Education publisher to swap print textbooks for digital alternatives

Textbook supplier Pearson will start to phase out physical materials in favour of digital education tools.

The aim is to reduce the cost of textbooks.
The aim is to reduce the cost of textbooks.

The British-owned publishing company, which supplies schools in 70 countries across the world, said it was moving to a “digital-first” model for its higher education market in the US, including e-textbooks, which would lower prices for students, but also bolster its revenues.

From now on print textbooks will largely be available through a rental service and they will no longer be regularly revised. The company said it would look at moving to digital-first models in other markets, including the UK, in the future, but there were no plans at present.

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Teachers in Britain have defended paper textbooks, saying there is a place for them alongside digital resources.

Pearson’s move was motivated by students’ demand for “easier to access and more affordable higher education materials”, the company’s chief executive John Fallon said. “We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient and personalised digital materials to students,” he said. “Our digital first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues.

“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.”

Pearson said nearly half of its 1,500 US higher education titles already have a digital component and that it would focus on updating this material more frequently, driven by developments in the subject.

Students will pay for the resources under a subscription service, with exact fees decided between Pearson and their college.

The education company has been hit by falling sales of late, as students turn to cheaper second-hand textbooks.

Mr Fallon said print books would not disappear completely, but would play a smaller role in learning in the future.

Education leaders warned that if Pearson’s digital-first model was rolled out to the UK, it could negatively affect students who cannot afford a digital device. In the UK, the company is best known for running the Edexcel exam board and BTEC qualifications, which are the equivalent of A-levels.