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eCommPublishing Kit Curriculum Guide

Step 3 — Project Intro – Market Research - Case Study

Lesson Plan

Research how books are published and marketed in today’s economy and get your class excited about this opportunity to publish and sell a book about your community, written by students in your school.

Overview: Your eCommPublishing project begins with a review of two publishing business models and a condensed case-history study of how books for niche markets are sold. The class is then introduced to the particulars of the project they will be involved with and will tour the project’s demo site. The goal in Step 3 is to get students to see and understand some of the marketing and Web site concepts niche publishers and authors use to generate reader interest in a book and increase its sales so they can apply them in their own business.

Suggested classroom time allowance: 80 minutes


Students will:

  1. Examine reasons why people buy books.

  2. Learn and exercise basic case-history study skills designed to help them understand the book publishing business models and how Web sites are used to promote and sell books.

  3. Be introduced to the eCommPublishing demonstration Web site and understand how this site will permit the class to mimic features and content of the live publishing company Web sites they’ve just case studied.

  4. Receive a complete description of the book-publishing project the class will be undertaking.


  1. The Barnes and Noble Web site:
  2. The Web site of mainstream publishing giant, Penguin Books:
  3. The bio page for author, William Kennedy, located at the Web site for the New York State Writer’s Institute:
  4. The Web site of niche publisher, Arcadia Books
  5. The eCommPublish demonstration Web site for the Rug City Student Press publishing company.
  6. Samples of three mainstream books and three niche books from your school’s library. It is recommended that one of the mainstream books be a William Kennedy novel if possible. If your library has any local history books published by Arcadia Publishing, make sure it is one of the three niche books you use as samples.

  7. Web site Case-Study Checklists

Teacher Preparation for this Step:

  1. Review this Step 3 Lesson Plan in its entirety.

  2. Visit the suggested Web sites listed above in the Resources section of this lesson plan and become familiar with their content and features.

  3. Ask your school’s media specialist to provide you with copies of three examples of popular books that are published by mainstream publishers along with three examples of books published by niche book publishers.

  4. You will be focusing on books published by a company called Arcadia Publishing during this lesson. Arcadia is a niche publisher of non-fiction books about the histories of communities and regions all across the United States. One of the steps of this lesson plan is that you search the Barnes and Noble Web site for Arcadia books that address your school’s community. If there is no Arcadia book about your school’s community, you’ll need to find one for an alternative community in your area that all your students will recognize. Instead of doing these searches for the first time in class, you’ll want to do them ahead of time so you know which specific Barnes & Noble Arcadia book searches will be successful. It is also a good idea to see if your school’s library has any Arcadia titles in its collection and if it does, bring at least one of them to your class to use as an example during this lesson plan’s presentation.

  5. Visit the Rug City Student Press demo site and become familiar with its content and features. It is important that you, as the instructor become very familiar with all of the pages and features of this demo site because it can be used to effectively demonstrate and help explain just about every concept, technique, and practice your students will encounter during the course of this project. Get into the habit of asking yourself the question “How is this accomplished at the Rug City Student Press Web site?”

  6. Review the Instructor Version of the Web site Case-Study Checklist. Notice that this version has suggestions and tips for responding to each of the items on the Checklist. The Student Version of this Checklist does not include this suggested response information. Your goal as Instructor will be to encourage the class to develop responses similar to those provided on your version of this Checklist.

  7. You don’t want to just introduce your students to this project. You also want to get them excited about it. Prepare notes for this part of the class presentation to make sure you include statements like the following:
    • We will be converting this classroom into a live publishing company. You will be employees of a business and much of your grade this semester will depend on how well you do your job.
    • We will be publishing a book of short stories about our own community. The best student writers in our high school are writing these stories. This isn’t a game or simulation. We are actually going to sell this book and make real money. (You should be prepared to tell the class at this time what your district has decided regarding how that money will be used.)
    • Each of you will be performing a real publishing job in marketing, production, finance or management. You’ll be able to include this job experience on your future resumes and college applications.
    • This class will be building and maintaining a real Web site to help us sell this book.
    • This class has an opportunity to accomplish something no other class in this school’s history has ever done. If we all do our jobs well, this project will not only make money, it will bring our entire community closer together and help everyone realize that we have a bunch of very sharp students who attend this school

Class Activities:

  1. Begin this lesson’s classroom presentation by asking students to raise their hand if they read books other than those they are “forced” to read by teachers. Select some of the students who raise their hand and ask them what sort of books they enjoy reading. Start a list of the types of books mentioned and keep adding to it until you’ve called on every student who raised their hand in response to your first question. When students give an answer already on the list add checkmarks next to the original answer. So if four students tell you they like to read science fiction, you’ll have one entry on your list for that genre followed by three checkmarks.

    Next, ask students to raise their hands if they don’t currently read books outside of those they must read for school. Begin asking these students why they don’t read. Once they’ve responded, instantly follow up by asking if they didn’t have the reason they just gave what sort of books would they read. (e.g. If a student’s stated reason for not reading was “I have no time,” you would then ask that student, If you had all the time in the world to read what sort of books would you buy?”) Add their responses to your list but do something to be able to separate the responses of those who do read for fun from those who don’t (i.e. use a different color, instead of adding checkmarks for similar responses add x’s etc.)

    Next, discuss the results of your informal survey. Ask your students if they were going to start a business that created and sold one type of book just to your class, what type of book would it be. Their most common answer will likely be the type of book on your list that has the most checkmarks and x’s next to it. Explain to your class that the book publishing industry publishes every type of book on your list.

    It is now time to introduce the class to two general types of publishing business models. Mainstream publishers try to sell books everyone would want to read. If a mainstream publisher’s representative came into your classroom right now, he or she would likely be most interested in publishing the types of books that have the most checkmarks and x’s alongside them and would likewise ignore all the others. Show your students some examples of mainstream books that you’ve received from your school’s media specialist.

    Next, explain that there are also niche publishers who publish specific types of books that would be of interest to only specific groups of people. Go back to your list and pick out a topic that has the fewest checkmarks and x’s alongside it. Explain how there are people all across the country, just like (mention names of student(s) who like to read this type of book) who would buy this specific type of book and there are publishing companies who only publish this type of book.

    Ask your students why anyone would want to go into a business and create a product that not everyone would want to purchase? After listening to a few responses, make sure the following information gets presented. Niche publishers try to find a type of book currently not published by mainstream publishers that can be created and sold profitably to a segment of the book-buying marketplace. In order to be successful, niche publishers must know how to reach that small segment of the marketplace that wants to buy the type of book they have to sell. One of the advantages of being a niche publisher is that the business can be pretty small in size and cost less to operate than a mainstream publishing operation because niche publishers don’t have to get as many books written, produced, inventoried and sold. Secondly, because niche publishers try to fill holes in the existing book market, they face a lot less competition than mainstream publishers.

    The key to a niche publisher’s success is being able to reach those relatively few people who would be interested in the book they’re trying to sell. Ask your class what marketing technology has come along in the last ten to fifteen-years that has made it a lot easier for niche businesses to find and communicate with the smaller specific groups of people who would be interested in buying their product?

    The answer of course is the Internet.

  2. Tell the class you are going to show them how the Internet has made it much easier for niche publishers to find and communicate with their niche markets and sell their books. Take your class to the Barnes and Noble Web site at

    Conduct some quick searches for some of the specific niche categories that appear on your list of student reading preferences to prove this point. Then tell your students you want to buy a novel that takes place in Albany New York. Make sure you first select the “books” category at the B&N site and when the “Related Categories” menu selections appear select “Fiction and Literature.” Do a search in this category for “Albany NY.” Several titles will show up on the results pages. Scroll down until you locate the novel “Ironweed” by William Kennedy. Click on the book and the first line of the resulting synopsis will read: “Ironweed is the best-known of William Kennedy's three Albany-based novels.”

    Explain that William Kennedy was born and raised in Albany and worked for many years as a reporter for the Albany Times Union. His experiences reporting about true stories of real Albany people, crimes and politics led him to start writing stories about fictional Albany people, crimes, and politics.

    Kennedy’s stories and his writing ability were so good that he won a Pulitzer Prize for Ironweed. Point out that to an author, winning the Pulitzer Prize is like an athlete winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

    Explain that William Kennedy has become so famous and widely read that the books he writes are now published by Penguin Group, one of the world’s largest mainstream publishers. Take your class to the Penguin Group Web site and quickly show them the magnitude of authors, topics, and titles the company publishes.

    Go to the William Kennedy bio page at the New York State Writers Institute Web site and have students read out loud some of the synopsis presented for several of Mr. Kennedy’s Albany based novels.

    Ask your class what group of people would be most interested in reading stories that took place in Albany NY. At least one student should answer, “People who live in Albany NY.” Follow up by asking them if people who live in your school’s community would be interested in reading stories that take place in your community.

    Now go to the Google Web site and Google the name of the city or town in which your school is located followed by a comma and the word “arcadia.” As an example, if your school is in Amsterdam, NY your search phrase would read: Amsterdam, ny, arcadia.

    Go back to the Barnes and Noble site and this time do a book search on the following phrase: “Albany, NY, arcadia.” Most, if not all of the results will be non-fiction books that have something to do with Albany, NY that published by a niche publishing company called, Arcadia Publishing.

    NOTE: If your school is located in a city or town with a population of more than 10,000 people you could try substituting “Albany, NY” in the above search with the name of your city or town. It would be best to try this substitute search at the Barnes & Noble site before beginning this class.

    Click on one or more of the Arcadia titles that show up in the search results and read the description of its content.

    Google Arcadia Publishing and go to the Company’s Web site explaining to your students that this is a niche publishing business that focuses on non-fiction books about local and regional history throughout the United States. Select the “About Arcadia” link and read the page out loud as a class exercise.

  3. Next, ask your class if anyone knows what a case study is.

    You want your students to understand that a case study is a research tool used in business to reduce risk. Explain that it is very expensive in the business world to learn from mistakes and failures. Instead, by studying the current and historical business models and marketing activities of business organizations in a consistent way, you can develop a better understanding of what caused or causes their successes and/or their failures. You can then apply this knowledge to your own business, improving the chances that you will avoid similar mistakes and failures, be better able to mimic their successes and become successful yourself.

    Provide an example of how a case study would help a business avoid a costly mistake. A businessperson wants to start an Italian restaurant in a local community because she loves Italian food and the community does not have an Italian restaurant. She finds a location and a chef and begins preparing a budget to see how many meals the restaurant would need to serve each week to make a profit. The number of meals turns out to be four hundred per week. She then visits the most popular restaurant in the community and asks its owner how many meals they serve in an average week and he tells her 200. She looks at the menu of the popular restaurant and sees it offers some Italian food selections at prices less than she was considering charging for the same dishes at her new restaurant. She orders a plate of spaghetti and meatballs and discovers it is quite delicious. She goes back to the owner and asks him if the restaurant’s Italian dishes sell well. He responds that they do not. Ask the class if the woman is now more or less likely to open the new business?

    Now bring up the student version of the Case Study Checklist for this lesson and go through the items of the checklist with your class as they relate to Arcadia Publishing.

  4. Ask your students if they owned a bookstore in downtown Albany, NY would it be a pretty wise business decision to offer William Kennedy novels for sale? After they agree that it would, get them to concur that it would also be a wise decision for the same bookstore to offer an Arcadia book about Albany’s history.

    Next, ask them if people who live in your community would buy a book of stories about fictional characters and events that take place in your community. If most students agree that such a book would sell, follow up by telling them they are going to have a chance to prove it. If for whatever reason your students don’t feel such a book would sell, follow up by telling them you hope they are wrong because that’s exactly what their jobs will be during this project.

  5. Explain to the class that for the duration of this class project, in addition to being students, they are going to be real employees of a real niche publishing company. Tell them the company’s first product is going to be a book of stories about fictional characters and events that take place in your community. Tell them that since William Kennedy already has a publisher, your company is going to use the best student-writers in your high school to write your book and it is going to be up to your class to make that book profitable. Tell them they are going to have a lot of help along the way but emphasize that they all must work hard, work smart, and work together if the book is going to have any chance of succeeding. Then point out that if their Company is successful, your students will be looked upon with a new level of respect by your entire school and the community at large.

  6. Next, take your class to the Rug City Student Press Demo Web site. Explain that your in-class company will have its very own Web site, similar to Rug City’s. Then proceed to answer the questions in the second part of this lesson’s Case Study Checklist. You’ll find this demo site at

Possible Homework Assignments:

  • Assign students to meet with coaches of various sports teams at your school to find out if those coaches are interested in working with your class to promote their team.- Your Company wants people of all ages to buy this book of stories that take place in your community. Assign your students the task of explaining what this project is all about to their parents. Have them write this explanation down on paper and hand it in. These explanations will provide you with a way to determine if your students understand what you’re trying to accomplish. By correcting and adding your comments to these explanations you’ll be helping your students better understand what’s expected of them. Once the explanations have been reviewed and corrected, have your students give them to a parent.

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