"What's going on...? These sessions used to be flat out, even with the 'can I get a photo with the author?' segments cut out. Is it something I wrote? Or something I had... published?" Image credits: Laughing Squid
Thornbury and Meddings' Teaching Unplugged, greatly expanded and now into its 5th fully digital edition with sidebar elements for readers to comment and add findings to the central text, has finally overtaken sales of Harmer's The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harmer doesn't mind and possibly isn't aware; his 4th album in the Touchable Dreams series with Steve Bingham has just gone platinum and he isn't even at IATEFL this year, as it unfortunately doesn't fit in with his world tour dates. As with all musicians in these times, studio albums are now formalities and the only way to make genuine income is to tour and perform live. Harmer wouldn't have it any other way. And he always was one for pointing out the importance of making changes, challenging oneself and trying new things.
Despite moving to Cheshire and looking remarkably like a cat when he smiles, Thornbury - thanks no doubt to his much lauded (and frequently featured in Twitpics) gastronomic habits - is one of the few old timers at the conference who can walk up to the plenary podium unassisted. (It is also rumoured his health and posture are the result of his early days as a lumberjack, deep in the fragrant woods of New Zealand - where he eschewed chainsaws and insisted on cutting trees down with axes, or else waited for them to fall over of their own volition.)
There are a few of the golden oldies coursebook writers about, mostly needing assistance to shuffle along to the workshop rooms off in distant corners of the venue that conference organisers still make available to them out of respect for the way things used to be in times gone by. There may be an ounce or two of pity in the arrangements as well. The workshops are attended, but only in small numbers and mostly by young MA TESOL students looking for material for their The Ancient Pre-Digital History of EFL module. "It was quaint, in a way..." is a common murmered (but not all that reverent) comment from the young participants as they emerge from these dusty and dim seminar rooms.
You see, in 2030, there aren't coursebooks any more. At some point in the past few decades, there has been a kind of revolution which - coupled with the ubiquity of Internet access to 98% of the world's population - has made coursebooks, both in print versions and even chunked digital format, not only unnecessary but also pretty much completely obsolete...
Okay, it may not be a completely reasonable prediction of the future of ELT, but let's say something similar eventuates and some of the fears of ELT writers like Ken Wilson and Lindsay Clandfield come to pass.
(Sorry, first I need to point out that despite all their good-humoured comments about fearing the demise of coursebooks, I do of course believe that writers like Ken and Lindsay - possibly more than most other coursebook writers out there - would actually be genuinely happy to see an ELT world eventuate where their coursebooks were no longer necessary. I also think they would be among the first to adapt to such a paradigm shift and find interesting new ways to contribute their expertise and teaching wisdom to/within a new generation of English language teaching).
But let's say this does come to pass, and let's say it comes sooner than many of us predicted.
What is a poor coursebook writer, who up to this point has managed to make a reasonably handsome living from writing most all of teachers' and learners' content for them, to do?
How will they get by???
In the interests of planning for the future and providing potential alternative career avenues for suddenly or increasingly obsolete ELT coursebook writers, here are what I believe could be some viable options and alternatives.
1. How are you going to make money?
There should still be a very competitive and lucrative market for teacher training specialists, so this could be an avenue for you. Actually, given the new paradigm of teaching may involve being a lot better at what you do and helping facilitate content and course direction from the students themselves, I daresay there will be a lot of teachers out there who will need help unhooking themselves from the fast-food English diets you (okay - we!) have, willingly or unwittingly, helped perpetuate.
You could also even consider, well - you know: teaching students yourself again.
Please, don't see it as a step down or a step backwards!
Musicians will tell you this is the way of things now. Your recorded talent (which is in many ways what your coursebooks are) is worthless now in terms of income, but there is still a real demand for live shows. :-)
There are increasing opportunities to teach online and in your own right, without needing schools or other facilitators. There may even come a time when teachers are ranked and recommended purely based on students' own impressions and comments.
If you can still teach (rather than imagine what it is like to teach), and are good at it, you could still earn a decent quid for day's work - and maybe even pull in more than the going rate.
2. How are you going to continue your passion for content writing?
This isn't really a problem at all, so long as you accept that you are not going to get any money (or in best case scenarios, very little money) for the content you produce.
You can still contribute great articles, dialogues and all the various learning activities in your impressive arsenal. But they will most probably need to go directly onto the web, and if you expect to even remotely compete with all the existing realia out there (and if you realise, of course, that now the learners themselves will choose what they do or don't want to use from your content, rather than having it delivered up on a compulsory and pre-packaged platter), you'd better not expect to be able to charge students for it.
The fact that students will choose or reject your material based on their personal interests will excite the real writer in you.
If you really do LOVE what you do in the way of materials writing, the income issue won't matter.
So the future isn't quite as bleak as you might imagine, dear ELT coursebook writer! There will still be ways for you to earn an income, and there will be even more avenues to bring your written and recorded content directly to learners.
Who knows? Things could actually turn out a lot better for you!