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(Hat-tip to Bryan Alexander for highlighting many of these points on Twitter.)

Tuesday’s IHE piece on Pearson’s move to “digital-first” textbooks is worth a close read. It appears to be part of a move to consolidate “inclusive access” programs by which colleges grant a single publisher a monopoly on licensing fees for instructional materials. (I’ve written before on inclusive access and what I call the Comcast problem here.) The implications are wide-ranging. Take this paragraph:

"These digital materials will be updated on an ongoing basis -- reflecting new research developments, technology breakthroughs and the latest pedagogical trends. Print versions of the materials will still be widely available to rent, but students will be discouraged from buying them with relatively high pricing and limited availability."

I’ll admit that I’m unaccustomed to seeing publishers announce “relatively high pricing” as a deliberate strategy.

" 'We want students to have the best and most up-to-date content for the best price,' said Fallon. Pearson plans to lower its prices so that fewer students are tempted to buy secondhand books. It will also push its rental program so that fewer books ever enter the secondhand market."

Okay, so now we’re admitting a full-scale assault on the used-book market. The candor is bracing.

For textbook authors, the change will be significant. As publishers invest more heavily in digital courseware with built-in assessments and learner analytics, they have started to sign fewer textbook authors.

Back in the ‘90’s, I remember many discussions of the “death of the author.” (For full effect, fans of Bojack Horseman should sing the first part of that sentence.) I don’t recall any of them basing that death on courseware, but the future is a funny thing. I also have to wonder about the “learner analytics,” especially as they relate to student privacy.  

There are still lots of details to be worked out, such as how to update materials without disrupting teaching, but Urry is hopeful the shift will result in a better experience for students -- one that is more interactive, engaging and informed by the latest pedagogical research.

Not disrupting teaching is a detail.

Sometimes the marketing copy for open educational resources writes itself.


If the future of instructional materials is electronic, or mostly so, then the argument against OER gets even weaker than it already is.  

Colleges increasingly have a choice to make. Would we rather put the selection of teaching materials in the hands of publishers that announce “relatively high pricing” and anticompetitive practices in press releases, or in the hands of the faculty who actually work with students, and who now have the option of making terrific and customizable material available for free?

I’ll take the latter option, thanks.

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