Pearson takes first step to phasing out print books

The move comes as the world’s largest education publisher adopts a ‘digital first’ approach to the provision of learning materials

Pearson, the world’s largest education publisher, is taking a first step towards phasing out hard-copy books.

For 40 years, the company has been revising its print editions every three years. No more. Instead, this industry-dominating model is set to be replaced by a ‘digital first’ approach.

All future releases of Pearson’s 1500 active US titles will be updated on an ongoing basis, utilising AI, data analytics, and the company’s own efficacy research. In time, explains Pearson CEO, John Fallon, the approach will be extended to other markets, the UK included.

Nearly 90% of learners currently utitlise some kind of digital education tool

“Students are demanding easier to access and more affordable higher education materials, with nearly 90% of learners using some kind of digital education tool,” says Fallon. “We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient and personalised digital materials to students.”

While American course materials currently account for 20% of Pearson’s revenues, the firm has been grappling with the problem of students increasingly choosing to save money by using secondhand materials.

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“Our digital first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues,” adds Fallon. “By providing better value to students, they have less reason to turn to the secondary market. This will create a more predictable, visible revenue stream with a better quality of earnings that enables us to serve the needs of learners and customers more effectively.”

Students can expect, on average, to pay $40 for an eBook and $79 for a full suite of digital learning tools. Those who still want a print textbook will be able to rent one from Pearson for an average price of $60.

All future releases of Pearson’s 1500 active U.S. titles will be updated on an ongoing basis

The ‘digital first’ policy is a natural progression for a company which already makes more than half of its annual revenues from digital sales, and is being consolidated by Pearson releasing its popular Revel product on the company’s new Global Learning Platform, an engine it is claimed launches “personalised learning experiences more quickly and with better outcomes”.

Commenting on the news, Matt Glotzbach, CEO of user-generated learning platform Quizlet, said: “If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s not just about digital textbooks. It’s about an ecosystem that can bring all of a student’s resources together. We are going to see publishers continue to expand their digital courseware options and look to subscriptions and other new business models.

“We’ll also see movement towards building out interactive, user-friendly digital platforms that include more partnerships with value-added resources and interactive study tools. Longterm, I predict we’ll also start to see more specialised resource bundles tailored to specific types of students. Imagine college-major specific, and even course-specific, micro-subscriptions that tailor content to exact programmes, offering students the right value at the right price, with the ability to avoid content they don’t need.”

Come the autumn, Pearson will release its Aida app, an AI-enabled calculus tutor designed to help students learn with step-by-step feedback.