As we study the move to digital reading, we are introduced to new players such as the Worldwide Center of Mathematics, Flat World Knowledge, and others such as Inkling, Kno, and increasingly more. But the more-traditional players, the established textbook publishers, are not far behind and they have their hands in the game as well. Remember, they own the content and while new players like FWK will get some adoptions, the publishers will not give up market share without a fight.
Own the Platform
Kind of like a hedge bet in Vegas when you place your bet to cover your other bets, the publishers are spreading their risk by taking ownership of the industry via different platforms. McGraw-Hill and Pearson own stakes in Inkling while all six major publishers have stakes in CourseSmart. I think we would be naïve not to believe that if one platform were to really take off (this has yet to happen where there is a de facto standard), the publishers would be wise to invest in or own it. In addition, a successful platform is only as good as the content it delivers.
Own the Content
Academic publishers are working with different platforms to control the price, market share, and content. It will be hard for start-ups to take away significant adoptions from traditional print publishers unless they can prove to faculty and administrations that the books desired by the educational community are available on the platforms or learning systems that educators desire.
Kill the Used Book
Why do publishers really love the eBook/eTextbook? Because it is the first real used-book killer they have found. The publishers have tried for years to shrink the used-book market as it drastically diminishes their sales. They started off by marking teachers’ editions and desk copies, even drilling holes and other tactics to make these books unsellable. Then they began frequently changing the editions, adding components to create packages and bundles, and updating the book (however slightly) to make last year’s copy seem obsolete. With changes requiring publishers to unbundle books and to make ISBNs and prices more upfront, publishers now need to find a new way to keep the used-book business from hurting their overall profit. Enter the digital platform.