Education Publishers Push Digital Content as the New School Year Begins

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‘Tis the season for digital publishers of campus course materials to ramp up their new offers, promoting digital delivery, content coordination, and affordability–often with a commissioned study attached.

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By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
VitalSource: Course Content Costs Prohibitive
As campuses prepare to reopen for a new academic year, several major publishers are stressing digital textbooks and content as a means to lower the cost of textbooks and enhance the effectiveness of course materials, both for students and for faculty members.

Ingram Content’s VitalSource Technologies—which says it works with more than 1,000 content providers on its Bookshelf platform—is citing a study it commissioned from Wakefield Research, indicating that 85 percent of US students surveyed said they’ve “postponed buying required materials or chosen not to buy them at all.” Close to 92 percent, the study says, said cost was the reason they dodged buying recommended books.

The study also indicated that some 70 percent of students surveyed said they’d consulted at least three sources when shopping for textbooks and other course content.

More findings cited by the VitalSource-commissioned study:

  • Only one in 10 students (11 percent) surveyed said they consult just one source when purchasing course materials
  • The average student surveyed said that she or he consults four sources when shopping for course materials
  • Most students surveyed (86 percent) said they believe they would get better grades if they had access to interactive e-textbooks and digital tools, rather than traditional textbooks
  • Seven in 10 students asked said they’d have better grades if they had access to required textbooks and course materials before the first day of classes
  • A majority of students polled (73 percent) said they’d be interested in paying for course materials as part of tuition

And as part of its 2018-2019 academic year rollout, VitalSource is concentrating—according to its media messaging on Thursday (August 9)—on “simplifying courseware integrations by removing barriers to access for students and instructors and streamlining administrative setup for institutions.”

VitalSource is announcing a pilot program with Pearson, “offering seamless access to MyLabs, Mastering, and Revel courseware products for students and instructors via a single integration.”

In part, the program eliminates access codes and course keys. The company’s promotional materials say its integration efforts also will:

  • “Remove the need for instructors to serve as tech support for students
  • “Eliminate four to six weeks of integration work between institutions and publishers
  • “Allow Pearson to focus on developing quality content, not cumbersome technological integrations”
Cengage: Digital Access ‘Drives Success’

Meanwhile, the new pricing structure for Cengage’s offering of more than 20,000 digital textbooks and course materials is now in its rollout. As reported by Publishing Perspectives, Cengage Unlimited is CEO Michael Hansen’s initiative to give subscribers access to the company’s entire inventory of course content for a single price in digital delivery and for an additional $7.99 rental fee for print.

A subscription costs $119.99 for a semester, $179.99 for the year. “Considering students spend, on average, about $579 annually (with some spending significantly more),” the company says in its latest statement, “the subscription can save students up to half of what they were paying and, in some cases, even more. Students may use financial aid to purchase a subscription.”

To some degree, the Cengage Unlimited restructuring of the company’s pricing—announced in January—may well be driving innovation and reconfigured offers from other companies. In interview with Publishing Perspectives, Hansen in January said, “We thought about this, obviously, very carefully,” and we believe that there’s a first-mover advantage. We believe we can take market share from competitors because the combination of the quality of our content and this affordability is so compelling.”

And Cengage, too, is offering the findings of a study it commissioned, just as VitalSource is doing. According to media messaging this month, a study called “Today’s Learner: Student Views 2018” conducted for Cengage by Morning Consult finds, as the VitalSource survey does, that some 85 percent of students say the cost of books and other content is stressful.  The Cengage survey includes these indications:

  • Nearly half of current and former college students surveyed (43 percent) said they’ve saved money by skipping meals to afford course materials
  • Minority students surveyed were more likely to report taking fewer classes to save on textbook costs. African-American students asked were 35 percent more likely to say they’d saved money for books by skipping a trip home. Sixty-four percent of Hispanic students asked said they’d opted not to buy the required textbooks or course materials
  • Sixty-four percent of women surveyed said they’d purchased outdated versions of textbooks, compared to 57 percent of men. Forty-seven percent of women polled said they’d taken out loans to pay for textbooks, compared to 38 percent of men
  • Digital was seen as a way to improve learning among those surveyed, with 81 percent of students saying easily accessible digital course materials would have a positive impact on their grades
McGraw-Hill: Six New Rental Agreements

McGraw-Hill Education announced last week announced that it has reached “several new milestones in its expanded ‘Affordability and Outcomes’ program,” which—like other programs—stresses saving students money and giving them better results.

In material for the news media, the company says, that it has finalized new textbook rental agreements with these content providers:

  • Amazon
  • indiCo
  • Nebraska Book Company
  • eCampus.com
  • Ambassador
  • Tree of Life

Existing partners include Follett, Chegg, and Barnes & Noble Education and its Barnes & Noble College and MBS Textbook Exchange subsidiaries.

“The program covers more than 200 copyright 2019 titles and all future titles,” according to media messaging, “with materials available to students for as low as $40 and up to 70 percent off the cost of purchasing traditional textbooks. Students can access McGraw-Hill’s rental program at their local bookstores, through online retailers or directly through the company’s site.”

Referring to its McGraw-Hill Connect and ALEKS digital platforms, the company says that the number of US student activations in 2018 has increased 9 percent over the same time last year.

The company also cites increased range, writing, “Since last year, McGraw-Hill has more than doubled the number of campuses it reaches through its inclusive access programs—up to 550 campuses—with a number of new agreements with partner organizations that enable students to have more affordable digital course materials automatically delivered to them on the first day of class, or earlier.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on campus educational publishing products is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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