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Education publisher Pearson to phase out print textbooks (bbc.co.uk)
45 points by JohnHammersley on July 16, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 58 comments

As a professor, I am not surprised about this. Publishers are pushing their online platforms hard. A few years ago Cengage came and gave a whole dog and pony show (with free lunch to ensure as many of us as possible showed up) with all these "statistics" about how great and effective their online learning platform was compared to paper books. Most of their "statistics" were things like "students like them more than paper books" or "students feel like they learn more" rather than any actual proof that these things are actually better for students.

Of course what they didn't say is that online DRMed platforms give them 100% of the profits instead of losing money to used books or giving the bookstore a cut and they danced around the fact that students loose access to the material after a year so even if they wanted to use the material later on they couldn't (they can just buy a new code!).

Thankfully, our department didn't take the bait and instead worked on creating our own OER https://www.oercommons.org/hubs/open-textbooks but too many educators are falling for it. My hope is that Pearson's move will spur more faculty members to use and create more OER.

Cengage was terrible to use as a student but it wasn't the worst. Trying to cite the resources from the courseware is impossible as you manually have to type it out removing any benefit and making it literally less useful than a physical book especially if you only have a single screen. The worst online platform I've used it took me a week to figure out the terrible UI to actually use the textbook part, you had to go into the text section, know exactly the section you were going to and then browse the pictures of the physical textbook. Questions for homework build only be accessed through a submenu of this section. Every 10 minutes you'd be prompted to take a break, ruining your concentration, and every hour you'd be signed out. It was a nightmare. I much prefer the books.

Cengage pissed me off in that I had to purchase access to the online system in order to do my homework (organic chemistry course). I couldn’t get over the fact that I had to pay a third party for the ability to submit my homework to my professor. I ended up being the squeaky wheel and the professor just so happened to have a couple-few licenses he could hand out to students.

It’s a dirty f’ing system when my grades are held hostage by a publisher.

Reality tries hard to validate RMS' wild predictions... https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.en.html

Written in 1997. My picture of RMS is slowly changing from religious zealot to apocalyptic prophet.

I find it interesting how dystopian “warning” fiction often ends up being used as an instruction manual. If we wrote more optimistic fiction, maybe simpler minds would have a wider variety of instruction manuals to choose from?

Many textbook publishers, including Pearson, have already begun strongly encouraging professors to use additional online components from the publisher for things like homework assignments.

Even if you buy the textbook used, you still have to purchase an online access code from the publisher (often for $100+ for the semester).

The textbook publishers have been working on crushing the textbook resale market for years, and this seems to be the final nail in the coffin.

Also new editions every 2-3 years that do nothing but shuffle the exercises around and change a few numbers here and there so that teachers either have to assign exercises separately for each edition or make everyone to get the latest edition. Such a scam.

Instructor resources have always been distributed separately afaik. If you're a student you can access free digital content from their website[1].

Am I missing something?

[1] https://media.pearsoncmg.com/bc/abp/engineering-resources

Students are often required to solve self-checking homework problems online, and they can only do that with the access code.

I think he means the "supplemental material" CDs that many textbooks come with these days, which are just a fancy way of forcing the user to use the website, which of course requires a subscription fee and the surrender of personal information in order to use, and whose use is required by the class and therefore by the university.

Just saying, I didn’t use a single textbook throughout my entire CS degree here. All of the course materials were available freely on our Moodle instance or through our library. Most of the course materials were produced by the lecturers, and where they had written a proper textbook, they just sent us the PDFs.

No idea why this is downvoted, same thing here.

Ripping off students through overpriced mandatory textbooks is not a worldwide phenomena. Through CS Bachelor and Master I too have never had to buy a coursebook. The few books that were needed for extremely standardized courses like math 1-3 were available in sufficient numbers in the library.

It takes two to force students to spend so much on books, a publisher can price their books anyway they like if there isnt a university forcing their students to use them. That for profit universities dont have a problem with that is not surprising.

> Through CS Bachelor and Master I too have never had to buy a coursebook.

It is entirely possible that your experience might be relevant for CS, I don't know I did a Physics degree, but there are a lot more degrees out there than CS or Physics, for which your experience might not be representative, in other words: There probably are degrees out there that do require the textbooks or if not actual requirement, it makes the learning experience better.

Or the university libraries.

What is happening now is the publishers are providing a “service” that puts the homework assignments online.

That means you have to pay in order to do the required homework. Eg the books being in the library doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay the publisher. Similarly second hand books are closer to worthless because you still have to pay to have access to, and to submit, your homework.

I suspect legislation that requires the university to cover all fees required for assessment would end this nonsense in short order.

I bought very few textbooks (Physics degree) but heavily used the ones available in the library, clearly YMMV.

Doesn’t matter if the school has the book in the library: you have to pay the publisher to access and submit the homework (the homework is not in the book, only online)

Probably showing my age here but there was no electronic submission of homework back then.

I take your point that if the e-books are available via the library, they will charge the library, probably on a pay as you go basis too

Oh yeah, this is a relatively recent approach to killing off the second hand book market. Now I believe you can even buy just the access to assignments/homework for >$100, which is essentially all profit for them, they don't even have to manufacture a book.

I'm only aware of it because my wife went back to school to completely change field (microbiology now, rather than software)

The university doesnt have to use online material from the publisher. Its as much their decision as what books are in the library in which volumes.

However the selling point that Pearson gives is "you don't have to create your own material for the homework and assignments". e.g. save the university money and the professors time.

Against the rising trend?

The Rise in Popularity of Printed Books Continues


People do like paper textbooks a lot. But the used textbook market is as efficient as ever and publishers want more revenue. They don't make any money when you buy a used textbook and it's expensive to scramble the chapters and end of chapter questions and reprint every other season. Plus, you have to pay all the sales people to convince the clueless professors that they should upgrade to the new edition each year.

Perfect example of rent seeking.

I think they think that their exclusive rights to their books will make the trend irrelevant as people will have to work through them to get access to their books.

Hopefully people will just flock to alternatives.

This sounds like a raw deal for students.

I kept all of the textbooks relating to my major for several years. They were good reference materials while completing the degree and were useful as supplementary resources. By the time the second year of undergraduate studies rolled around, the faculty started assigning textbooks that were intended to serve as introductory material to graduate studies. By the time the final year of undergraduate studies rolled around, at least half of the assigned books were intended to build professional libraries.

From an educational and professional perspective, this drive towards rented textbooks is doing a disservice to students. It is treating education as disposable while forcing students to pay even more to build a library that will serve them well in their career.

The percentage of college students and grads who ever reference their old textbooks even once has go to be vanishingly tiny. With the exception of perhaps a few highly technical programs.

This means in two decades we won't have any record of what was in these textbooks, right? :/

interesting point. I suppose in LOC tho.

I've got a set of kids encyclopedias from the 1950s, the stuff in there is considered college/university level now. Calculus, algebra, all kinds of mechanical engineering stuff etc

But with no physical textbooks no-one will know when stuff is removed or changed. This could be a wonderful move, but human nature says it'll be the opposite.

This is evil on so many levels - no ownership - you only rent!

You see this is because the new generations expect to rent ....

What a lot of horse manure

In theory this model makes sense for a lot of textbooks, in practice I suspect the price difference between buying and renting for a year won't be that big at all.

I would imagine that majority of books would be rented for a year, academic year anyway

> You see this is because the new generations expect to rent ....

Nope. We just can't afford not to rent.

When owners of capital collude to remove owning as an option, they become sole arbiters of pricing.

So "afford" becomes a bit odd when someone simply expands their profit margins as much as the market will bear.

Expands their profits beyond what the market would bear were it not for lock in, lack of competition, and no consumer choice in the way they consume. They only choice you have is not to go to school.

This initiative will probably make you change your mind...

> You see this is because the new generations expect to rent ....

Why do you say that?

It will be interesting to see where this goes. After undergrad and grad school, the amount of times I’ve gone back to hardcopy books or course notes is so tiny that It didn’t justify lugging them around over many moves. (And I love books - prefer bookcases to wallpaper!)

The current model of forcing student to re-buy books that are only marginally updated on an annual basis is wasteful. The real question is will total cost go up or down. I’m ok if Pearson gets more profits if the costs to students goes down, along with complexity to faculty. (Faculty may get less money)

Ah, but that's the trick of the modern price: It does not ever go down. This isn't grandpa's hardware store. These are scientists working to extract as much money as possible from their "customers" in an industry which already enjoys regulatory capture and oligopoly. It may seem as though the price has gone down, in much the same way that grocery stores claimed prices would go down with their club cards, only to have the prices actually go up across the board -- as well as introducing an invasive data-collection system -- and merely appearing to have gone down when compared to the price without a card. There is no such thing as "money on the table", just big ass companies taking more and more and more because people have no choice. Rent-seeking behavior seems par for the course in today's business world. "Fair price" is an illusion.

Certainly there’s a monopoly when the professor can mandate that you buy only their book from only once provider. :-)

For someone who still has many many textbooks sitting in their shelf many years after graduating, I find this very sad.

Same here. I buy a lot of textbooks for fun reading myself on topics like economics, physics, and math where the books don't really change much or where the reading is better in book form.

Great example of how to encourage piracy.

Not sure how it's today but 15 years ago at the university I went to, professors all made their own course books (sometimes in real textbook form, sometimes simply the bunch of slides they'd show during class, sometimes even just copied handwritten notes).

These were printed and bound (apparently some decades before that the binding had to be done by the students) at some local shop and we bought them as students for something between 7 to 25 or so euros each.

There were a few courses that recommended a particular actual real professionally printed book in addition but those were quite rare in fact, and usually an optional recommendation

This worked quite well by the way, we had a lot of material to study

My personal experience with Pearson is somewhat limited--I temped for them as a copyeditor for about a year so about ten years ago--but this is not surprising. Even then they were already building the online material and pursuing draconian cost-cutting measures (my gig ended when the whole copyediting department got laid off). So if half their revenues are coming from digital now, that means the print books--which are very expensive--are less profitable. So not printing, warehousing, or shipping them saves a lot of money. Plus the staff needed to manage that.

I think making textbooks more accessible to students will be a huge positive movement for education, especially in countries such as the states where education is already a multi billion dollar industry.

Yep, and phasing out print textbooks is only accomplishing the opposite.

Wiping out the secondary market where students can sell on their textbooks at the end of their courses to those just starting. I can see why such an unregulated market is a threat to their business model - increasing their control of the market won't bring prices down at all.

At least for me, I find that textbooks are more accessible when they are textbooks, instead of heavily-DRMed software hidden behind a subscription paywall and wholesale information rape.

Aka we don’t want you reselling them/ buying used books

Sweet, now we can go and pay $200 for a digital copy of a book instead of a $250 copy of a physical book. lol

More like $200 for an online copy vs $50 or less in the common occurrence that used print textbooks are available. Or even older editions for $10 or less.

If Pearson is down, does the exam get cancelled?

The money a class pays for their access codes could finance a couple of years of DDoS instead.

Edit: Not really. Seems like a common DDoS attack costs about $20 per hour, and an access code costs about $100 USD. Each student could buy about 5 hours of DDoS.

You don't need to black out the platform for years.

If you covered one or two critical weeks (say the weeks just before and during final exams and midterms), per semester, you're looking at 672 hours of downtime or less. Even a large availability loss-- say, down 50% of the time in peak hours-- would be enough to make the program look risky and fragile.

A 50-student lecture could finance that.

Hopefully it'll open access to more people and be less wasteful. I'm not a hugely analogue person, but have to admit, I much prefer non-fiction and text books in physical form over e-resources - for some reason it just goes in easier from the printed page for me.

I dont see how this does anything other than restrict access. They're killing the used book market.

I've always heard Pearson has been reasonable on the global education front, so might expect more buy-one-give-one style offers to emerge in the future (although perhaps naive on my part there).

Where did you hear that? Their push to get Professors using their pay walled online services as mandatory coursework looks like quite the opposite.

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