Pearson signals demise of the college textbook in digital drive

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019

Textbooks sit on a shelf at the Chegg Inc. warehouse in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, U.S., on Thursday, April 29, 2010. No more $120 chemistry books. That's the message from textbook-rental service Chegg Inc., which is urging college students to stop paying top dollar to buy their tomes. Photographer: John Sommers II/Bloomberg

The world’s biggest educational publisher will release all future editions of its US titles digitally first, as students dump their traditional textbooks and switch to online learning. 

Britain’s Pearson Plc used to rely heavily on selling the chunky, expensive textbooks that students needed to pass their exams. The arrival of cheaper information online and a new trend for renting rather than buying course materials forced it into a painful adjustment. 

The company said July 16 it will now update its 1,500 active US titles on an ongoing basis digitally when there are new developments in the field of study. 

“Our digital first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues,” chief executive officer John Fallon said in a statement. “By providing better value to students, they have less reason to turn to the secondary market.” 

Students expect to pay about US$40 (RM164) on average for an electronic book, and US$79 (RM325) for a full suite of digital learning tools, Pearson said. The company will still offer print books for rent, for an average price of US$60 (RM246).  

“What this looks like is a tacit admission that there is no return to the days of high textbook prices,” Liberum analysts led by Ian Whittaker wrote in a research note. 

Pearson shares were up 2.8% as of 9.25am in London.  

Pearson has struggled to maintain its foothold in the US market – its largest source of income – and faces competition from new rivals including Inc. Its US sales have fallen by more than US$200mil (RM822.06mil) since 2016, according to Bloomberg calculations.  

The company said almost two-thirds of its revenue now comes from digital or digitally enabled products and services. Non-publishing activities such as professional testing and virtual degrees have been growing, with the company expecting overall sales to stabilise in 2019. – Bloomberg

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