Can the ‘Netflix for Textbooks’ Model Really Improve Access?

Textbooks play a central role in the discussion of high quality affordability, and publishers have long been chosen as villains, leading to high profits. Textbook prices Rise.

Nowadays some publishers are trying new sales models that they say will save students money: textbook subscription services. The latest player to jump in is Pearson, who released Pearson Plus in the summer as a “pay-as-you-go” alternative to traditional textbooks.

Pearson Plus members pay $ 9.99 per month for a single entry to a digital textbook or $ 14.99 per month for access to more than 1,500 titles on the company’s platform, with a minimum four-month requirement for each plan. Users have access to audiobook versions of their texts – available for about 60 percent of the titles – with study guides and discounts on separate tutoring services for premium clients.

The price is slightly lower than a similar model offered by Cengage, which charges eng 69.99 per semester to access Cengage Unlimited, its entire e-library and related homework system, which professors often assign with textbooks. Perlego, a small publisher with a subscription model, charges users $ 18 per month for the use of its textbook catalogs who purchase a one-year subscription.

The model is referred to as “Netflix for textbooks, ”Comparing it to a popular subscription streaming service that charges a long monthly fee for all of its content. And textbook publishers are using the approach that they claim can save students money, if they have been awarded medals by more than one publisher in any semester. But the question of the value of a textbook subscription can be more complicated than the price listed on the checkout page.

Experts say perhaps the biggest change that represents Pearson’s movement is the continued exploitation of the secondary textbook market, where students get some of their money back when they resell used books, but publishers do not get resale deductions. Finally, students cannot resell a digital book that goes out at the end of the semester. And the concern of industry-observers is that in the long run, publisher prices could rise further if used textbook options one day completely disappear from the landscape.

Is changing over time

Cengage Unlimited was launched three years ago as a more affordable textbook option for students, says Erin Joyner, senior vice president of Cengage’s U.S. higher education product. Since then, the platform has included soft skills guides on how to improve study skills or how to prepare for the job market.

According to her, she tried to answer the customer’s call for a lower price option. “It’s logical,” she added, “we have access to all of this material, why are we giving it access in pieces? How can it really affect affordability?”

Digital textbooks produce much more data than hardcopy textbooks. In addition, publishers see opportunities for new lines of revenue.

Christie Gan, senior vice president of Pearson’s direct-to-consumer business, says the Pearson Plus model was created to make textbooks more affordable by being competitive with other textbook purchasing methods. Pearson Plus can always offer students the latest versions of their books and give users something more than a platform, she says.

“We want to make sure we build a relationship with the student so that we can tailor the learning experience to the student’s needs,” says Gana. “We want to help them study better. I think we will create great study tools to help students on their learning journey. We need data to be able to do that. ”

Meanwhile, when students resell their books, Gana says, Pearson no longer plays a role in the quality of that experience.

Outside (market) place

Subscription services are a cause for concern for Nicole Lenlan, director of free education at the Coalition of Scholarly Publications and Educational Resources. She noted that major publishers have been offering digital textbooks for more than 10 years but have recently introduced subscription values.

“It basically allows them to be removed from the secondary market equation,” she says. “If you look at the prices, used books and rental prices are in many ways lower than digital rentals. [book]. That’s why the all-access model is so important ते it takes that choice away from students. ”

Associate Vice President of the Institute of Curriculum and Academic Teaching in the American Colleges and Universities Association c. The subscription approach reduces the sticker shock of paying for books at the same time and can imagine encouraging students to buy Pearson books from their professors if they can save their money. But, he says, don’t call it “Netflix for textbooks.”

“The misconception is that Netflix is ​​an entertainment venue,” says Watson. “Pearson has 1,500 textbooks, but I don’t think students will just go around looking for entertainment from textbooks.”

Like Len Lane, he realized that turning to digital textbooks meant there was no physical copy for students to sell or share with friends.

Watson says, “This whole idea of ​​a resale type disappears, which is probably part of the purpose.

Publishers may enjoy new insights as the digital textbook platform grows, but Allen says there isn’t enough conversation about what kind of information publishers should be authorized to collect.

You’re Lane says, “The game changes when you just sell content that sells content that can give you insights into campus and individual student habits and lives.” “When we think of an algorithm that decides for an organization who is cheating in a test or who thinks it’s stolen, it affects people’s lives.”

Caitlin Gilbert, a junior studying psychology and English at the University of North Carolina, estimates she has spent $ 350 on textbooks this year. Her New Year’s total was close to $ 500.

Textbook prices are on her mind as a chapter of her school’s North Carolina Public Interest Research Group. As part of her textbook affordability campaign, she is urging professors to adopt free or low-cost open educational resources instead of preferred medals from traditional publishers.

“It simply came to our notice then The problem is the access codeReferring to the growing practice of professors appointing homework systems from publishers, she says, each student needs to purchase a code to complete the basic work of the course. No student should be paid to do their homework. ”

With extra bells and whistles added by publishers to their textbook platforms, Gilbert says they don’t usually influence students ’purchasing decisions.

“With every student I spoke to [cares] About the cost, “says Gilbert.” I’ve never heard anyone try to compare features. Although some features seem cool, in the end, we have a limited budget to get what we need. “

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