The counterfeiting of textbooks has been the bane of many educational publishers. Cengage Learning, for instance, estimates that counterfeit materials cost the company between $70 million and $100 million annually.

To curb counterfeiting, multinational educational publishers such as Cengage Learning and Elsevier have turned to unique identifiers to authenticate textbooks. This is nothing new, of course. Some 30 years ago, stickers on book covers were widely used—and as readily copied by pirates. Ten years later, the buzz was about embedded RFID tags in book spines and covers. Today, a variation on the theme has emerged: much more sophisticated certification seals such as Prooftag’s chaosmetric tag and OpSec’s holographic label, which are cheaper to implement than RFID tags and do not require a special reader and scanner to work.

The ubiquity of mobile devices has further simplified the authentication process. When scanned with a smart-device app, certification seals, which often incorporate QR codes, automatically lead the buyer to an authentication website where the legitimacy of the book can be verified (or a counterfeit copy duly reported).

But two questions remain: Will the readers (or buyers) scan the books in the first place? Do they care enough—or as much as the publishers do—about counterfeiting when they have cheaper rip-offs in hand?

“Educational publishers today are dealing not only with printed content but also with digital assets such as online assessments and cloud-based ancillaries, as well as meeting the urgent needs for adaptive learning,” says John Currie, global director of CTPS. “And stolen materials, as we know, are not restricted to print content only; the hacking and pirating of online content is just as rampant. In other words, an effective anti-counterfeiting measure must protect online assets while acting as a bridge between print and digital content.”

This is where CTPS’s patented Phygital Book technology makes a difference, says CEO Peter Tse, pointing out that the name itself clearly references both physical and digital books. With Phygital Book, the QR code on the cover leads to a registration portal, effectively “binding” the book to the mobile device (and by default, the device owner).

“At the same time, it triggers access to the accompanying digital content,” Currie says. “In this case, only registered owners of the print content are allowed access to the digital content. This is the push for print book owners to authenticate their copy. Without authentication, they have no access to the accompanying digital content, which is crucial to their studies and classwork.”

According to Tse, CTPS, with its digital ink-jet printing capabilities, can easily place additional QR codes on interior pages, where online access will lead to tests, case studies, videos, or curated materials—all of which can be updated on the publisher’s LMS without affecting the printed content or QR codes. Marshall Cavendish Education (Hong Kong) has been the first to adopt such a seamless application.

Digital printing technology has also given publishers the flexibility of on-demand printing and low print runs and the ability to customize QR codes to fit a specific class, university, or region. “This is a matter of populating the printing database and linking the QR codes to the publisher’s LMS on our back end,” Currie says. “With each book having its unique digital identity, which is ‘tied’ to its owner, access to both print and online content is enabled, secured, monitored, and tracked, with analytics to support customized and personalized learning paths. Phygital Book has the ability to integrate such online/offline teaching/learning processes—and it is up to the publishing clients to determine how far they want to go.”

For used books and rental books, the encrypted QR codes also allow publishers to capture secondhand and subsequent user information. Obviously, while there is no immediate monetary reason for doing so, such a database holds the key to further content monetization and discoverability.

CTPS has also simplified the tracing and tracking of batches of books or editions for distribution. “Parallel importation, especially of lower-priced international student editions meant for use in specific countries, is one big issue hitting publishers’ P&Ls,” Tse says. “With Phygital Book, we can place QR codes on the packed cartons to ensure that the final destination is what it is supposed to be. All these codes are stored in the database and easily traced on a cloud-based dashboard to prevent parallel importation.”