Textbooks and the textbook publishing industry have transformed. That is good news for everyone.

Published September 5, 2019

By Nana Banerjee, Chief Executive Officer


The old college textbook publishing model is gone.

Such a declaration may seem surprising coming from the CEO of one of the largest educational “publishers.” But it’s true, and it’s a great thing for students and instructors.

Many have been predicting the death of print textbooks for the better part of the past decade and a half. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. But the old business model, built solely around the monolithic and expensive hardbound textbook, has been fundamentally disrupted, both by technology and by college students’ demands for innovation, more choice and greater affordability.

Out of the ashes of that archaic business model, a robust marketplace for course materials has been born, and is beginning to mature. This new model is causing prices to drop.

College students now spend less than $500 per year on course materials, down 24 percent in two years. That alone would be cause for celebration. But in addition, the new model provides more choice for students and increases access to new kinds of tools that can enrich the learning moment and help students succeed, while at the same time providing more affordable print options that students want and value.

These are exciting times for anyone who is invested in student success. Here are some examples of how things have changed:

  1. Digital Courseware: High-quality educational content remains just as important as it’s always been for students, whether they’re studying business or history or biology. But technology has forced companies like ours to shift focus from simply distributing content to the enrichment of the learning moment. Powerful new instructional platforms and learning tools can dynamically react to individual students’ needs within those moments and, as a result, have transformed how students interact with their course materials. These technologies, artificial intelligence and adaptive technology, offer a superior way to study, and the results from colleges that use them are compelling. Rigorous research conducted recently at Milwaukee Area Technical College showed an artificially intelligent learning tool helping provide a boost of 15 points in math pass rates. In another study of chemistry students at West Virginia University, adaptive technology helped increase the odds of higher grades for average, below average and failing students. At the same time, these digital tools are half the cost of textbooks, given that they can be published and sold without the need for printing, warehousing or physical distribution. The format and the price point directly reflect how today’s students want and expect to study.
  2. Inclusive Access: Inclusive Access is a new system to deliver learning materials (usually digital) to all students in a course on the first day of class, typically via a learning management system that most colleges already use these days. By ensuring that all students have access to course materials on day 1, Inclusive Access programs mitigate one of the most common pitfalls of the old educational publishing model: students who arrive on the first day of class without the materials they need to succeed in college. Again, there’s also a cost-saving benefit. By ensuring that most, if not all, students receive the course materials, colleges can secure significant discounts compared to the old model in which prices were based on individual student sales. Inclusive Access prices are generally 50 to 80 percent less than the cost of traditional textbooks.
  3. More Options: Simply put, technology now means that there is virtually no limit to how students can access course materials. They can choose to either order their materials or rent them, and to do so either directly from organizations like McGraw-Hill or from sites like Chegg or Amazon. They can use digital materials, bound books, or loose-leaf versions. And the growth of open educational resources (OER) has provided yet another option for some classes. A flourishing market puts the power in students’ hands and drives the overall cost down.

Higher education is crucial for students to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow. As learning companies, we must do everything we can to ensure students can afford to go to college and that they have the support they need to succeed and graduate. There’s more work to be done, to be sure – but as we look to the future, we have much to be excited and optimistic about.

Follow Nana Banerjee on LinkedIn for more insights on education.