This year at the Charleston conference I had the pleasure to moderate a panel on the library’s role in providing affordable textbooks to students. The panel consisted of Mark Cummings, editor and publisher of Choice/ACRL, Gwen Evans, Executive Director of OhioLINK, and Mark McBride, library senior strategist at SUNY. This panel came about serendipitously, as all three are clients of mine who expressed an interest in the textbook market and how it could be transformed in some meaningful way. (The relationship with Mark McBride comes via Kitchen contributor Roger Schonfeld of Ithaka S+R, who asked me to participate in a project at SUNY.) We convened in New York, hosted by Roger, to compare notes. It became clear that big changes in textbooks are coming, and libraries will be at the center of them. I am pasting in the slides from the panel below. They cover far more territory than I am addressing here.
How to think about this market? Putting aside more ambitious transformations such as courseware, textbooks, whether print or digital, fall into three categories:
- Traditional textbooks. These are the books we are all familiar with. They are published by companies that specialize in this market and provide the basis for a course designed by the instructor. The publisher markets these books not to the students but to the instructors, who select (the term of art is “adopt”) a particular title for the class, and the students then are told to go out and buy that title. Some do, some don’t; some want to, but find the price to be prohibitive. I wrote about why these books are so expensive on the Kitchen a few years ago.
- Open Educational Resources (OER). There has been a lot of activity in this area, and even more publicity, over the past several years. OER are open in two respects: they are free to the end-user and they enable configuration by the instructor. OER are kin to the Open Access (OA) movement in some respects, though they are perhaps closer to the world of open source computer programs. There is a large group of dedicated people seeking to make OER the norm in college publishing, but market acceptance to date has largely been in niches.
- Inclusive access programs. OER’s less ambitious cousin aims to lower the price of textbooks, but does not seek to make them free. Gwen Evans wrote back-to-back posts on this on the Kitchen here and here. In inclusive access traditional textbooks are put in all-digital programs and librarians or other university representatives negotiate with publishers for lower prices. Instructors still select the titles (academic freedom is not compromised by these programs) and students pay for them through the university bursar when they sign up for a course (the equivalent of a lab fee). Instructors like these programs because they don’t have to redesign their courses, as they do with OER; students like the lower prices; and publishers like the fact that just about every student buys a book, whereas in a traditional situation without inclusive access many students buy used books (no revenue to the publisher), get pirated copies, or simply do without.
Good market data on college textbooks is hard to come by. The total market in the U.S. comes to perhaps $9 billion at retail (that is, not what the publisher receives, but what college bookstores, Amazon, rental companies, etc., receive — which is the same as how much students pay for books), but that includes a lot of books that no one would call a textbook — for example, a paperback novel taught in an English class. It’s worth taking a ride at the Open Syllabus Project to see how such books are used in the classroom. Here, for example, is the link for a search for Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, a book that no one would call a textbook even though it is regularly used in many classrooms.
The market that is addressable by OER and inclusive access is perhaps just short of half the total — about $4 billion. That market segment is dominated by just five publishers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Cengage, Wiley, and Macmillan), and these publishers are not going away anytime soon. More likely is that they will adapt to OER and inclusive access or even come to co-opt it, much as the largest STM publishers (Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley) have cleverly co-opted the market for Gold OA. Indeed, inclusive access programs are likely to ensure the market dominance of these large publishers as they are built around the offerings of those publishers, albeit at sharply discounted prices. There are many texts, however, that are not likely to get brought into inclusive access programs simply because they don’t cost nearly as much as, say, a Cengage textbook for an introductory course on organic chemistry or a Pearson text on calculus. University presses, for example, cumulatively have classroom sales of perhaps $100 million a year (if anyone has better figures for this segment than I do, I would love to see them appear in the comments to this blog), but they tend to be priced relatively low already, giving even the most aggressive negotiators on students’ behalf small opportunity to effect a big change.
While it is customary nowadays to think of things in purely binary terms — something must either be wholly this or wholly that — it seems likely that textbooks have a pluralistic future, with the three models summarized above each finding their place in an evolving marketplace. The traditional model dominates today and will play a large role in the foreseeable future. Inclusive access is starting from a tiny base today, but is likely to expand rapidly, in part because librarians have their hands on these programs and can swiftly mobilize their immense community. OER occupies a niche today and will continue to grow, but it has a structural limitation in that it requires highly motivated instructors to create syllabuses around them. We have all had such teachers, but all teachers? How about the adjunct teaching 5 courses this semester or the lofty senior researcher who treats that one undergraduate lecture course as a burden on her time? One of the appeals of inclusive access is that it does not require that instructors do anything that they are not doing already.
My own forecast of how things will play out longer term is that OER will evolve into the laboratory for all instructional materials. The OER advocates will continue to invest in new materials and in exploring new teaching methodologies; the traditional textbook publishers will bring these ideas into their offerings; and many of those textbooks will find their way into inclusive access programs as librarians take charge. OER, in other words, though likely to hold only a small share of the market, will emerge as the shaper of new instructional materials offered under all business models, triggering a wave of investment in innovations in the college market, which the good lord knows badly needs it.
36 Thoughts on "The Coming Wave of Affordable Textbooks"
Joe, thanks for continuing to shine light on OER and inclusive access. It’s clear that the textbook market is in a state of upheaval, and how this all gets settled matters tremendously for higher education, it’s instructional models, and sources of curricular authority — well beyond the prices paid for textbooks themselves.
I’m reflecting a little on your suggestion that libraries will “take charge” of inclusive access models on behalf of their institutions. We’ve seen others publishers seemingly trying to move away from their dependence on comparatively flat library budgets, selling new kinds of tools to other parts of the university. I certainly can agree that libraries are well positioned to negotiate for content licenses on behalf of the institution. But what about budgets? Do you really libraries can attract the budget investment necessary to play this role?
While librarians have to put some staff time into the development of inclusive access programs. the cost of obtaining the materials is borne by the students, not the library. In effect, inclusive access draws on the skills of librarians in negotiating contracts rather than on the materials budgets of libraries.
I think I have missed this point entirely! Thank you for clarifying.
I don’t think we should assume that this will end up in the library rather than campus IT/educational technologies. If libraries want this role, we need to not only step up to it but also be prepared to compete with other campus units for it. I’d particularly consider whichever unit manages the learning management system (LMS) since it is just a short transition from today to these inclusive access models being delivered as LMS add-ins rather than on a completely separate platform I presume?
It is not a technical issue, though, Lisa. There is no technology involved. It’s an issue of negotiating with the publishers, which librarians are in an ideal position to do.
I’m not arguing librarians shouldn’t do this work or aren’t well positioned to do so. I’m observing that others may want to role as well. And, in many cases, those folks also already negotiate for content. The library’s monopoly over being the provider/gateway to information resources for campus has been eroding slightly but steadily. Publishers will also have every reason to prefer working with technologists who are not as aware of past publisher practices as librarians are. Not unlike how journal providers now license “solutions” to offices of research. So, if libraries want the role of managing inclusive access contracts, I think they will be well-served to assume there may be competition for the role.
According to the commercial publishers we’ve worked with on our initiative, they are seeing libraries as very promising players in this role and are actively suggesting that they be invited to campus discussions about inclusive access textbooks. OhioLINK as a library consortium brought scale to this role by using existing communication and organizational structures for 90 institutions. While on some campuses the Office of the CIO may take the leading role (Brad Wheeler at Indiana University comes to mind), textbook decisions still rest with the faculty, and librarians have a closer connection with the faculty for curricular matters. Bookstores, bursars and financial aid offices actually have a larger role to play than campus IT — the bursar’s office is absolutely required in this model and bookstore cooperation is also key. Lisa, you are right that libraries have to claim this role, but they have certain advantages if they do. If a library is deeply invested in OER and/or using library materials for textbook replacement, then being involved in any campus discussion about textbook affordability is an opportunity for advancing alternative strategies as appropriate.
In my experience (Anatomy and Physiology), the limiting factors of open access texts have been organization and illustrations. The former could be overcome by instructor modification, but the latter would require professional illustrators to give their work away for free, which I find troubling.
I’d welcome any insight into how others are solving this problem.
There is a place for a philanthropically funded, highly curated database of images that could be drawn on by OER course designers.
Some OER are created through grant funding, so illustrators are still paid for their work. A good example of grant-funded OER publishing is OpenStax. Their Anatomy and Physiology text (https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology) is amply illustrated, and since the work is licensed CC BY, anyone can use those illustrations in other textbooks, as long as proper attribution is given. Another great source of openly licensed images is Wikimedia Commons, where everything is CC BY, CC 0, or public domain.
Thank you, Joe, for this post. As you imply, the values of the university press textbook market would likely be difficult to arrive at since the difference between “adoptable monograph” and true “textbook” titles is so muddied. Some university presses do create “true” textbooks that are designed as textbooks (Michigan ELT is an example) but more often editors seek the supplemental text market with monographs and often miscalculate which books will actually get picked up. Although we know anecdotally that it is fewer and fewer and the UP textbook market is suffering. What is concerning to me about library advocacy at present is that UPs’ already low-priced textbooks are becoming collateral damage in affordability campaigns aimed at replacing current adoptions. It would be helpful if affordability advocates in libraries identified UPs as fellow travelers in achieving their goal and made a distinction between the $250 large commercial text and the $45 small academic publisher product, perhaps even suggesting options to substitute one with the other in the (admittedly small number of) instances where that would work disciplinarily.
A very good point, Charles. It so happens that I am incubating a project to get more U. press titles into college classrooms. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you offline.
Hello Charles — as you know, a lot of what I learned about the real costs of publishing and the value that publishers add came from really useful conversations with university press publishers like yourself, particularly through the Scholarly Publishing Forums that Gillian Berchowitz hosted at Ohio University. One of the themes that keeps coming up is the potential partnerships that university presses and libraries could create on campuses to publish OER materials in a sustainable and professional way — why re-invent the wheel when there are entities on campus that already know how to produce a high-quality product? The question is who pays for the investment required — it would be an added cost for institutions that most are not currently bearing because the current business model is “student pays.” But I would point out that any initiative at scale to induce faculty to change their syllabus requires real effort — Assistant Dean Kelly Broughton of Ohio University Libraries prefers the term “curriculum reform” instead of “adoption” because for certain kinds of course materials, swapping out a textbook for already purchased library materials or another lower cost textbook can be a significant time investment in restructuring the entire course. She estimates that faculty/librarian time investment for certain courses in their alt-textbook program can run up to sixty hours to replace a commercial textbook, which is substantial for teaching faculty with other commitments. In that case, both faculty and the institution may choose to privilege already purchased library materials (which may include UP titles, of course) or OER materials which are no cost to students instead of a lower cost in the current “student pays” model. That’s the real crux of the problem — institutions, and library budgets, can’t afford to pick up the entire cost of providing existing textbooks to every student, even at deep discounts, because currently (in state-funded higher education, anyway) it’s not in the budget. So OER is by far the more attractive option, even though the real costs of creating, modifying, adopting/curriculum reform, sustaining, etc. are often underestimated because the costs are in someone’s time, not outright purchases.
What is so difficult about putting a spare copy of a pricey textbook on two-hour closed reserve at the library?
There’s nothing at all difficult about doing that for a single textbook. The difficulty arises when you try to turn what you’re describing into an actual program: in others words, putting a copy of _every_ pricy textbook on reserve in the library (which would monitoring every course taught on campus, checking prices on all newly-adopted textbooks, and updating the textbook collection every semester–not to mention dedicating a significant amount of scarce shelf space to the collection and staffing a service point sufficient to keep up with demand from students who come to rely on it for access to the books they need. Can this be done? Yes (and it is done in a few places). Can it be done without an enormous outlay of money, space, and staff time? No.
But it’s important to point out that even after absorbing and dealing with all of the challenges listed above, the result is a collection that offers a single copy of every pricy textbook. For a class section with 12 to 20 students, this might work fine–but for a survey course of 100 or more?
Many libraries are already doing this, of course. There are some university bookstores, run by Barnes and Noble or others, that have contracts with the university that prevent this. This can certainly be helpful for many low-income students, but due to the two hour limit and need to be physically inside the library, it does not help the majority of students.
An increasing number of undergraduate students are non-traditional: taking online classes, going part-time while working full-time, or managing their education in other ways that make print copies on library reserve less than optimal.
I was on a plane when I first read this reply. And I see others have made the points I was going to but I will add this citation if anyone wants to read up on just how difficult it was: Laskowski, M. S. (2007). The textbook problem: Investigating one possible solution.Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services, 31, 161–170
There is no question that textbooks are expensive and there are the top five publishers that control the market but no where have I heard any mention that the authors of the textbooks are faculty. Faculty at your universities that gain tenure and a 20% royalty from every book sold as well as a nice advance if you happen to be a well known author. Once again the library is out to impact the very faculty that they are trying to serve. Taking money away from faculty is not the fastest way of making friends. I have several friends that actually make more money from their textbook work than the university salary. We should not forget the hard working faculty when building systems to put them out of work.
There is nothing about inclusive access models that takes money away from faculty; it’s predicated on trading higher volume of sales for lower prices for students. Publishers participate because they anticipate more revenue, not less. Students buying used textbooks, borrowing from their classmates, or simply not buying the textbook at all are not producing revenue for faculty members — there is plenty of evidence that this is happening more and more frequently, and which is why publishers are willing to drop prices on inclusive access textbooks.
I believe that changing the model does indeed take money from faculty as less textbooks are under contact with faculty and there is certainly less sales. Publishers are and will cut back on publishing contracts. There is no question that faculty and publishers lose money on the used textbook market. With libraries trying to become publishers that role impacts faculty on several fronts. Faculty seeking tenure are perhaps impacted the most. Every textbook published is composed by work of a faculty member or faculty members, reducing this market only diminishes their exposure and potential income. University Press books are also written by faculty members or new doctoral students. Changing to Open access while a good thing for students, hurts faculty. And just for the record most ARL libraries in the past have not purchased textbooks for the collection.
I would note that libraries also serve students and any money they are “taking” from faculty by negotiating on students’ behalf is savings for students.
On a related note, I have only ever heard stories of faculty members who make very little on their textbook endeavors. It shocks me to hear that you know multiple academics who make more than their salary in textbook royalties (are we talking +/- $100,000 a year?). Do you know of any research on author income related to textbooks? I would be curious to learn how common this is.
Like everything else, there is a Short Head and a Long Tail. On the Short Head there are authors who earn a million dollars a year in royalties. Think of those mass enrollments lecture classes for freshmen and their $200 textbooks.
I’ve done some part-time teaching at Bunker Hill Community College. BHCC is a great place for open educational resources to take hold. It’s an urban community college with students across every meaningful demographic. It pains me to know my students have to pay as much as $50 for the textbook my class requires (as an adjunct I have to use the same textbook as everyone else). Some share copies, some pirate copies, many want to use an earlier edition. The system is badly broken for my students, especially when you consider that my textbook is probably the cheapest one they have to buy.
The administration recently let faculty know that we can be compensated for adopting, adapting, or developing open educational resources. (You get paid more for each level of interaction.) I think this is a great lever in this evolution, especially if Professor A develops materials for a class and then several other faculty members adopt it. If this happened for the kind of core class that I teach (freshman composition) it would mean real savings for the students and a significant loss of income for the publisher. I would have to guess at the numbers. With 11,000 students, it’s probably at least 2000 who take freshman composition each year. That’s real money.
This is a good summary, Joe. It might be helpful, however, to further explain some of the nuances of OERs (at least in part the embedded slides do so.) First, it’s important to point out that OERs can mean many things: open textbooks, yes, but also videos (Khan Academy, et al.), PowerPoint slides, articles, you name it. A professor may, for example, replace a commercial textbook with a mixture of videos and articles, blog posts, open monographs, etc. In addition, a useful framework might be to compare and contrast OER “identification” with OER “development.” Most academic libraries are already helping faculty identify OERs, either on an ad hoc basis or via active, ongoing efforts. The Mason OER Metafinder (https://oer.deepwebaccess.com/oer/desktop/en/search.html) is an example of great work in the identification arena. Library publishing organizations, including Mason Publishing, have also been helping faculty to develop OERs, including textbooks and workbooks, to replace expensive textbooks, or often to develop specific materials the faculty member needs that do not exist in textbook form elsewhere. One development that is, and will continue to drive OER identification and especially development is targeted funding, either from the university, the state, or the federal government. This is happening on some levels already, and is likely to increase under pressure from student and parent groups to state legislatures. I helped spearhead an effort at George Mason University, along with the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning and the Provost Office, that included grant funding for faculty willing to identify or develop OERs, that was successful not only in reducing textbook costs but in increasing student engagement. The Virginia Commonwealth passed a bill that encourages (but does not fund) OER efforts; the US Department of Education has award OER grants totaling ~$5 million. University Presses could certainly collaborate with libraries (or directly with faculty) to develop OERs given funding from states, federal sources, or foundations, but there is little incentive for university presses to participate in these efforts if there is no possibility of revenue and cost recovery—the effort to develop textbooks and educational materials is, of course, not free. While OERs are unlikely to replace commercial textbooks any time soon, the conversation happening around this movement is helpful in getting many libraries, learning centers, university presses, and faculty to start the conversation and develop new partnerships.
Joe: In my my last forays into selling college texts I learned that the text did not matter but the ancillary items did. In fact, we sold the sizzle because everyone had the steak! For instance what we sold was: the professor notes, instructor’s guide, overheads, test banks with grading capabilities, customized publishing of the text for the course, etc. In short, elhi publishing drifted down to the freshmen courses. Are professors willing and motivated to give up these “perks” so that a student pays less and the professor has to work more? Will a college publisher still provide the “perks” without recouping the costs?
Harvey, while you comment may be relevant to OER, it is not relevant to inclusive access programs. Those programs use the very same materials as traditional programs. The difference is in the negotiated discounts for digital texts.
One issue that doesn’t arise in your discussion is a perhaps unanticipated consequence of inclusive access programs. I’m in favor of programs to make textbooks more affordable, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this now means all students will be using digital textbooks. It is not at all clear that students can learn and remember as well when reading on screen as they do when reading in print (the research is mixed). Another element to consider is that all students will now have their laptops open in class, a constant temptation for them and distraction for those around them. I have started to allow students in my courses to use digital texts — trying to be sensitive to cost issues for them — but the effect on the class dynamic has not been a good one overall. One more caveat: If textbooks will be offered digitally, they need to be available in mobile (cell phone) format. Students * will * be trying to do that reading on their phone, whether we want them to or not, so the text needs to be optimized for this behavior. Of course, these issues may be mitigated by the fact that all students should now actually have the text, and have it with them.
I see the role of libraries as two fold both in terms of encouraging OER and facilitating what in the US is called inclusive access, but what we in UK simply called etextbook provision. We certainly have a role, both for strategic and operational reasons. Strategic because we should be always looking to place ourselves at the centre of teaching & learning in our institutions and operational because a key tenet of libraries is to provide our students with the resources they require.
In terms of OER this is a slow burner, but is an area where libraries, consortia and library bodies such as JISC can both encourage and build a favourable environment most crucially removing the barriers for academic faculty to contribute, which is still the biggest hurdle for a mass change in this area. Another driver behind encouraging OER is that its potential growth (alongside all the other means students now obtain textbooks through) can act as potential shove for publishers to look at textbook pricing models benefiting the consumer i.e. libraries and students.
In terms of inclusive access this provides libraries both with an additional service of immense value to all concerned plus an opportunity to leverage additional finance from their host institutions to provide the funding for these initiatives, therefore ensuring a greater level of constancy of offer, deeper discounts and real value. Opportunities are out there and libraries should not shy away from them.
Thanks for writing the article, Joe. There are many topics brought up within the article and from Charleston that I would like to highlight, because these new models (OER and inclusive access) have potential to create a better teaching and learning experience and our libraries and presses have a role to play, I believe.
With inclusive access models, the potential of saving students money is obvious, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to a better learning experience. We make assumptions that students don’t buy textbooks due to their outrageous pricing. Although the cost does influence their decision making, it is quite possible that students choose to not purchase materials based on a more complex set of variables. Such as, who is teaching the course, when it’s being taught, what do my peers say about this course etc. We should not try and over simplify the decision making process. My hypothesis is that students consider the time of day, or who the instructor is teaching the course, along with the overall costs. They each get weighted equally. And I believe some students have learned to navigate our courses without materials. People can adapt. But what if the students can afford the materials and the faculty member can have autonomy and control over the content? Well, that’s the value of OER.
OER delivers on the promise of access. The free or low cost materials make it much easier for students to take their class without concerns about another financial barrier. But, the real value in OER is more than just the affordability. The ability for faculty to customize content and individualize the learning experience is possibily the greatest value. In SUNY, we have heard from our faculty that teach with OER, that they believe the OER empowers them to take full control over the curriculum. There of course skeptics who believe OER is less than, because of the freeness or because of the low costs. A little behavioral economics at play. But good empirical research has been done that suggests that faculty who teach with OER tend to believe that it is equal and sometimes better than traditional content.
However, the gaps in OER are tremendous. Good quality OER can be found for nearly all courses, but high enrollment, General Education courses seem to be the sweet spot for OER. There are also OER platforms that provide personalized or adaptive learning experiences for students, that we should pay attention to. The challenge with OER is that at this time there simply isn’t enough to go around. But this is changing.
Another point that was mentioned was the University Press. This is where we could see a dramatic change in the OER landscape, and for many UPs, a new opportunity to add value to our universities. I believe that UPs have a tremendous role to play in the future direction of OER, or if you will, publishing for the curriculum. UPs understand the publishing space, know how to create quality materials (often on a shoestring budget), and understand the complexities of being self-sustained. In SUNY, our UP have been involved from the beginning with consulting on OER projects and helping us develop print pathways for OER (still a need with students). It would be advantageous for our UPs to take a more active role, but for many of the smaller presses that is a risky proposition. If UPs could become more visible in the OER space, that improves the opportunities to understand the role of our UPs. I would suggest a vehicle for the creation of more OER, for upper level undergraduate courses, may be their sweet spot.
Lastly to my library colleagues, I’d reread Lisa’s post. Librarians have a role to play in this space that goes beyond just discovering OER. Our institutions are seeking campus leaders to stand up and lead with OER advocacy and education, as well as with understanding the complex proposition of inclusive access programs. In SUNY and in other systems around the country, libraries have been leaders in the OER movement. I’d suggest a better relationship with our UPs. This provides a great opportunity for universities to take more control over our content in our curriculum. There are promising platforms being developed, such as Fulcrum and Manifold, is it possible for us to use these platforms to develop new OER, if they aren’t already? Can our UPs partner with smaller OER companies to develop partnerships in the production of new OER? There are great existing partnerships between academic libraries and UPs. Is it possible that our partnerships could be strengthened if we turn our attention to developing content for our curriculum?
That was my learning moment from serving on the panel with Gwen and Mark, as well as from reading Joe’s post. The opportunities are endless.
These models all look like they will benefit students financially, but are additional evidence that consumers, not just students, no longer want to pay for content. We can see this in journalism and the music industry, too. Realistically, textbook authors (who, as noted above, are mostly college faculty) will see a sharp drop in income for their efforts. The promise that additional volume will make up the difference is a shaky premise. The result, most likely, will be less faculty willing to go to through the years of effort necessary to write textbooks, followed by a Wikipedia-ization of them in the years ahead.
The quality of textbooks will be lower, but so will their cost. This kind of thing has happened time and time again. Just take a look at photography. Cost, not better methods, has driven change. Try and find someone to process film today. Try and find someone to write a quality textbook tomorrow.
With some Open Stax textbooks attaining double digit market penetration, OER are in fact a viable standalone solution for high textbook costs. Many OER are now coming with better ancillaries and, while much more rigorous research is needed, what we have to date suggests that students attain the same academic outcomes whether they pay $100 for their textbook or get it for free. It’s challenging for policy makers to justify the high cost of textbooks when students are not getting something for what they pay for.
One problem with inclusive access programs is whether students have the choice. Different states have different laws but I prefer ones that let students specifically opt out. We are SO sure that it is SO terrible when students don’t buy their textbooks. We almost assume they are SO stupid they can’t figure out how to go to college. (Students regularly skirt the United States-version of a textbook to get a European version.) Let’s face it, most intro classes can be figured out through regular class attendance.
It is actually a federal requirement that students are able to opt out.
This is a most interesting article on textbook buying models as they evolve. While I may represent a vested interest here because of my employer (full disclosure: Cengage), it is worth noting that as one of the smaller of the big 5 listed, Cengage has opted for a model that is, relatively speaking, quite disruptive. It could be categorized, within the confines of this article, as a subset of the Inclusive Access model, but it does have features that allow it to play in the “Traditional Textbook” space as well. In brief, instead of charging per unit prices, Cengage has opted for a Netflix model. While certainly not its only sales model, it is one being pushed hard. As suggested, students pay a one-semester subscription fee that gives them access to the full (or near full) Cengage library of digitally available textbooks. There is obviously a financial calculus being applied here that trades individual units sales (based on the old print model approach, which has seen accelerated declines) for the number of total (and repeat) subscribers. This approach considers competition from fellow publishers, OERs, used textbook retailers, and so on and so forth. While not necessarily a panacea, it certainly is an approach that stands athwart the models outlined by Joe and offers another dynamic in this seemingly stable but actually quite volatile market.
The Cengage model has nothing to do with either OER or inclusive access. It is a new model, but one that does not put the instructor at the center, as do both OER and inclusive access. The aggregate pricing of the Cengage offering will put instructors under pressure to adopt only Cengage titles.