E-textbook Market Remains on Course to Pass 25% by 2015

Digital textbooks topped 3% of the education market in 2011, and continue to increase at a rapid and steady pace. Remaining in alignment with our research and reports from 2009-2011, e-textbooks and other learning content are growing at a year-over-year rate of more than 100%. This growth has seen the market move from 0.5% in 2009, to 1.5% in 2010, to 3%+ this past year.

Our latest research findings, explored in detail in my new book, The Future of Learning Content (available for free on this site), are based on a broad variety of information sources. These include market and sales data from MBS, the American Association of Publishers (AAP), Bowker, Eduventures, and Simba. They also incorporate information from interviews with representatives from major textbook publishers and e-textbook distributors, as well as the results of student surveys like those by BISG, the National Association of College Stores (NACS), and MBS Direct Digital.

Earlier this month, at its Making Information Pay (MIP) event, The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released results from its latest student survey that also show a market penetration of 3% for digital textbooks. Meanwhile, while Bowker's Kelly Gallagher shared that their research revealed a possible adoption of up to 5%-6%.1

While the thoroughness and accuracy of our research have led an increasing number of media writers and financial analysts to treat our numbers as authoritative within the industry, the real story is in the changes we will see this decade due to the transition to digital content. These include:

  • New business models (including content subscription) from traditional textbook publishers
  • Changes in textbook pricing strategies by traditional publishers
  • A consolidation of Higher Education textbook catalogs
  • A decline in the textbook rental market by 2014
  • The growth of open textbook and open educational resource initiatives
  • An increased market share for new digital-first and low-cost textbook providers
  • The disaggregation for core content into more flexible and reusable components
  • The shift from content-as-product model to a content-as-service model
  • Serious efforts -- by textbook publishers and other companies -- to redefine the core textbook construct
  • New startup business opportunities in the areas of content aggregation, curation, and assessment
  • A continuing trend toward online student purchases
  • The ubiquity of mobile computing in education

In the larger educational context, the digital shift will facilitate new literacies for students, new pedagogies for instructors, and a rich opportunity for schools and institutions to revisit curriculum design and to craft long-term content strategies for the 21st century.

1Some media coverage of the MIP event was misleading, as it implied that the e-textbook market had actually contracted in the last year. In reality, BISG itself admitted that its survey was skewed slightly against digital textbooks, and its results only revealed a comparison with student survey results from the previous year, which did not align with any of the market data available.