ESA began life after hours from a spare bedroom, when Mark Sayes was a third-year teacher at Auckland Grammar School. It started with a "we can do better than these useless UK Chemistry books" followed up by hours of blood, sweat and tears. That was back in the days of 6th and 7th forms, UE and Bursary.
An IBM golf ball typewriter, with extra balls for the chemical symbols set the text, via “A wife who could (and would) type,” quips Mark. Letraset was used for headings and serious check reading was done by teacher colleagues.
Luckily, as it turns out, Mark's resulting manuscript for a University Entrance Chemistry revision book was turned down by a then well-known educational publisher.
Undaunted, Mark went ahead and published the text himself. Later and very fortunately, with two more revision books offered to him by colleagues, one of the first Apple Mac computers available in Auckland, Pagemaker 1 and a 400K external disk drive, a publishing business was born.
That was 23 years ago, and ESA continues in Mark’s hands as a privately owned publishing company specialising in educational books for the New Zealand market. The spare bedroom has long been outgrown, and today the company has a warehouse and offices at Manukau with a longstanding and loyal staff of nine plus several contract editors and typesetters helping out in the production end of things. ESA will finish this year with some 36 new editions and 16 new titles, all created or revised in the course of 2011.
In the last couple of years ESA, like other educational publishers in New Zealand, have been busy developing books for another new Curriculum and more changes to NCEA while still figuring out and developing products for the fast arriving digital world.
ESA's mainstay continues to be their well-known Study Guides, A5 titles covering most subjects at secondary school level for any particular year of study. Several Study Guides are now in their sixth or seventh edition as they respond to the never ending changes in education. The range is their biggest seller.
ESA also publishes a series called Learning Workbooks for secondary schools to cater for the growing numbers of students who find write-in books specified on their school stationery list each year. Print runs are growing as it is catching up fast with Study Guide numbers.
For end-of-year revision and to practice NCEA exam questions, ESA have a third series called AME workbooks – the title comes from Achieve, Merit, Excellence, the NCEA grades. For primary school (Years 3 to 8) ESA has their Start Right series of nearly 40 titles.
While ESA has some highly successful individual titles, they are best known for the four series just mentioned. “Each series follows a template from which different subjects can be ‘sausage factory’ produced quickly and efficiently,” comments Mark.
ESA prints mostly in Singapore and also in New Zealand. “They are not coffee table books!” says Mark, acknowledging most of the titles follow the template in the way they are written and laid out.
What is catching ESA and other educational publishers out these days is the frequent changes of curriculum: “Too many, too fast”. Adding complications with NCEA is the fact that NZQA guidelines for what is to be taught in the very near future are not rubber-stamped until the last possible minute, “Late, piecemeal and incomplete,” says Mark.
Currently ESA has seven level 2 course books for 2012 unfinished – the full scope of the course contents won’t be notified to teachers until the first week of December. “We have no show of getting them out for the start of term,” Mark laments. The process is made even harder by the fact that NZQA “doesn’t tell the publishers anything” according to Mark.
ESA has a huge variety of subjects covered – even Latin for which there is only about 200 students at the moment – but the basic criteria is “if it has an exam, ESA will cover it”.
Frustratingly, there is a visual study guide that has sat unfinished for 18 months while NZQA sort out how to assess several Achievement standards.
Mark is happy to participate in publishing industry affairs and has been on the Board of Copyright Licensing for some years, including a stint as Chairman. “It has been an enjoyable experience and one in which as an educational publisher I have a special interest.”
Outside of publishing, his time is spent with family and friends and involvement in sports administration, in this case squash. “Sports administration is what you do when you no longer play the game due to ongoing back problems!”
Mark will be at his third Frankfurt Book Fair right now to try and build on a couple of small successes and to catch up on what other educational publishers are doing, especially in the digital arena. A busy and enjoyable time, where for a few days he can perhaps ignore the problems created by very late curriculum announcements.