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From Paper to Digital – The Change in Educational Publishing

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The educational publishing industry has used the same business model successfully for decades. Print publishers had developed and implemented effective ways to deal with publishing revenue from new products as well as the push and pull of updating content and earning from old product.

One of print publishers’ greatest threats has always been the second-hand textbook market. Before the introduction of digital publications and the technology available to update information on the fly, the used books market would cut off the publishers’ revenues and authors’ royalties, and limit their return on investment.

Print publishers follow a typical cycle: The first edition of a textbook, then one or maybe more revised versions that substitute for the original one after a predetermined period of time. This cycle has been used successfully to achieve stable, predictable revenue. By the time sales of a particular edition fall noticeably, the next edition will have appeared and the cycle is repeated.

With the advent and broad availability of digital content, this model has been made redundant to a great degree. Even the transitional stage, where multimedia resources supplemented the printed book, has become almost redundant at this time.

There has been a significant and steady decline in print sales on the educational market, and the trend shows no signs of stopping, and the reasons are numerous.

Because the nature of technology is always dynamic, the edTech disruptors are winning significant parts of the educational market by offering effective and attractive solutions. Print courses cannot be aligned with educational trends or changed quickly to reflect new or updated information. A print book is not adaptive, does not offer personalized learning, does not deliver Big Data, and simply is not very attractive to ‘digital natives’.
This change in the educational market is forcing educational publishers to reinvent themselves or become extinct. Many publishers have made the strategic choice to widen or even remodel their portfolio by creating single-use, personal online products which cannot be shared or reused, while offering an attractive 21st-century education. Many are finding that their digital solutions exceed their hard copies sales, with no end in sight.

The news is not all bad, though. With new technology comes new opportunities. The shift from print to software has opened new possibilities for publishers. New business models can be customized for specific markets, allowing publishers to cater to many disparate niches, and quite unlike physical textbooks, copies different versions of their digital courses can be created practically without cost.

It is necessary for educational publishers to increase their set of technological skills and implement systems that not only support but also drive their future businesses. Educational publishers must build their competencies around new systems supporting creation, distribution and undisrupted usage of their new digital methods. This does not mean that they have to build such systems by themselves.

It is not realistic to assume that a print house can become a digital technology concern in a short time, or at all. It is important however for publishers to obtain a certain level of knowledge so as to define their technological needs, select the right solutions, monitor their services’ undisrupted operation, and be aware of frequent technological changes.