|Weekly News Digest
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'Pearson Launches a Comprehensive Textbook Solution for Students. What Are Its Prospects?' by Rick Anderson
Rick Anderson, university librarian at Brigham Young University, writes the following for The Scholarly Kitchen:
[T]he educational publisher Pearson announced the release of a new app-based service that will allow college students to buy online access to its entire 1,500-title catalog of college textbooks, plus an array of value-added services such as online annotation, flashcards, quizzes, and real-time online support, across multiple devices, for $14.99 per month. (Students can also rent individual e-textbooks for $9.99 each, per month.) Called Pearson+, this product will be a direct competitor to Cengage Unlimited … [but this] is a bit misleading, as each offers unique educational content and is therefore operating in a market of complements rather than a market of substitutes; in other words, if your professor assigns you a Pearson textbook, you won’t be able to substitute a different textbook on the same topic for that one, and you don’t have the option of buying the Pearson text from any provider other than Pearson, all of which complicates the concept of ‘competition’ considerably. …
The central question for any new product or service is, ‘what problem does this offering promise to solve for the consumer?’ In the case of Pearson+, one obvious answer to that question is ‘high textbook costs’—though it is interesting to note that according to data reported by research analyst Brittany Conley (via the Association of American Publishers), the amount of money college students spend on textbooks and other course materials has been falling sharply in recent years. …
After all, if I’m only spending $413 per year on textbooks now, how motivated will I be to get my Cengage and Pearson textbooks online for only a few dollars less—when I’m still going to have to buy my non-Cengage and non-Pearson materials separately at the usual prices? On the other hand, if spending is going down because students are increasingly unable to afford all the textbooks they need, then this would suggest that demand for services like Pearson+ and Cengage Unlimited could be growing. …
Frankly, I’m not sure that students are going to be attracted in significant numbers by the value-adds of online textbooks—I’m pretty sure the ability to annotate or highlight the books online, or take customized quizzes, or listen to a ‘non-robotic’ voice read the text to them matters much less to them than cost savings.
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