February 20, 2012
Although its name is not well known, Cengage is one of the firms that, along with Pearson and McGraw-Hill, form the Triad that dominates college textbook publishing. Recently Cengage announced that they’ve transitioned from being a viable company with a vision for the future, to becoming a massive anti-capitalist prank: Cengage has pulled all their content from e-textbook distributor Kno.
According to Mashable, Cengage terminated their contract because Kno enables students to produce a study sheet excerpting passages from the textbook. Apparently Cengage views study sheets as derivative works and considers this a copyright violation. Never mind that every student who uses the feature has already bought the text, so there is no potential for lost sales. Never mind that it actually makes their textbooks more valuable to students.
While Cengage may be within their legal rights to pull their content, it’s an absolutely crazy thing to do. This is Kno’s reward for trying to pull Cengage into the 21st century.
Instant study sheets are a patently obvious feature for an online textbook reader—it’s one of the killer benefits that a print book just cannot match. And that’s the problem: legacy publishers only pay lip service to digital textbooks. They’re fine with them as long as they’re overpriced, missing compelling features, and don’t threaten the publishers’ print textbook hegemony.
If you’re working with the legacy publishers, you’re just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. At Eleven Learning, we’re not trying to fix the textbook publishing industry. We’re blowing it up and starting over.