Pearson’s Digital-First Textbook Initiative and Student Choice
This morning Pearson announced a bold move into a digital-first world for textbook publishing, as described by Inside Higher Ed:
The focus of the announcement is about the change in mindset and processes, with ongoing updates to material and removal of the “costly and time-consuming” print revision cycle. Pearson will still rent print textbooks themselves while actively trying to discourage the second-hand rental market mostly through Amazon, college bookstores, and Chegg. They will also push their Inclusive Access programs.
This is big news that will change the textbook market, and the whole article is worth reading. EdSurge also has a good report here.
I am quoted in the IHE article expressing skepticism about the removal of student choice in the process.
To be clear, I believe the change in pricing levels, removing the $200 or $300 textbooks over time, is a good move, and I believe the move to ongoing updates and revisions not driven by print cycles is also a good move. My concern is that the approach that Pearson is taking ignores student preferences and their long-running choice in finding the best prices for textbooks. Consider these two charts from the National Association of College Stores (NACS) Student Watch survey released last year. 1 The first chart shows (as have many other studies) that students quite often prefer print textbooks over digital.
My youngest daughter goes to Santa Clara University, and for the majority of her classes they are not allowed to use laptops or tablets. It’s not just a matter of preference, it can be a matter of policy even in 2019.
It appears it will be nearly impossible to buy a Pearson textbook in the future without first renting it, and the company will allow rent-to-own while they try to control the distribution of these printed copies. In 2017 Pearson introduced a consignment textbook rental program through a subsidiary of NACS, allowing college bookstores to rent material where Pearson owns and controls the pricing of the textbooks (chalk this up to “there have been signs that Pearson is moving this direction for several years).
Read this article from March of this year to better understand the consignment rental program. When Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw-Hill sued Follett that same year, Follett claimed that the real purpose was to effectively remove options for students.
I believe there have been other deals with Amazon and others for some form of consignment rental.
This approach from Pearson, if successful, removes the second-hand nature of the rental market – students selling used textbooks and someone else reselling or renting them out. Pearson-driven rentals but no second-hand rentals. Consider the current sources of textbook rentals and how seldom students use publisher websites:
These charts help explain why I believe the underlying intention is for Pearson to control distribution channels. Unless there is some hidden mechanisms or change in Pearson’s plans (and there many details to iron out), students will not be able to buy and sell back their materials, find best prices through second-hand markets (rental or purchase), but they will benefit from lower initial price points. If they can trust Pearson.
Disclosure: I was paid to speak at a textbook affordability conference that was sponsored by NACS this past spring.
1 Disclosure: I was paid to speak at a textbook affordability conference that was sponsored by NACS this past spring.
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