Sunday, January 28, 2018

Why are e-textbooks so expensive? Vertical integration and greed, mostly

The big textbook manufacturers McGraw-Hill and Pearson have long made a cash cow out of college students who have no choice but to purchase their traditional paper printed tomes. They moved into ebook publishing with predictable results:
Along with the traditional textbooks, many college classes now require students to purchase access codes—which cost $100 on average—to online platforms created by publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson. Homework and quizzes are hidden on the platforms behind paywalls that expire after the semester, meaning students can’t resell them once they’re done with the course. - Laura McKenna in The Atlantic Monthly

Anyone who has published an ebook knows that it costs LESS not more than a traditional book. There is no printing cost. No returns. And a laughably small distribution cost.
Once an ebook is created and published on a platform, the marginal distribution cost is ZERO.

However, textbook manufacturers like Pearson, the largest bookseller in the world, have tapped into much more than book publishing. E-Textbooks are becoming part of an integrated platform which now includes AUTOMATIC GRADING BY THE PUBLISHER.

 Yes, you read that right. Not the professor, not the grad student, but the PUBLISHER.
Greg Mankiw’s class, “Economics 10a: Principles of Economics” is Harvard’s most popular course among undergraduates, attracting 633 students this past fall. As is the case in many introductory classes, students attend a combination of large lectures and smaller sections led by graduate assistants and visiting faculty. Mankiw, who himself only gives a handful of lectures per semester, assigns readings from a loose-leaf version of his own extremely lucrative textbook, Principles of Economics, donating royalties from books purchased by Harvard students to charity. In 2016, he started requiring students to purchase both the textbook and a code that gives them access to a digital platform known as MindTap. There, students complete their homework assignments and take exams, which are graded automatically on the publisher’s website. Students pay about $130 per year for the book and code, a discounted cost Mankiw negotiated with publishers for those at Harvard. - The Atlantic
The ebook, online assignments, tests and automatic grading all resemble a MOOC, but, of course, it costs much, much more. Higher education is becoming a vertically integrated ebusiness where the professor’s role is to contract with the publisher/exam creator/grader.

Read the complete article at « Why Students Are Still Spending So Much for College Textbooks:
New technologies are revolutionizing education—but they’re also keeping prices high. »  Laura McKenna in The Atlantic Monthly