Pearson Ready To Take Off With “Digital First”

For many years, the textbooks publishers followed the same tradition; publishing a book, its inclusion in lesson plans; fixing a high price; revise and update its content as needed every few years to keep students paying top price. But things have changed in the past few years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of textbooks has increased 183 percent over the last 20 years. It happened as the students turned towards more affordable options; textbook prices have hit the roof to make up for the lost revenue.

In 2007, a company called Chegg launched its online textbook rental service. In 2017, Amazon also jumped on the bandwagon. To name, these are just two, but there was mushrooming of online rental service.

This was a blow to the textbook publishing companies. Even Pearson, which is one of the world’s largest education company, suffered immensely. Its revenues have fallen from $2 billion in 2013 to $1.3 billion up till now. Pearson is a British company that provides textbooks, class materials, and testing.  In the past few years, Pearson’s sales and profits saw a significant decline due to changes in the US market as the students are more inclined to save money by using preloved textbooks

Pearson finally realized that books are going through a big transition of physical to digital. According to Pearson CEO, John Fallon, the first step in solving a problem, is recognizing you’ve got one. For Pearson, the problem is its textbooks. For this reason, Pearson has announced that it will release all of its books in “digital first” form for the United States college market. Pearson’s sales have declined each of the last five years. Many have lost their jobs and factions of the company had to be sold to restructure.

CEO of Pearson, John Fallon
CEO of Pearson, John Fallon

Pearson’s step towards digital first is a crucial step towards a workable business model. Pearson’s recent e-books cost around $40. For extra learning tools connected to the ebooks, students can pay $79. Printed textbooks usually cost around $110- $300. With this offer, the cost will be reduced due to paper saving and printing overheads. The company also forecast growth in its sales in 2020.

It is also a win-win situation for students. Not only that it costs less but digital books also take up less space and books will also get frequent updates.  So whether it is a new scientific development or a case study or drastic changes in world politics, the updates are available with new developments, unlike printed textbooks which are updated every three years, a model that has ruled the industry for 40 years. Incorporating videos and assessments are also part of the plan.

In addition to content learning, the methodology of education has also changed.  An upcoming Pearson app called Aida uses machine learning to give personalized feedback for learning calculus. A combination of lectures and technology is expected to produce better results. John Fallon, Pearson’s chief executive, told the Reuters news agency, “I am increasingly confident and excited about this.”

The company is expected to release 1,500 current US titles “ digital first” in the future. Next year the firm will only update 100 of its 1,500 titles in print – down from 500 in 2019. Pearson leaders believe the transformation to digital first will help the company have more predictable earnings because students may have less of a reason to buy used books.

Pearson said 62 percent of its earnings now comes from digital or digital-enabled products and services. Fallon believes the change can stabilize the U.S. college business, and start growing his company’s profits once again. For now, the plans are only for the US market but will be extended to the UK soon.

However, technology doesn’t mean equal opportunities for everyone. Students from rural areas and low income households have limited access to the internet and connected devices on which they’ll have to complete the online homework.

More on, many professors believe that reading digitally is not helping the students in terms of comprehension. The students are usually distracted by notifications or apps on devices. Even without those distractions, the students tend to retain less when reading digitally.  Students read more quickly and less deeply.  Lauren Singer Trackman who studies reading comprehension at the University of Maryland’s Discipline and Research Laboratory, have concluded that the students had a difficult time in extracting details, key facts, figures and numbers when reading digitally while participants did a lot better when they read in print.

Even though an ebook layout resembles a physical book, students move around the page less, missing supporting materials like diagrams. With fast-changing technology, it is essential to pace up with the needs of the time, but one should be mindful of time and place when using these resources as they are not the best for student learning.

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