Books Netflix Style

Cengage, the publisher and technology company, is introducing a subscription service that will enable students to access its entire digital portfolio for one set price, no matter how many products they use, as reported  by Lindsay McKenzie, in Inside Higher Ed.

The new offer, called Cengage Unlimited, will give students access to more than 20,000 Cengage products across 70 disciplines and 675 course areas for $119.99 a semester. For 12 months’ access the price is $179.99, and for two years the price is $239.99. For students taking three or four courses a semester with assigned course materials from Cengage, the subscription could offer hundreds of dollars of savings a year, versus buying or renting the products individually, the article states.

Some have compared this approach to that used by Netflix. Another commentator uses Spotify as an apt comparison. Please read the piece for details.

Obviously Cengage hopes the new product will increase its market share in a new environment that seems to change daily. One can envision a whole department or an entire college going all in. The savings for students would be considerable, even if the product only included courses in the core curriculum. If students prefer printed material, this can happen, too, for a small fee.

From the article (note the part about academic freedom concerns):

For students who are taking multiple courses with Cengage course materials assigned, the Cengage Unlimited proposal offers significant savings, said Joseph Esposito, a digital media, software and publishing consultant. But if you only have one course that has Cengage materials assigned, then the offer is not so attractive, he said. Rick Anderson, associate dean for collections and scholarly communication in the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, agreed.

Both Esposito and Anderson said it was clear that Cengage was looking to convince whole institutions, not just individual faculty members, to go all in on Cengage materials. This, they worried, could result in pressure being placed on faculty to assign Cengage materials, potentially impeding their academic freedom.

Netflix has streaming competitors like Amazon (of course), Hulu, and others, offering their own buffet of entertainment and information. So Cengage wouldn’t necessarily have a monopoly. However, most consumers limit their number of subscriptions and there are only a handful of major players right now. Presumably Cengage and others have devised a way to prevent the sharing of usernames and passwords. Netflix is not expensive, so there may be lower levels of cheating with streamed entertainment. Textbooks are a different situation.

One final thought: It’s hard to imagine typical college students today binging on books, in the manner of a Netflix series. Maybe they did in the centuries between Gutenberg and TV. But not now.