In a signal that Follett Corporation is stepping up its digital efforts, the company’s board of directors has unanimously appointed Mary Lee Schneider to the position of president and chief executive officer. Schneider, who takes the reins on November 26, will be the first CEO in the $2.7 billion, privately-held company’s nearly 140-year history who is not a member of the Follett family and one of a handful of women to head a corporation of Follett’s size.
Schneider was previously president, digital solutions and chief technology officer at RR Donnelly. In that role, she was in charge of growing the Premedia Technologies business, a provider of digital photography, color management, and digital asset management services. She has also served on the Follett board of directors for 11 years.
What does Schneider’s appointment mean for the 65,000 elementary and high schools that rely on Follett for print and digital learning materials, library resources, and school management systems?
“As we look into the next generation of students, learners, and educators, I see a rich pipeline of new Follett products and new services,” she says.
Follett eBooks are now used by over 23 million students in more than 35,000 schools in the U.S. and other countries. While “deciding which programs to accelerate,” Schneider noted that “FollettShelf is a crucial cornerstone in our discussions.”
This follows an improved integration of FollettShelf, the company’s cloud-based virtual bookshelf, with Destiny 10.5 and the Follett Digital Reader, a move announced on November 1 that makes for “a more intuitive reading environment” for content available on a larger variety of platforms, according to Follett director of digital products John A. Williams.
FollettShelf is the vendor for 76 percent of elementary schools in the US, along with 67 percent of middle schools and 59 percent of high schools, according to LJ’s 2012 Ebook Usage Reports.
The company introduced these upgrades in response to consumer feedback, including comments from a May 2012 SLJ review of Follett’s ereader suite, says Williams. Check out, color features, and drag-and-drop functions have improved, he says. Other features delivering a more streamlined reading experience include a new adjustable font size.
The system also works with more devices, including smartphones and the Kindle Fire. “We are looking at getting support for other devices soon,” says Williams. While “waiting for some technology to catch up with HTML5,” he expects that FollettShelf will be “truly device agnostic.”
In the meantime, the changes allow users to shift easily between a whiteboard, a desktop, and portable devices.
Boosting Follett’s array of fiction and nonfiction offerings has also been a “top priority,” says Williams. “We’ve grown our collection from 130,000 titles to 145,000 titles,” and “there’s more we can do in terms of getting additional content.”
Follett is also investigating more flexible business plans for the FollettShelf suite. “Our customers are asking for different business models. Some want subscription, others want one-to-one,” according to Williams.
While Schneider said that FollettShelf remains “front and center” in the company’s sights, she declined to discuss her broader plans for Follett before taking the helm. “I have some ideas, but we can go deeper into discussion in 30 days,” she said.
Having spent 20 years solely on the digital side at RR Donnelly, Schneider is now looking forward to being “closer to where the learning is happening” at Follett.