Textbooks accompany a specific class or subject at primary, middle, high school, or university level and suggest a curriculum for that particular subject. Although textbooks have traditionally been in print form, much of the textbook market is making a shift towards digital books, like a lot of publishing these days.
School Textbooks Vs. Higher Education Textbooks
The textbook market differentiates between school textbooks meant for elementary schools or high schools and higher education textbooks meant for colleges or other post-secondary schools.
In most cases, the choice of elementary school subject textbooks and high school subject textbooks are agreed upon and purchased in bulk by an entire school or school system for use and re-use in the classroom, where they remain after purchase.
Higher education textbooks, meanwhile, are most often chosen or "adopted" for a particular course by the professor or instructor for the course. The school's bookstore then makes the textbook available for individual purchase by the students taking the course.
Reseller and Rental Challenges
After a class is complete, some students choose to sell their books either to a reseller that specializes in used college textbooks or offering them up themselves online in an effort to recoup some of their expenses. As a result, the used textbook market is quite robust, which has impacted the higher education publishing marketplace.
When a used book is sold, the original publisher sees no profit. In the past, these publishers have taken practical measures to counteract the effect of the used market, like making cursory updates to textbooks or simply changing the cover and then labeling the book as a different edition. Ultimately, this compels students to pick up the latest copy to ensure they are using the most updated edition for their studies.
Adapting to the used market is just one of the challenges that have faced publishers. There is also a rental market to contend with: sites that offer book rentals to students. This is obviously a more cost-effective option for students but it likewise doesn't generate any new revenue for the original publisher.
Digital Publishing Changes and Challenges
For all the inherent challenges the online world has presented publishers on the retail side of things, the move toward digital publishing has created new tools that make reselling less of a threat. Like many software packages available, publishers can assign licenses for their digital products so that only a single user can use it.
It also offers greater flexibility from a content perspective. While the print counterpart is static, digital publishing is dynamic. Updates can be made in real time without having to undertake an added expense of printing a new edition. As a result, the content is fresh and timely versus traditional print copies. Digital versions are also more appealing to tech-savvy students who grew up in the internet age with smartphones and tablets.
Teaching Tool Ancillaries
Digital production can also complement print production and give publishers a way to add value to their existing products, such as producing ancillary materials—for example, teaching tools like teacher's manuals, presentation slides to aid instructors, student workbooks and online study guides, and more. Depending on the nature of the ancillaries, they may be sold separately or made available with a textbook purchase.
Ancillaries are hugely important to textbook sales. The school textbook committees or academic professors in charge of textbook adoptions for a particular course will give much consideration to the quality of the ancillary materials when making a determination of what textbook to use.