Through the first decade of the 21st century, traditional educational publishers continued to focus on selling soloed,  proprietary content products that focused primarily on the general education curriculum. The major courses in this curriculum, along with the core business-school courses, account for approximately 80 percent of ”textbook” revenues, even though the information for these courses is broadly considered general knowledge and is available for free or as open content from multiple sources.

The former publishing mentality was to create a sense of scarcity around the general knowledge taught in these courses by maintaining that the packaging and scaffolding of the information they provided was enough to merit a premium price. With the evolution of web technologies and web publishing, however, along with the growing price sensitivity of the market, consumers of general education course materials have become aware that they are often paying a premium price for mere convenience. This awareness has led to increased adoption of alternative content solutions — open content, free content, and reasonably affordable content.

The short-term solution for traditional publishers has been to search for ways to provide their content in “affordable” packages, such as short-term rentals, without lowering prices. These moves, however, have proved ineffective at changing consumer perception and behavior.

A recent Student Watch report from the National Association of College Stores(NACS) shows that, in 2017, students spent an average of $579 on their required course materials, down $122, or 17% from $701 in 2007.In spring 2016, 25% of students surveyed reported using a free method to obtain what they needed for class, up from 19% the previous year.

Moving forward publishers need to address the pricing of learning materials for general education courses by embracing lower costs of production and freely available learning materials. They need to operate according to the principle of information abundance.

21st century publishers understand that there is an abundance of existing information about every topic for which we want to develop content products. Moreover, there is an abundance of useful and reliable information that flows from an abundance of expert resources. There is also an abundance of excellent information providers and an abundance of capable distribution channels.

Within this ecosystem of abundance, then, 21st century educational publishers must focus on delivering high-quality, low-cost content products with new sustainable business models. They will charge less than $20 for their products, providing a value-add in the form of editorial, learning design services, product customizations, and platform support.  As 21st century publishers scale their efforts, the average cost of learning materials for general education courses will drop to approximately $10, or the price of a novel.

At EdBooks, we are are working to be part of the future through a relentless focus content innovation. For us, this focus on innovation includes:

  • Innovation in the information frameworks used to assemble and distribute content
  • Innovation in content design, or in the way information elements are combined and connected
  • Innovation in learning design and, particularly, the development of a publisher-specific framework that defines successful learning solutions
  • Innovation in the design of the learning environments in which publisher content is placed and packaged
  • Innovation in content authoring, attribution, and the assembly of content, including creating products that contain content from different authors and resources with diverse rights and royalty requirements
  • Innovation in pricing models and content access
  • Innovation in personal services provided to publisher partners

This fall we are launching the first phase of our general education product library, with products priced at $19. These are full textbook replacements and can also serve as frameworks for online and hybrid courses. They include original curated content, and feature media, interactive, and quizzing. Equally important, EdBooks content is available in digital, printable, and accessible formats, all for the same inclusive price. Finally, for a single price of $19, students retain access to the content, as well as all their learning activity and notes, for life.