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Pearson Shifting to “Digital-First” Approach

Posted on 07/19/2019

Pearson, the largest education company in the world, recently announced that it will adopt a "digital-first" approach to publishing textbooks in the higher education market. This is its most significant move to date over the last few years as the company shifts its business model from print to digital in a textbook publishing field that has been significantly challenged by technology.

For many years, the textbook publishing model has been to issue a print version and then begin working on a revised version with updates, edits, and proofing that comes out three years later; the revised version then triggers the revision cycle for the next version. This model of late has triggered complaints that publishers are revising merely to generate revenue rather than issue a substantially new text, and independent research has shown that a revised edition costs 12% more than the previous edition. In the coming years, Pearson will not abandon print entirely, but it said that they are going to move away from this print-led model to a "digital-first" model wherein updates and edits will be made continually to the digital version and new print editions will only come out if the content changes substantially. Furthermore, print copies will only be available for rental, not sale. Like other publishers, Pearson is moving to a subscription model that it feels matches what students experience in other parts of their lives (think Netflix and Spotify).

This move by Pearson has implications for the future of digital learning. Even though some have pronounced the death of the textbook (see our previous OTAN news item, The 21st Century Textbook), print has proved surprising resilient – online retailers like Amazon and Chegg have shown that discounted and secondhand copies of books are a popular and economical option for many students, and if professors want students to use print copies for class, then print prevails in many cases. Ultimately, though, many see digital reaching a tipping point at some point in the future where print will no longer be an option – colleges and universities will be steered towards digital as publishers offer content at prices that make economic sense for students. One other group interested in how this goes are advocates for OER – open education resources – who have been waiting for big publishers to make an impact in the world of digital learning. OER organizations like OER Commons External link opens in new window or tab have been around for a number of years and offer free or substantially discounted digital materials that are an alternative to content for sale by publishers – how aggressive moves by Pearson and others will affect OER remains to be seen.

This "digital-first" move by Pearson and similar actions by other publishers should be on our radar as we think about how to provide content to our adult ed students and what the future of learning looks like in our classrooms and schools.

Article: Pearson Signals Major Shift From Print by Making All Textbook Updates 'Digital First' External link opens in new window or tab from EdSurge

Article: Education publisher Pearson to phase out print textbooks External link opens in new window or tab from BBC News

Article: Predictions of Print Textbooks' Death Remain Greatly Exaggerated External link opens in new window or tab from EdSurge

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