Are traditional textbooks on their way out? Pearson, the world’s largest education publisher, is now making all its learning resources “digital-first.” This
E-textbooks, on the other hand, are interactive and updated continually. They can also incorporate videos and assessments that provide students with instant feedback.
So why is Pearson going digital? Currently, the firm makes two percent of its revenues from US course materials, but its sales and profits have been falling for years as students increasingly prefer to rent second-hand textbooks to save money.
Pearson CEO John Fallon told the BBC: “For the Netflix and Spotify generation, they expect to rent not own.” Fallon hopes this shift will encourage more students to rent e-textbooks directly from Pearson, instead of renting print copies from libraries or outside vendors.
Though Pearson has revised and reprinted textbooks every three years for the past four decades, the firm will only update 100 of its 1,500 titles in print next year — down from 500 in 2019. The shift will start in Pearson’s US market, but move to the UK and other international markets in the next few years.
“We are now over the digital tipping point,” Fallon said. “We learn by engaging and sharing with others, and a digital environment enables you to do that in a much more effective way.”
Because over half of Pearson’s annual revenues come from digital sales, the company is deciding to follow the footsteps of the music and news industries. “It’s time to flick the switch in how we primarily create our products,” Fallon announced. Though print textbooks will continue to be used, Fallon predicts that they will become “a progressively smaller part of the learning experience.”
Textbook authors are wary of this change since many of Pearson’s digital products are sold on a subscription basis. They’re worried that they’ll lose out on profits, similar to the way musicians’ revenue has suffered at the hands of music streaming services.
Fallon denies this, saying the firm’s plans will provide authors with “a more sustainable income over time.” Either way, this shift to digital learning will change classrooms in a big way. It’s likely to invite in-class computer use and online homework. Students can say goodbye to lockers and backpacks full of textbooks.