Can the textbook industry reimagine itself?

September 26th, 2012

Atrist and writer Katherine Tyrrell weighs in on my summary of the textbook fracas.

In order to focus efforts towards the short-term goal of resolving the issues with this particular course material, I’ve so far somewhat skirted the issue of the changing nature of publishing and how it is affecting post-secondary educational textbooks, impacting both the cost and efficacy of the education of our future generations.

As Katherine points out, we have Pearson, who is

a publisher who is trying hard to work out how it can create new products out of its existing asset base – in much the same way as many other publishers – in order to create new profit streams within the context of the collapse of the traditional business model for publishing

Unfortunately, it’s woefully apparent that the new profit streams they are creating are almost universally abhorred – witness the waves of angst expressed when you simply search for the word “textbook” on Reddit. If that’s not an industry shunted onto the same siding as a speeding freight train, I don’t know what is.

And before you dump on Redditors for being overly tetchy, remember that this is the cohort of our near future, also representing who we all were not so many years ago.

I can recall myself being peeved at textbook prices back in the early 80s, but at that time there were no courses for which the text changed every single term or changed from a one-time product purchase to essentially an annuity for the publisher.

I entreat upon Pearson and every other player in the space to make it their business to take the initiative to come up with innovative solutions that work with the schools and students to provide affordable and workable course materials without making students feel they are being deceived or fleeced. So far it ain’t working.

One comment to “Can the textbook industry reimagine itself?”

  1. I’ve just been researching something else entirely but happened on a website which highlighted the provisions of the Higher Education Act 2008 in the USA. This REQUIRES all educational establishments to define and COST all text books required for a course whether in print or online so as to allow a student to estimate the real cost of taking a course.

    “The act mandates that textbook costs be available as part of any schedule of classes, whether online or in print. The intent of this act is to allow students to shop for the best price on textbooks and thus lower their costs. “

    It seems that excessive prices of textbooks is something that has also been a major issue in the USA and that this has been addressed in part via this Act.

    Maybe something like this could usefully happen in Canada as well?

    Heads of Departments and Lecturers may then find that students don’t sign up for courses which have excessive textbook costs. They then might start devising better ways of addressing this very serious issue.