Reconsidering textbooks in a digital world – or – Why a $100 ebook is crazy

I’m jumping back into the world of education as I start studies for a PhD in Higher Ed in about a week, and as I start that journey, I’m reminded of some of the joys of life as a student.

Like that some books cost $150.

Some people are outraged by this. I’m hit with a little sticker shock, but overall, I get the reasons. Publishers frequently attribute the high cost to the resale market. When you publish a textbook, it sells well the first semester then quickly drops off as students sell the book back, and the bookstore sells the used books for less than new.

But here’s what I don’t get (and one of the biggest opportunities in the publishing market). One book I purchased was $122 new and $100 for the Kindle version.

That’s crazy. That’s someone taking an old model and laying it over a new paradigm. Digital scales differently. There’s no incremental cost. And, most importantly for textbooks, it’s really, really hard to have a secondary resale market.

When you sell an ebook, you’re selling something that cannot be resold. The customer purchased the right to view the information. That should change the cost structure, but most publishers are comparing ebooks to the traditional book market and pricing them just a little below physical book pricing,

There is an opportunity here. The ebook market is renewable. Fresh income comes in every semester without demanding a new edition every few years to kill the resale market. Price a $122 textbook at $20 or $30, well below what the bookstores can sell a used hard copy for. You’ll sell more every semester at pure profit. Amazon will take a cut of the money, but even then it’s a better deal.

Or cut Amazon out of the picture and make 100% profit. Textbooks get sold to the professor, not the students. The professor makes the choice and requires (compels?) the students to purchase it. Make it clear an ebook version is for sale on your own website, and the professor can direct the students there. You have a captive audience, and for $100 savings, students will gladly click over to “randompublisherssite.com”. In the end, this benefits the students (more affordable), the teacher (happier students), and the authors (opportunities for a better royalty structure). Everyone wins – except those people buying back used books and selling them for the markup.

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Reconsidering textbooks in a digital world – or – Why a $100 ebook is crazy

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