The digital textbook industry garnered 27% of the $12.4 billion spent on textbooks for secondary schools and colleges in the United States last year. A variety of new business models have erupted that do everything from charging per page read to fully interactive editions. Google, Amazon, and a myriad of other companies have all jumped into the fray to get a piece of an increasingly lucrative market. Major textbook publishers are trying to tap into new revenue models to deal with students directly, and may have found the holy grail.
Pearson and McGraw-Hill Education are going to be rolling out a new distribution model very soon: creating online versions of their texts, often loaded with interactive features, and selling students access codes that expire at semester’s end. One of the big advantages of this new model is being able to edit and update the content very quickly, with new material pushed out to all users around the world.
Currently, textbook publishers are facing a crisis as students embrace renting them instead of buying them outright. Consider the widely used textbook, “Biology,” by Sylvia Mader and Michael Windelspecht, published by McGraw-Hill. The ebook costs $120, a steep discount from the $229 cost for a new print textbook. But savvy shoppers do better. The same book in printed form can be rented for $36. It can also be bought used for $102, and later resold on the secondhand market for up to $95, according to the website CheapestTextbooks.com.
It will be interesting to see if textbook publishers can market this new initiative and if students will embrace it. They seem rather gung-ho about launching this new program.