← News Apr 22nd 2016

Why It's So Hard to Disrupt the Textbook Industry

coloured books

In the age of companies like Airbnb and Uber, it is surprising to think that there has yet to be a service or organization that has managed to effectively put a dent in the expensive industry that is textbook making and selling. Admittedly, the process of driving down textbook prices is a lot more complicated than the supply and demand mechanics of cab rides or house stays, and here is why:

Need For Disruption

Disruption is something that is increasingly common in today's tech and app based society. For example, it was relatively easy to disrupt the cab hailing culture by making it simple to pay with a card on your smartphone. Technology forced the taxi industry to become more competitive, but for the industry of making and distributing textbooks, the possibilities to cause disruption are much less common. The rising costs of textbooks along with their continued dependence on archaic technologies make them a prime target for disruption, but there are a number of limitations currently preventing this.

Affordability And Ease

Disruption is all about taking something that is already in existence and making it easier to access at a more agreeable price, for example, Netflix over a standard cable package. Notice that this example relies on a product that is solely technology based, Internet streaming and such, whereas with the textbooks making industry, it is pretty hard to compete with what are essentially dead trees.

The fact of the matter is that the physical textbook is not going to be going away any time soon, as the culture of having a tactile, personal copy of a learning aid is something that students at all levels still rely heavily on throughout their learning process. And currently, the main problem is that the more modern, tech aided alternatives are not particularly appealing. Though the thought of an e-book or tablet can be attractive for weight and space purposes, nearly all students still state that annotating a traditional textbook for revision is their method of study.

Open Source?

One viable option being touted by many within the industry is the promoted used of widespread open-source textbooks. Many experts feel that all it would take to break through with a textbook industry disruption is for a single high profile organization to compile and manufacture a textbook comprised solely of information and literature that is publicly available online for free.

This idea is something that many price-conscious students and educators around the world would find very attractive, with many arguing that the use of open-source materials is the way of the academic future.

However, as with anything, there are some obstacles for a completely open-source curriculum. The chief of these concerns is that there is hardly any open-source material currently available for any subject past introductory level, and that open-source learning actually creates more work for professors. It is incredibly easy for a teacher to assign reading from a specific point A to a specific point B in a textbook.

Ultimately, it is going to take a significant push from a high profile academic body or an optimistic philanthropist to cause the kind of disruption that the textbook industry needs to reassess its culture and process.

Read all news