Educational publisher Pearson plans to go ‘digital first’ with textbooks

Rolando Hernandez

In July, Pearson announced its plan to become the first education publishing company to focus its energy on digital — not print — textbooks and course materials.

According to a company press release, the decision was based on making higher education more accessible and increasing textbook affordability for students in the United States. College students access over 10 million digital courses and e-books each year from Pearson, according to the release.

“We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient and personalized digital materials to students,” Pearson CEO John Fallon wrote in the release. “Our digital courseware makes learning more active, engaging and immersive, improving outcomes for students and their teachers.”

Going digital will provide reduced costs and an improved experience for students, according to the press release. Compared to renting a print textbook for $60 from Pearson, the press release said students can now pay an average price of $40 for e-books.

Michael Kiely, director of course materials for the University Co-op, said the Co-op regularly provides students with course materials and supplies. Kiely said he did not believe Pearson made a good decision because students still prefer physical copies of textbooks when they shop.

“What Pearson is doing is no longer providing the students with a choice,” Kiely said. “I believe what Pearson is trying to do is change the consumer behavior. It’s way too early to do that.”

At the Co-op, e-books and online courseware make up around 5-6% of total revenues, and e-books alone make up 3-4% of revenue, Kiely said. Students will sometimes choose digital textbooks because they’re cheaper,
Kiely said.

“We want you to have what you want and what you need,” Kiely said. “I just don’t like the fact that they are forcing the consumer into something they don’t want.” 

However, some students, such as English junior Caroline McDonald, said they support the change. Pearson’s decision makes textbooks more accessible to those who couldn’t afford the physical and more expensive copies, McDonald said.

“I think it’s a great thing (that) Pearson is going digital,” McDonald said. “It uses less paper and is better for the environment.”

While she does prefer physical books for her English courses, McDonald said she sees Pearson’s new strategy as a more environmentally and socially conscious move.

“E-books seem like a logical next step for the future of textbooks,” McDonald said.