Nature evolves educational publishing
By David Gelles in New York
Published: May 22 2011 22:34 | Last updated: May 22 2011 22:34
Thick university textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars each, burdening students with expensive tomes rendered virtually worthless after just one semester.
But on Tuesday, Nature Publishing, a prominent science publisher, will unveil a digital textbook with a new pricing model that could upend the multibillion-dollar educational publishing market.
Nature, a division of Macmillan, will charge $49 for lifetime access to a regularly updated biology textbook that can be accessed via a computer, tablet or smartphone, or printed out.
“There is a deep tension in the educational market today between what consumers want to pay and what publishers say they need,” said Vikram Savkar, director of publishing at Nature.
The inaugural textbook in this new programme, Principles of Biology, will be used by three California State University campuses beginning this autumn.
Gerry Hanley, senior director for academic technology services at Cal State, said the university intended to expand the programme. On two campuses, students will be responsible for purchasing the digital textbook directly from Nature. The third Cal State campus will purchase a site licence for the textbook and pass the cost along to students, a model similar to the way academic journals are sold.
The transition from an ownership model to an access model is already upending the music and film businesses, and Nature believes textbooks could be next. The textbook business is already under assault from websites such as Chegg.com, which match buyers and sellers of used textbooks. Nature’s new programme could provide yet another hitch.
Principles of Biology will also feature interactive technology that will let teachers monitor students’ progress in real time. “This product wasn’t originally conceived for print, then repurposed for digital,” said Mr Savkar. “That means we’ve designed it to capitalise on what digital can do that text cannot do.”
Pearson, the largest educational publisher in the world, is expanding its own digital learning strategy, but does not yet have a product comparable with Nature’s. Pearson owns the Financial Times.
Mr Savkar said that while Nature has made a considerable investment in the new format, it has the potential to be a lucrative revenue stream for Macmillan, which is looking to deploy similar models across other imprints.
“If we get a reasonable share of market for a new textbook, about 10 per cent, it will be a very healthy business for us, and it will be a profitable book,” he said.
“Printing a four-colour, thousand-page textbook is very expensive, and by eliminating that you’re able to improve your margins significantly.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.