The future of textbooks and OER – Going Digital isn’t enough

Textbook publishers have been threatened by Open Educational Resources (OERs) for quite a few years now. In response to this threat, they are trying to go digital – there’s nothing new about that. Still, Pearson’s announcement, that all of its 1,500 U.S. titles will become “digital-first”, is a huge deal.

Why are they going so decisively digital? Well, revenue loss and profit margins are the two main reasons. Their revenue dropped as a result of increased adoption of OER materials. At the same time, printing and distribution of paper books remain costly and complex. Those costs dramatically influence profit margins and make frequent updates to printed books practically impossible. 

Pearson is trying to break the tedious cycle of book updates, printing and redistribution. Digital textbooks will no longer be a secondary product or an online version of the printed book. Instead, the book will become technology-focused placing student experience at the center.

This move by Pearson looks good… on paper. After several years of declining revenues, the company was finally able to report a 2% increase for the first quarter of 2019. The company also reported that 55 percent of its $1.3 billion in revenue from higher education courseware sales in 2018 came from digital and that digital rental sales grew by 25 percent year over year.

Still, we are talking about a textbook, written by a narrow selection of educators. Not nearly enough to reflect the rich and dynamic nature of content generated by 64 million educators around the world. Surely this content should have a place in the classrooms. Educators are still considered content consumers as opposed to producers – which is a big miss.

Pearson’s strategy is still focused on books as full-blown subject learning, while the rest of the market moves towards micro-learning. Like in many previous cases, the giants of the past are simply unable to disrupt their own market. The future of educational content publishing is in the hands of agile startups who can spot a market need and answer it quickly. 

Our startup, Wizer, has a mission: enabling educators to create advanced, personalized teaching materials, adapted for the needs of every student. Leveraging the collective wisdom of teachers all over the world, and making high-quality education available for all. We believe in a world of digital Open Educational Resources that are being constantly improved by a dynamic community of educators. 

From the get-go, Wizer has enabled educators to leave paper behind and give students a rich, interactive and personal experience. We leverage technology and focus on great content, but we also understand the importance of data and community. Teachers on our platform impacted 145 million students in 196 different countries. Those students enjoy rich, highly engaging and personalized content.

So, Kudos to Pearson going digital-first, but Wizer represents the true future of OER.