Pearson launches direct-to-consumer subscription service in bid for student sales

Dive Brief: 

  • Pearson announced Friday that it is launching a new service allowing students to access its library of online textbooks and other academic content through a monthly subscription.

  • The new service, called Pearson+, costs $14.99 a month for access to the platform’s full library of over 1,500 titles and $9.99 a month for just one textbook. Students will need to sign up for a minimum of four months.

  • The company bills the service as a way to give students more flexible and budget-friendly textbook options.

Dive Insight: 

Pearson’s move marks a shift toward consumer sales and aims to recapture students who would’ve bought their textbooks on secondary markets.

“With Pearson+ we are reimagining the learning experience for students and building direct relationships with them,” Pearson CEO Andy Bird said in a statement. 

Students will be able to access the platform, which is debuting in time for the 2021-22 academic year, through their computers or mobile devices. 

Pearson isn’t the first company to take this route. Cengage, another publishing giant, announced a textbook subscription service in 2017 giving students access to its full library and homework platform for $119.99 per semester

The change also comes as educational publishers face mounting pressure from students and colleges to lower costs. According to the College Board, students budgeted between $1,240 and $1,460 on average for books and supplies in the 2020-21 academic year. 

In an earnings report for the first six months of 2021, Pearson noted that its digital sales have grown as students opted for lower-priced digital options instead of more expensive print products. 

Courseware sales in the U.S. have declined slightly as print revenue falls, but Pearson reported sales growth of inclusive access deals to nonprofit institutions. Inclusive access deals can cut the costs students see for educational materials by building them into tuition, and Pearson pitches its model as offering affordable, immediate access to digital materials.

The new platform might struggle to achieve market dominance, however.

Students will likely need materials from publishers other than Pearson, the Financial Times reported. And college administrators might likewise be hesitant about using just one publisher. 

Some instructors have been pivoting toward open educational resources, or OER. 

In 2017, Maryland lawmakers charged the state’s public university system with supporting the adoption of openly licensed instructional materials across its colleges. And the University of Minnesota created a library of openly licensed textbooks for instructors and students. 

The OER movement has also drawn investor interest. Top Hat, an ed tech company specializing in open educational resources, raised $55 million last year in a Series D funding round. The company is looking to compete with major publishers by packaging textbooks and other course materials together.

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