The Death Of Ownership: Educational Publishing Giant Pearson To Do Away With Print Textbooks (That Can Be Resold)

from the you-don't-own-anything dept

It sometimes is difficult to get people to understand just how >utterly insane the college textbook market is. You have a captive audience who has no choice but to purchase what the professor requires (which is why it’s doubly lame when professors require their own books). But even people who went to college a few decades ago may not be aware of just how much textbook prices have kept rising. A study from 2015 showed that college textbook prices had risen over 1000% since 1977. 1,000%.

Another BLS study from 2016 showed that, in the education space, the price of textbooks had gone up even faster than the cost of tuition (which is also skyrocketing).

In short: college textbooks are crazy, crazy expensive. And one way that people have dealt with this over the years is (1) by buying used textbooks, or (2) by selling back the textbooks at the end of the semester (or in some cases, both). However, that’s the one factor that’s acted as competition to the textbook market.

And the publishers want to do away with it.

The largest educational textbook publisher, Pearson, has now announced that it’s going to phase out print textbooks and move solely to electronic textbooks. If you actually want a physical textbook, you’ll only be able to “rent” it:

Pearson said students would only be able to rent physical textbooks from now on, and they would be updated much less frequently.

The British firm hopes the move will make more students buy its e-textbooks which are updated continually.

There’s an argument that ebooks have certain advantages — and can be updated much more quickly. Also carrying around a ton of textbooks can be a pain. But, we’re once again left in a world where the concept of “ownership” is left open. I still have a bunch of college textbooks that I sometimes even refer back to. But under this system, if you stop paying your “subscription” fees, those can go away.

And, yes, there’s value in embracing a more digital future — but it’s difficult to believe that Pearson is truly doing this to improve the value for students, rather than just upending the older market order, and taking away the ability for people to own and to resell textbooks.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: pearson

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Death Of Ownership: Educational Publishing Giant Pearson To Do Away With Print Textbooks (That Can Be Resold)”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Plus there’s the part where e-textbooks are complete ass to navigate, can’t be shared in class or group settings like a physical book can, and add to the already existing eye-straining you get from reading a normal textbook.

Remember when the draw of kindles was that Amazon had managed to make a device that displayed ebooks but sans-flicking the pages in your fingers it was just like reading a print book? I miss that.

a sentient cat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m a rabid fan of ebooks for my personal library, but I agree that textbooks or anything with indices, lots of footnotes, or cross-referencing between pages of the book is a huge pain to do on an ereader. I don’t know of any way to conveniently reproduce holding a physical book open to two different pages and looking back and forth between them.

Pearson is the absolute worst anyway. Everything they do is to grab more money. I predict that their ebook portal will be bug-riddled to the point of unusability their response to students’ complaints will be, essentially, "sucks to be you."

One last thing: ebooks can absolutely be shared in a group setting. It won’t take long for someone smarter than me to crack Pearson’s DRM. They could do something like Microsoft does with electronic copies of certification exam study texts and put "from the library of Purchaser’s Name" on every page, but that could be sanitized away if needed.

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Even if the DRM is magically unbreakable (LOL) you can still OCR the thing as long as you can read it yourself. Even better if they still offer rentals. When I was in college there would usually be at least one kid in every class who would use the library book scanners to create ebooks. They’d take names on the first day of class and split the cost of the book between them. I think they usually bought a copy and sold it at the end of the semester, but that could work just as well with a rental…although I never actually saw the scanners they used so I don’t know if it required damaging the book or something. But even then I figure they’d probably just do it anyway and pay whatever the replacement cost was…

I’m also wondering if this applies to "International Editions" though, because that’s what I always bought. Same content at about a tenth of the price…

Keep the Fifth (profile) says:

Re: Death of Ownership of educational material
This reminds me of Aaron Swartz who felt information should available for free for everyone and you should not have to belong to a club or a specialized college to obtain any information. It should be free. After all paying the tuition is enough to break mosts peoples desire of a higher education, and there is a bit of greed in educational institutions. Think of all the progress we could be missing ot on if only people who are most interested in a subject can benefit from what is already known or being pushed into our consciousness. Recall he was downloading from a library and putting thesis and other written material that had to be purchased directly or indirectly denied to the 99 percent. Book being charged one thousand percent higher than 40 years ago is absurd and a lot of it is archaic and theories theories now debunked. Seems most of my old college texts are now so lacking in information that resale of most books is hardly worth the trouble. Give them the darn books free.
Why do we have grants? To pay labs to use embryos to plant in mice to give them human immunity. Get real. All the foreign doctors in America now cannot even understand English, maybe speak it decently but no conversational skills putting our health at risk. Pay for our own doctors to get an education and the rest too. Russia has free education. Does that make them bad? I admire that value of a country to educate their masses. We are slipping all out of greed and will or some believe are a third world country, importing all the technical people whose countries py their education here in the USA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Many schools in the county I am in is starting to create their own curriculum due to the rising costs and inflexibility of publishers. Several teachers work year round and in the summer, they spend time updating school created curriculum as needed to continue to stay up to date and meet state standards. It is also all digital to make it easy to access on any device or printed out as needed.

Anonymous Coward says:

which is why it’s doubly lame when professors require their own books

I found the opposite in Uni: whenever a professor required their own book, they’d provide it free of cost. One was free for anyone online, another was on a password-protected site—both were also in the bookstore and library if anyone needed physical copies—and a third only existed as preprint PDFs.

For the other courses, we quickly found the definition of "required" was flexible and we only needed to buy about half those books. Indeed it was convenient to buy and sell those used, though even then (~2002) publishers were fighting us with pointless reorganisations in new editions.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

I had professors on both sides of that situation. One required their own book for class, a relatively thin (yet still very expensive!) textbook we all bought from the bookstore and then spent the entire first class marking up as the prof listed all of the errata in it.

The other required a book they were nearly finished writing, but provided hard copy printouts of the chapter proofs as we went through the semester. We all wound up with a huge binder of paper, but guess which book we griped about more?

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I can only remember one prof who "required" their own textbook when I was in school. Best/worst part was they didn’t actually use it. They explained on the first day that they had tried to list no textbooks, because it was a Java programming class and he thought the online documentation was good enough…but the administration told him he was required to list a mandatory textbook, so he put his own since he obviously thought it was worthwhile at least. But he did tell us all on the first day that it wasn’t necessary and we should try to return it if we’d already bought a copy xD

murgatroyd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In most of my classes, I list books as recommended rather than required; the only exceptions are those (very few) classes for which I believe the book is really critical. I’ve done this for almost 20 years now, mostly because of the skyrocketing cost of textbooks. I also always list online references for those who don’t want to buy a book at all.

I have never felt right about requiring that students buy anything that I might get royalties from, so for classes I teach where I use my own textbook, I never make it required, and I always tell my students about other equivalent texts.

Jason says:

And the textbooks that some students may want to keep? (As a reference, perhaps, because it’s closely tied to their eventual degree or career?) Not everyone always resells every one of their college textbooks, after all. I guess the preferred outcome is that a person will sign up to a lifetime subscription.

Then there’s this nugget (from the linked article):

He added: "For the Netflix and Spotify generation, they expect to rent not own."

I never cease to find it funny (or was it "aggravating"?) when any kind of trend (whether real or on the fringes) is hailed as a fait accompli by sales and marketing when it suits their purpose (no more printing costs, and subscription income for life!) but dismissed as a ridiculous fad (people don’t want to ditch their cable bundles!) when it doesn’t.

Maybe I’m just mad that I can’t find a copy of a this-week-released movie in stock at Best Buy but had to walk past their shelf full of vinyl in the process of looking.

boba (profile) says:

The solution is...

Well not the panacea but when this Lab Rat was TA’ing (Writing, Art History, Geography) I deliberately made everything on-line. Assigned articles, provided scans of book chapters, and generally used solely “free” material. (Library paid the JSTOR / Elsevier extortion fees so students did not pay more) Some students complained that they didn’t have books to take-away but most flocked to our classes (I was teamed with 2 professors) because of the no books policy. Yeah a bunch of work for me but I thought that was the deal: I work and learn, they learn.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: mandatory textbook purchases

In my experience (which is before ebooks existed), professors who mandated a copy of the textbook were to-be-avoided for reasons other than the textbook mandate (say, they were abusive, or had the exuberance of a pitch drop experiment.

Typically, yeah professors who relied heavily on their texts would hand out copies of the next chapter to those students willing to admit they’re too poor to get the stupidly expensive book.

A fond physics professor who wrote the class textbook offered a bounty on errors which fueled milkshake money for some of the more spirited classmates.

Anonymous Coward says:

And, yes, there’s value in embracing a more digital future — but it’s difficult to believe that Pearson is truly doing this to improve the value for students, rather than just upending the older market order, and taking away the ability for people to own and to resell textbooks.

Have they announced what those subscription fees will be? If you don’t get to keep the book then I would expect the "rental" would be a lot less than the cost to purchase a printed copy. After all, printing and distribution were a huge part of the printed book expenses. If the prices are more akin to renting a movie versus buying your own copy then this might actually help bring prices for access to textbooks back to the realm of sanity. And carrying around a tablet or laptop is far more convenient than a huge pile of books.

As for keeping your books as reference material, how much of that material isn’t actually available online, you know, where it is much more easily searched? I threw out libraries of books once I realized I was searching for and finding the info online far faster and with a much greater wealth of data than I could hope to achieve browsing all of my printed books.

I’ll reserve judgement until I see if this publisher is just trying to extort more money out of students as they have a reputation for doing or if they set their pricing at actually reasonable levels.

ECA (profile) says:

Always amzed me..

You write a custom book based on Current, past knowledge…
Where’s the Copyrights?? wheres the IP??

most math has no major changes. Even TEACHING math has few changes..
History, is only added to.
Only way science can be taught is after it has been proven and documented.

What in all of Schooling can be Copy-written?
IMO, Not a hell of a lot..

Anonymous Coward says:

Speaking as someone who’s currently in school, there seems to be a misconception in these comments that there are actual e-book files to download and crack the DRM on. My school uses McGraw Hill for most courses now, and there’s nothing to download – your only option is to read it via their online reader. No internet connection = No book for you!

My classes are also often set up where it’s billed to your student account with no way to opt-out. Last semester I paid $116 to "rent" an "e-book" where I could have rented a physical copy on Amazon for $25. Tried to fight it and was told too bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

My school uses McGraw Hill for most courses now, and there’s nothing to download – your only option is to read it via their online reader.

How do you think the "online reader" works? As with "streaming", it would be better called "download and delete". Every page you’ve seen through the online reader has been downloaded, i.e. sent from the remote computer to yours, and can in principle be saved. (It gets into "arms race" territory—you may find yourself banned if you request pages 1-300 in quick sequence. There’s probably some fine print saying they can arbitrarily do that and keep your money.)

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Which is funny..
as if it is common knowledge, then they cant restrict it..
If its knowledge from other sources, and under copyright, They can. But FEW ever release Copy written material. because a Smart person would require them to Pay, per person reading it.

And yes, there are tricks to copying Online.. And Tricks to hiding DATA so it cant be kept..
But you cant beat PRINT PAGE..(or window snipit. I created short cut to it)

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

There’s an argument that ebooks have certain advantages — and can be updated much more quickly.

How is that an advantage? College courses are supposed to give you a sound understanding of basic principles in a field of knowledge, and basic principles of knowledge, pretty much by definition, are not chaotic things that change frequently and require quick adaptation in their learning! If your textbooks legitimately needing to be updated during the course of your studies is not an exceptionally rare occurrence, either you’re in a bleeding-edge emerging field or something is very wrong with the curriculum.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Unchanging basic principles

Although the basic principles DON’T change, some texts do a poor job of presenting that information.

The useful extension of updateable (e)books is the ability to use feedback from students to dynamically enhance the text to clarify anything unclear and make the text more useful. This is value-adding that is independent of the vendor lock-in model.

It can almost approach the website-as-a-book level, although there definitely major advantages to the "physically thumbing through" etc models mentioned elsewhere in the comments.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Unchanging basic principles

If the ‘approved’ textbook needs feedback from students to correct it, it isn’t much of a textbook for learning. That alone should disqualify it from being presented as a ‘source’.

Textbooks should be peer reviewed and vetted, and not the way publishers do it, but the way scientists do it, regardless of which regime. Art history and other humanity type courses can be quantified an qualified despite how the ‘winners’ of a war decide how that war should be represented. The truth does not actually bow to what some bloviates say the truth should be.

And, as Mason points out, much knowledge for basic learning doesn’t change rapidly, those changes are qualified and quantified to the nth degree over time with many concurring opinions, and only a few dissents which are documented and also quantified and qualified. Which wins depends upon logic and reason not ideology or who won some war.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Unchanging basic principles

If the ‘approved’ textbook needs feedback from students to correct it, it isn’t much of a textbook for learning. That alone should disqualify it from being presented as a ‘source’.

Correct. And yet we find ourselves having this discussion because some people don’t / won’t provide, or use better sources.

Fortunately, crowdsourcing is starting to work around that, although there will never be a universal panacea. And much of this discussion could just as easily be talking about the **AA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Unchanging basic principles

Although the basic principles DON’T change, some texts do a poor job of presenting that information.

It’s rare to see any book substantially improved in a later edition. Simple errors get fixed, but large-scale rework to ease understanding is almost unheard of. Large-scale rearrangement (reordering chapters, renumbering problems etc.) to screw with the resale market, on the other hand…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Umm, law?

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which held that the military commissions the Bush Admin set up for Guantanamo detainees were illegal, was decided in June 2006, but the constitutional law casebook used for my fall class still had the D.C. Court of Appeals opinion, which ruled the opposite. That’s one example. Given the schedule of the Supreme Court vs. publishing timetables, I suspect it happens a lot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Buy One, Crack One, Upload One

With the nearly insta-cracking of Denuvo, we now see that the virtues of DRM are like those touted for "stainless" steel, i.e., more a wish than a promise. I anticipate the new e-book-only sales channel to become more of a direct-to-ThePirateBay route.

<MinnesotaMomVoice>You know how techno those pesky college kids are.</MinnesotaMomVoice>

Rico R. (profile) says:

My Pearson eBook experience

Let me tell you, my experience with Pearson’s eBooks is anything but positive.

When I was in college, I had a psychology gen-ed requirement. There were two possible classes I could use to fulfill that requirement: Intro to Psychology and Psychology of Human Relations. Based on the class description, I thought Intro to Psychology would be a better fit for me. That class utilized a Pearson eBook (though I had a binder’s worth of physical papers as well). Well, I got the class syllabus a week before classes, and it looked hard. Typing in the code for the eBook confirmed that it was going to be too hard for me. I talked to a counselor at my school, and I was able to drop out of Intro to Psychology and enroll in Psychology of Human Relations. That counselor also advised me I could potentially sell my Intro to Psychology book back, so I went to the school’s book store.

However, I was completely shocked to hear they wouldn’t buy back my binder’s worth of papers. Why? Because they would only buy back that if I could sell them back the code for the eBook as well. The problem? That code is only good for one use. So all that paper in my binder was useless for the book store. Not only was I out of money for buying the eBook and binder, but I also had to buy a new book for the Psychology of Human Relations course! So, for the price of two college textbooks, I got 1 and a bunch of paper to set on fire!!

"Pearson’s moving into the 21st century…" If the 21st century is the century where students pay for books twice out of convenience for the publisher, plus eliminating any right to resell books by making them 100% digital, then our future students are going to be screwed over even more. I may have already graduated, but I still think about future college students. One thing’s for sure: while it sounds good on paper, THIS MOVE by Pearson sure won’t help anyone!

Annonymouse (profile) says:

Many moons ago before the internet became the World Wide Web two disparate departments at one of my universities determined that the budgeted cost for printing lab manuals….. single use low cost record and instruction booklets…. between the two of them was enough to purchase a print and bind on demand system. So they bought it and let the bookstore take a flying leap. They then printed a fully up to date anotated and compiled text for each program where texts were not printed or required until after the course drop date. Texts were now part of the course fee but didn’t cost students extra and saved the departments on third party printing .
Everyone but the book publisher was happy.

Facultymember says:

Creative Commons

When I started in higher education as a graduate faculty member, I was shocked and angered to see the book required in one course I was assigned to teach was $200. While the author was respected in the field of ed psych, and the book was very good as far as textbooks go, I couldn’t justify having students spend that much learning educational theories, in addition to tuition and fees. Luckily, I found a Creative Commons textbook that covered the same material. I’ve used that Creative Commons ebook for the last four years, as there’s not a lot of change in educational theories since most of the big names have passed on. I supplement the ebook with library articles (covered with tuition).
I teach three courses a semester, and the textbook is either a Creative Commons book, or no textbook is required.

One of the worst parts of the textbook scheme is the publishers offer these add-ons that are nonrefundable, and seem to be rarely used by professors. The add-ons are pushed pretty hard by the publishers.
When I was a student, I learned pretty quickly that in most lower-level lecture courses, you didn’t need the book if you came to the lectures and took good notes.

Rekrul says:

The sad part is that most students today will probably cheer this decision since they’ll consider it more convenient to have all their books in electronic form. The thought of buying used or reselling them will never enter their mind because they’ve been conditioned to consider renting digital content to be normal.

On the plus side, I’m sure someone will come up with a crack for the ebooks, which will make them easy to pirate, and will probably put some money in the pocket of the one, super-advanced computer hacker at the school who can accomplish the amazing feat of running the crack program, selecting the ebook, clicking "DEPROTECT" and saving the file. Because, you know, it takes a computer genius to perform that kind of technological wizardry…

GHB (profile) says:

They don't want you to bypass paying a higher amount...legally.

They’ve been trying to stop reuse of their books via access code before they made this decision:

“Some textbook companies have countered this by encouraging teachers to assign homework that must be done on the publisher’s website. Students with a new textbook can use the pass code in the book to register on the site; otherwise they must pay the publisher to access the website and complete assigned homework.” – wikipedia’s article on textbook

Uh huh, same goes with game companies trying to make 3rd party used copy (second hand sales) to be treated the same as piracy:

The “online pass” is equivalent to the “pass code” used by textbooks. Don’t even get me started on microtransactions designed to have items be “consumables” (1-time use only) like how NBA2K18’s cosmetic for haircut was implemented.

And the same goes with printer inks, companies want you to use their brand only and results in a monopoly (vendor lock in).

Companies have found a way around the first sale doctrine, thanks to how the law is too slow to advance in the digital age, and sees this exploitation as a gateway towards anti-consumerism. Copyright (most software and digital stuff are prone to favoring copyright holders over the users), and lootboxes (the law is so used to slot machines and casinos that it had forgotten on digital gambling) are two prime examples companies exploit since the laws are mostly place such consumer-benefits on physical stuff.

You’d know companies are anti consumer when they have such practices they never admit this practice was unethical, using fake excuses to sound positive and not telling about their practices, like when printer companies were caught for deliberately wasting colored inks when the user want only black and white and requiring users to buy inks they don’t need: (watch from 7:43 to 8:13) and the excuse was to give it a “purer black” appearance (I mean really), to this one that marks the cherry on top of the cake: EA’s “surprise mechanics”, in front of the UK parliment, for being asked about their microtransaction business model.

In their eyes, companies seeing consumers using second hand sales, bypassing DRM for non-infringing purposes, buying alternative products they don’t like, as a threat to their business, despite that this is a natural right for consumers to save money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not new, just more effective

I went to University in the 1990s. At the time textbooks were still big heavy things made of paper and there were no digital alternatives. The closest we had were a few that included a CD ROM.

For one class, my friend had taken the class the year before and offered to give me his old text book. The thing is, the course had a new version of the text book. So, we went to the book store (with his old dog-eared copy in hand) and opened up a brand new copy to the index. The chapters had been moved but the samples of content were word-for-word identical. The end-of-chapter test questions were re-ordered too. But every set we checked had all the same questions just in a different order.

I used his text book and just asked a class mate to let me look at his textbook (for an hour) and made notes in my "old" one of what the new chapter and question order was.

Going digital just lets them be more effective at preventing me and my friend from sharing.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...