In this latest What Is A Publisher Now? interview we’re joined by Hélène Dennery, Pearson’s Managing Director for Western Europe and one of the continent’s most senior education publishers. Hélène’s interview follows her appearance on Ingenta’s What Is A Publisher Now? panel event at Frankfurt Book Fair, where we brought together a group of leading education publishers to ponder what publishing for students in schools, colleges and universities will look like in the future.

In the following interview, Hélène reveals some fascinating insights into how Pearson’s business is changing from one focused on products, to one that is focused on services, and selling those services in territories. She also makes some interesting points about Pearson’s key growth markets being territories like China and India where fast-growing middle class populations are willing to invest their own money in education outside the scope of state provision, suggesting a consumer-centred future for education services.

PT – Welcome Hélène. Imagine we’re stuck in a lift together. Tells us who you are and what you do?
HD – I’m Hélène Dennery, Managing Director of Pearson Western Europe. With Pearson since 1998, I have worked mostly in Education. I’m delighted to work for Pearson, the world’s leading education company, where we help people to make progress in their lives through learning.

PT – Everyone thinks they know Pearson. You’re the world’s biggest educational publisher. But what’s the one thing we don’t know about Pearson you think we should know about?
HD – Although we still play a key role in educational publishing, Pearson is now actually an education company. We stand at the intersection of technology, high value learning material and good teaching to deliver the most effective learning outcomes at scale. What that actually means, is that we help teachers, students, and governments navigate the best way to combine technology and teaching practices. Our focus now lies on the outcomes our learners make, rather than inputs.

PT – Over the past two years Pearson has poured a lot of its efforts into becoming a more digital-first publisher. Can you tell us more about what this means, practically speaking? For example, are you publishing fewer textbooks and creating more platforms?
HD – We see large potential in the move to digital education and services, which has accelerated in the past few years. We are now much more than a textbook company. In fact, we have now passed a tipping point, with two thirds of our business now either digital or a service now and warehouse capacity has shrunk by 50% over the past two years. We are developing and investing in our next generation of courseware and in services to support schools and higher education digital strategies, and at the same time are maintaining our high value and key publishing activities.

PT – A lot of your recent partnership activity (e.g. With Udacity and most recently Exeter University) suggests Pearson is moving beyond being a content publisher into a provider of educational services too. Why is that so important?
HD – Our goal is to make education more accessible, effective and affordable. Supporting online programme creation with our services is one of our primary strategic goals. This will allow learners to study anytime, anywhere, in a more affordable way at some of the best international universities. With the number of students enrolling in higher education in the future set to rise significantly, it is extremely important universities are able to attract and retain students by offering high quality online degree programmes.

PT – In some ways your work in expanding educational services business in the UK and Western Europe is following the lead set by Pearson in the developing world (e.g. China). Do you think this is the start of publishers in the developed world following models established elsewhere?
HD – We certainly see growth opportunities in the developing world, especially in countries like Brazil, India and China where there is a growing middle class and appetite in quality education. Having said that, some of our fastest growing services have been borne out of the US market, where we already partner with more than 40 universities. I think publishers in the developed world will follow models that work, whether that comes from the developing world or not will not be relevant.

PT – Pearson has been very vocal in supporting the UN’s Global Goals for sustainable development. What role can an educational publisher and service provider do to help meet them?
HD – Personally, I have found Pearson’s support of the UN’s Global Goals for sustainable development very admirable, and am proud to be a part of it. Pearson is very committed to impacting sustainable development in various interesting and exciting ways and have adopted ambitious standards across a broad responsible business agenda. I think the obvious role educational publishers and content providers can have with the Global Goals is by impacting on the 4th goal, quality education. A good education can have such a positive impact on lives, supporting employability and improving prospects. Education has an effect on nearly every aspect of the societies in which we work, therefore impacting on many of the other goals stated by the UN.

PT – Do you think initiatives like MOOCs have a role to play in widening access to education?
HD – Yes, absolutely. I think there is a growing demand for less formally-structured, more student-centred learning, with learning time having a greater emphasis on being more flexible, student-led and teacher-facilitated, rather than teachers setting the overall pace of learning. For that reason, the likes of MOOCs are helping to disrupt education, in the traditional sense, to start moving towards the future. At Pearson we have moved away from being education publishers in the traditional sense to be more like education service providers – people are increasingly less willing to pay for content but much more willing to pay for high quality online programmes, so every publisher will have to put much more thought into the quality of the overall learning experience offered to learners, as well as the quality of the content.

PT – What excites you most about working in educational publishing?
HD – I’m really excited about the role I will play in building a brighter future for education – and the role that innovation will play, both at Pearson and through collaboration.

PT – In fifty words or fewer, what is a publisher now?
HD – A publisher needs to combine innovation, flexibility, assurance of quality and new business models to continue to fulfill learners’ and readers’ needs to progress in their lives.