehensive look at Massive Open Online Courses. The writer of the article, Laura Pappano, said:
Traditional online courses charge tuition, carry credit and limit enrollment to a few dozen to ensure interaction with instructors. The MOOC, on the other hand, is usually free, credit-less and, well, massive.
Because anyone with an Internet connection can enroll, faculty can’t possibly respond to students individually. So the course design — how material is presented and the interactivity — counts for a lot. As do fellow students. Classmates may lean on one another in study groups organized in their towns, in online forums or, the prickly part, for grading work.
The evolving form knits together education, entertainment (think gaming) and social networking. Unlike its antecedent, open courseware — usually written materials or videotapes of lectures that make you feel as if you’re spying on a class from the back of the room — the MOOC is a full course made with you in mind.
It looks as if S & S is going to take the MOOC model, tinker with it a bit, glamorize it with celebs, and put it out there for consumers who aren’t interested in course credit, but want to have a little fun online and feel like part of a great big group of groupies.
So even more people will be glued to their computers for more hours per day taking courses on stuff they didn’t need in the first place, getting even less exercise, talking to each other even less (except online). And paying for it. Sounds like a plan.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Books & Greetings, Northvale, NJ
Magic Tree Bookstore, Oak Park, IL
Once Upon a Storybook, Tustin, CA