The phrase “hit the books” is officially becoming outdated.
According to a survey by MBS Direct, 19% of college students bought e-textbooks in 2010 – part of a rapidly growing movement to the digital age within the halls of academia. In fact, by 2017, social learning platform Xplana expects e-textbooks to represent half of all college textbook sales.
And as companies hop onto this bandwagon, it translates into a market potential of more than $1 billion over the next five years…
Who Needs Dusty Paperbacks Anyway?
The impressive growth of e-books over traditional paperbacks and hardbacks is well-documented. But they’re catching fire much faster than anyone anticipated.
A study of all U.S. publishers shows that e-book sales have increased significantly each year over the past nine years. In January 2011 alone, net e-book sales snatched $69.9 million – a 116% increase over sales in January 2010.
At the same time, traditional book sales fell off a cliff. Adult paperback sales slumped by 19.4%, while Young Adult and Children’s book sales dropped by 17.7%.
Even Amazon’s (Nasdaq: AMZN) CEO, Jeff Bezos was surprised that Kindle books have already outpaced paperback books as the site’s most popular format. (The company didn’t expect that to happen until the second quarter of this year.)
Don’t expect the growth to stop anytime soon, either. Because e-books are poised to replicate their dominance in the academic world, too.
Digitizing Higher Education to the Tune of $1 Billion
In forecasting that impressive $1 billion market for e-books in schools and colleges, Xplana’s estimate is based on two main factors:
- Based on the surging tablet PC trend (triggered by the success of Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad lineup), Forrester Research estimates more than 33% of U.S. consumers will own a tablet by 2015.
- The average college textbook costs $104 –up 24% from 2005. By comparison, e-textbooks usually come with a steep discount. And prices are expected to drop further in the next 2-3 years. Perfect for cash-strapped college kids – but deadly for old-fashioned book publishers.
No wonder publishing giants, McGraw-Hill and Pearson are gearing up to offer their top 100 undergraduate bestsellers, business and medical textbooks in electronic format.
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But there’s a problem…
Reinventing the Traditional Textbook
As I noted last week, in order for textbooks to successfully go digital, simple (i.e. boring) PDF readers won’t suffice, since the main goal is to boost users’ interaction with the text.
That’s why these publishers recently invested millions in e-textbook developer, Inkling.
You see, unlike other online e-textbook retailers, Inkling isn’t just a PDF reader or a neat page-turning app. It actually reinvents traditional textbooks, turning them into fully interactive learning tools.
Its e-textbooks work though an iPad app, incorporating quizzes, interactive infographics and a scrolling, searchable interface. The software also integrates social networking, allowing users to ask other students (or the teacher) questions in real-time.
The books are cheap, too…
A La Carte Learning… And Notching Some Fat Deals
Just like other e-textbook retailers, Inkling offers discounts. What sets Inkling apart, though, is that students don’t have to return an e-textbook at the end of the year. It’s theirs to keep, forever.
Plus, if students only need a part of a book, they can buy individual chapters. As Inkling’s Vice-President of Marketing told me, these usually sell for just $3 or $4 each. I definitely could have used that in college. I wasted hundreds of dollars on books that I never ended up using in class.
Here’s the best part, though: Inkling’s new deal with McGraw-Hill and Pearson has given it access to a whopping 95% of higher education publications. That means the 14 e-textbooks currently offered on its iPad app should now jump to 100 by fall.
Not bad for a startup. But it gets better. The company expects to branch out to Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android platform in the coming months.
McGraw-Hill is clearly moving with the times. Last year, it acquired Tegrity, a company that posts interactive lecture videos online. However, Inkling boasts a superior software platform and growing industry exposure, so don’t be surprised to see it attract similar attention this year.