by K. V. Rao


Regular readers of the Z-Blog will know we’re always on the look out for new examples of businesses that are transforming from selling products to offering subscriptions – cars, movies, farm produce — here’s one that recently caught our attention, as well as the New York Times, around textbooks.


Get this — Publishers are starting to offer subscriptions to electronic versions of textbooks, allowing college students to “rent” the book for a period of time. The cost is quite a bit less than the printed version, but it allows publishers to compete with the used textbook market while saving some trees.


Here’s how it works: In the old way, publishers would sell a printed textbook, for say $209.95. Students balk at these outrageous prices (Hey, that is a lot of beer money,) look for used copies, and publishers end up losing revenue. The only chance for new revenue is to release an updated version, which could take several years.


Innovative publishing companies are finding a way out of this bind by offering subscriptions to textbooks online. The publishing company sells a one-year, or two semesters as it were, subscription to the textbook. Students download it online, for say $109.99, quite a bit less. After a year, the ebook expires, cutting back the used textbook market. Not only does this cut out the middleman for the publisher, they also get to make that same $109.99 year in and year out. Sell your product cheaper, make more money, and join the green movement, all in one fell swoop – what CEO wouldn’t like that?


The savvy publishing company named in this article is Cengage Learning. All textbook publishers should take a cue and start offering textbooks-as-a-service. They would stay competitive with used booksellers and make poor college students everywhere very happy.

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