Digital publishing is a booming market. For a decade, since the Amazon Kindle was released in 2007, books have captivated audiences via mobile devices. Even the most staunch paper book fundamentalists have turned into avid digital bookworms.

Consumer and educational electronic book publishing revenue worldwide reached $14.55 billion in 2016 and shows no sign of slowing. And with the digitization of books, publishers are able capture data about readers that we have never seen before.

An industry that is desperately in need of that kind of data is education. While often a complicated field to enter thanks to regulation and administrative roadblocks, publishers are finding there is a huge market for digital content in the education space.

Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chair Julius Genachowski said that schools and publishers should "switch to digital textbooks to foster interactive education, save money on books, and ensure classrooms in the US use up-to-date content."

Cost and Convenience

Information changes rapidly and literature on many subjects, especially education, can become dated as soon as it hits mass distribution. eBooks, on the other hand, can be quickly and easily kept current, making these purchases appealing because they are far more likely to contain the most up-to-the-minute information available, saving the consumer time and money in the long run.

"We have to come up with cost reducing measures that alleviate the price of education for students while still providing access to the most current information available," says Greg Fenton, CEO of Redshelf, a company providing digital textbooks and other edtech solutions. "Administrative costs are hard to address, but incidentals like textbooks and classroom materials can be reduced with digital solutions."

Solving with the customer in mind (students in this case) helps an organization create meaningful experiences that actually work.

Interactive Content

At a time when attention is the scarcest resource and a generation of digital natives is entering the college system, printed or stagnant content does not compete. In order to keep students engaged and prevent other digital mediums from stealing their attention away from studies, edtech companies have developed interactive content offerings.

Interactive textbooks have features that give students the power to gather information as they read by having a more engaging experience with the words on the page. This more conversational content with links to websites and other resources creates a multi-media interface that deepens the scope of a traditional textbook and engages the learner in investigative education.

The same goes for brands in the private sector. With droves of dynamic content on the internet, simply creating static information like a blog is no longer good enough. It is imperative that brands create living content that updates as their industries change, keeping the consumer engaged and informed.

Closing the Feedback Loop

Reader analytics allow publishers to collect, organize and index content from multiple sources and systematically analyze user logs to learn behaviors. This data can inform decision making about pricing, content organization, and more.

Intelligence like this informs publishers on an array of issues and empowers them to alter the content they produce. These changes could be significant and over time radically alter what textbooks are and how we use them.

EdTech startups, however, have had to work closely with existing institutions because they have valuable experience navigating the regulatory and budgetary landscape. Fenton explains how RedShelf took this approach, "We wanted to help publishers select the right content and assess its performance. By providing online textbooks we're able to give data insights on how long, how often, and even why students study certain materials." Instead of going around existing publishers, Fenton involved them in the development process which helped his team develop better products. The result has been accelerated adoption of new technologies at America's educational institutions.


As with all emerging technologies, there are challenges in the market. Richard Baraniuk, Rice University engineering professor and founder of OpenStax, summarizes it this way: "In the long-term we're going to see the textbook industry stabilize. A big part of the market is going to be around free and open materials because it makes sense...but I still think there's a role for for-profit." He goes on to explain that the difference will be publishers having to justify to consumers why their products are worth the money.

"And that's one of the big struggles for any educational institution, creating systems that move fast and can be updated as needed. Universities are beginning to think strategically to provide third party solutions that help educators and students, effectively upgrading the entire educational ecosystem," says Fenton.

This is an emerging technology and people are often slow to change. But as the quality of digital textbooks improve and become more accessible, future generations can expect to see them in all levels of education.