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Digital technology is transforming the world of textbook publishing much as it is changing every other aspect of the book world. Digitization is bringing down the cost of textbook content, transforming static print works into interactive learning experiences and allowing publishers to create and customize content, be it for an individual, a specific class, or an entire university.

Indeed the wave of new mobile devices—from tablets and e-readers to ever more powerful smartphones—has reached a level of sophistication, luring students away from print and becoming a bigger part of the educational landscape.

While the print textbook is not going to disappear anytime soon, students and educators (and parents) are demanding that publishers address the escalating costs of print textbooks. Rental programs—which can cut the cost of textbooks by as much as half—by companies like Chegg have been taken up by Barnes & Noble and other college bookstore retailers. Indeed, B&N just expanded its rental program to all of its 630 or so college bookstores. And while the exact size of the rental textbook market is hard to judge, McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw estimates that textbook rentals will be “5% of the new and used book market” this year.

But in the evolving new world of textbook publishing, the conventional textbook (including loose-leaf binders), rental programs, and customized print content, combined with online and offline access through PCs and apps for the iPad, iPhone, and other mobile devices, are in practice often combined, allowing students to use content efficiently and conveniently. Online learning environments like McGraw-Hill Connect and WileyPlus revamp the learning and teaching model, bringing together textbook content with tutorials and quizzes: students get immediate feedback and professors can customize lessons, provide the feedback, and track student progress far more easily.

Professors also play a bigger role, no longer simply picking this or that textbook but taking advantage of programs like Pearson Custom Library and Wiley Custom Select: databases of content from across their lists that allow professors to essentially create their own texts—the evolution of the customized coursepack anthology from a dubiously legal photocopy made at Kinko’s.

“Print will not go away, but there’s a revolution going on,” says Pearson spokeswoman Wendy Spiegel, pointing to the growth of customized content printing at Pearson and a growing “customer-first” approach that gives students and professors content in whatever format they want. “There’s a holistic approach that technology can bring to content that you don’t get with static print.”

Technology is also driving growth in print textbook content—in particular, customized textbook content as well as more efficient digital offset printing for short print runs—even as it transforms how students learn. According to BookStats (the joint AAP/BISG program of book industry sales), higher education led all book categories in growth over the 2008–2010 period, with sales rising 23%, to $4.55 billion. According to BookStats, by far the largest segment of the college market is neither solely print or digital, but a combination of both.

Book manufacturer Courier Corp. reports that sales to the education market were up 10% in the third quarter of fiscal 2011 and up 6% through nine months, reflecting higher sales of four-color textbooks for colleges and universities plus increased demand for customized texts. To meet demand, the company has installed new HP four-color digital inkjet presses at its Courier Digital Solutions facility in Massachusetts. Courier CEO James F. Conway says, “The college market keeps chugging along, with customized textbooks growing even faster.”

With Pearson’s Custom Library, Spiegel says, a professor can use the database to select content from multiple Pearson titles and even use personal or open source content from the Web to create a unique print publication. The materials “don’t even have to be Pearson Content,” says Spiegel, emphasizing that Pearson will clear the rights for non-Pearson material. PCL content can be accessed and chosen by the professor online or PCL will provide a field editor to assist the professor to compile and use the service. “We’ve produced thousands of books in custom formats based on designs from professors, deans, or instructors. Yes, it’s like coursepacks, but the whole process is more efficient,” Spiegel says. And of course the product, like all Pearson titles, can be made available in print or digital formats.

Higher Education Sales, 2008-2010 (in millions)

Dollars 2008 2009 2010 %Chge 2008-09 %Chge 2009-10
$3,699.0 $4,270.6 $4,552.1 15.5% 6.6%
Units 2008 2009 2010 %Chge 2008-09 %Chge 2009-10
45.93 50.25 50.25 9.4% 0%

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