Thanks to textbook publishers pricing themselves out of the market, textbook sales have about a snowball’s chance in Animal Farm of surviving the digital transition.
Cengage’s solution is to launch subscription service:
Cengage, the publisher and technology company, is introducing a subscription service that will enable students to access Cengage’s entire digital portfolio for one set price, no matter how many products they use.
The new offer, called Cengage Unlimited, will give students access to more than 20,000 Cengage products across 70 disciplines and 675 course areas for $119.99 a semester. For 12 months’ access the price is $179.99, and for two years the price is $239.99. For students taking three or four courses a semester with assigned course materials from Cengage, the subscription could offer hundreds of dollars of savings a year, versus buying or renting the products individually.
Cengage described the introduction of the Netflix-style subscription service in a press release as a “bold move”; the company has set a strategic goal of being 90 percent digital by 2019. The new strategy is a notable departure from the traditional publishing sales model, which historically has relied on the sale of individual print textbooks. Print sales have been heavily disrupted, however, by the introduction of rental programs, piracy, the sale of secondhand books and the failure by some students to purchase textbooks at all due to prohibitively high costs.
In addition to access to Cengage ebooks, digital platforms and study guides, students will have the option to rent print versions of the course materials for free, excluding a $7.99 shipping fee.
This is a good deal for students if, and only if:
One, the platform allows for simultaneous access from multiple devices while offline. There are many times where college students will need to have several textbooks open at the same time, and if this platform limits students from doing that then it is not useful enough to justify the cost.
Two, a student can find multiple courses in a given semester that require a Cengage textbook.
By my calculations, the break even point for a student is four required textbooks. If a student only needs three Cengage titles then they are better off buying a copy online and then selling it at the end of the semester. With the right arbitrage skills, this will have a lower cost in the long run.
I just don’t see this being a great value for students, do you?