I’m not surprised that companies like Cengage, Chegg or Follett need to take these steps in the hopes of preserving the dwindling revenues that the entire book business is seeing. But I’m surprised that the Times saw fit to stand behind these efforts so blindly in light of the facts.
The basis of this story is that companies are adopting textbook rentals to counter the online sales of used textbooks to outfits like Amazon.com. They believe this approach will increase profitability because they won’t have to go for additional print runs.
Even if this were a solid deal for students – which most of the blog comments seem to indicate otherwise – the economics just don’t add up. The companies still have to manage lending centers; replace damaged, lost or destroyed books, and they are still limited to a certain geographical area or be subject to large shipping fees.
If we accept that e-books will be the norm sooner or later, this new business can hardly be seen as anything more than a last gasp for the physical textbook business. (For those doubters still among you, I am reminded of the music industry execs that couldn’t be convinced that digital music would ever replace CDs).
When e-books become the norm:
- Books become available to all just with an Internet connection.
- They can sell it at a much lesser price compared to their print versions.
- They can rent it for a period of time.
- They can sell content in chunks.
- They can rent content in chunks.
- Publishers do not have to worry about the used book market.
I don’t know…maybe I’m over thinking this one.