Unless you're living in a cave somewhere, the Internet has probably changed your life in some way. From the simple tasks of banking online to the more extreme changes that come with the ability of many Americans to work from home, there are few industries the Internet hasn't touched. As life becomes more convenient and more reliant on all things digital, even school systems are fully undergoing change.
There used to be the view that there will always be a need for textbooks, especially with the textbook industry coming in at about $14 billion dollars each year. However, that trend seems to be changing more towards digital over the past decade. The money spent on books only represents about 1% of the total education spending, but the switch to e-textbooks could greatly improve the quality of education students are receiving, as well as save money for districts, schools and states.
Divisions within the Industry
Within the textbook industry, there are two separate sectors that are close to equal in size:
- K-12 education
- Higher education
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released numbers showing that textbooks have increased in price 800% over the last three decades. This rate is even faster than that of medical services, the consumer price index and the cost of new homes. Clearly, the rising cost of books is one that needs to be addressed.
With the Internet Comes Change
The Internet has changed the textbook industry in several ways. The market has been disrupted and forced to adapt in order to meet the changing needs of students, and to include the convenience of the digital world.
Used Books and Rentals - While on-campus bookstores have always sold used books in an effort to save money for students, online platforms have given students all over the world the chance to sell books to each other for a fraction of the cost of a new book. When one school has changed to a new edition, many students from other schools benefit from the ability to buy the previous edition at lower costs from other students.
Students are also able to rent books for a period of anywhere from 30 days to 180 days. Prices are discounted from the original price of purchase, cutting profit margins for publishing companies from the lack of new sales.
Demand for Digital - With the Internet comes a strong demand for digital books that cut directly into the revenue of publishers. The price of a digital book is much lower than what a publisher can charge for a physical copy of a textbook. Without publishing costs, books are easily updated and changed to reflect changes in state curriculum and new research.
Competition - In a previous time, several publishers dominated the textbook industry, making it difficult for any new competition to emerge to save money for students. Many new competitors have popped up as digital books become more popular, and they take different approaches to the industry. Some sell books for less while others tout the digital benefits such as customization, study passes and free downloads.
Some states, along with the federal government, have written or enacted laws that require districts and universities to switch over to digital books, and the current presidential administration has urged a transition to digital books by 2017. Publishers of textbooks are in turn forced to adapt their business models to meet the changing needs of students of all ages.