Some of the largest education publishers say that most of their sales and revenues are from digital products. Both McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage Learning are releasing financial information for 2015 that backs up that claim.
This shift to digital would represent a major milestone for the industry, but there are questions about how publishers define “digital sales.”
According to Carl Straumsheim of Inside HigherEducation, digital sales at Cengage can mean selling access to a digital product, but also selling an e-book, a textbook bundled with online components, or digital supplementary material. McGraw-Hill also counts bundles, but only reports the portion of the sales value of the digital component. Pearson does not differentiate between digital and print sales.
Publishers have even started promoting themselves as providers of digital course material because it sounds better than saying the firms are still driven by print, according to management consultant Joseph J. Esposito. He added that digital course materials give publishers a way to sell directly to students, lowering their costs and subsequently textbook prices.
“No college publisher likes to talk about this because they don’t want to alienate the retail channel, which they need right now,” Esposito wrote in an email to Straumsheim.