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Shelf control? Largest textbook publisher is ditching books and going ‘digital first’

Making a trip to the college campus bookstore to purchase textbooks at the beginning of a new semester is a time-honored tradition. But that tradition is rapidly disappearing, as the push towards e-books continues.

This week, the push was accelerated as Pearson, the biggest publisher of educational books in North America, announced it will abandon its traditional textbook publishing model for all 1,500 of its U.S. publications in favor of a digital-first strategy. The company said print books will still be available, but only on a rental basis.

Pearson noted the move will enable its e-book collection to be updated on an ongoing basis, without having to go through the costly and time-consuming process of reprinting, and will enable students to download often-thick manuals to computers, tablets and mobile phones.

The move, publishing insiders say, is a sign of the times. Sales of e-books on college campuses have grown steadily in recent years, owing in large part to the rising costs of traditional textbooks.

According to the American Enterprise Institute, the price of textbooks in the U.S. increased by 90 percent from 1998 to 2016.

The average cost of a printed edition of a college textbook is now $110. By comparison, the average cost of a digital edition of a Pearson textbook is $40. Pearson said 62 percent of its revenue currently comes from e-book sales — a number that is expected to dramatically increase.

“Students are demanding easier-to-access and more affordable higher education materials,” John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, said in a press release. “We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient and personalized digital materials to students. Our digital-first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues.”

But, while Pearson argues the push towards e-books is a positive for cash-strapped students, education experts

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