Pearson Exploring NFTs’ Potential in the Textbook Market

Staff Writer

Textbook publisher Pearson has expressed interest in developing NFTs to profit off secondhand textbook sales as more content goes digital.

Traditionally, students in higher education are responsible for buying their own textbooks, the cost of which can add up to a couple thousand dollars a year.

Once the semester is over, many students resell their used books, but the original publisher won’t see a dime of those earnings.

Pearson CEO Andy Bird said he wants to change that, turning to blockchain technology to track sales and to profit off royalties from the digital assets known as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, as reported by Bloomberg.

“In the analogue world, a Pearson textbook was resold up to seven times, and we would only participate in the first sale,” Bird told reporters following the release of the company’s interim earnings results earlier this month.

“The move to digital helps diminish the secondary market, and technology like blockchain and NFTs allows us to participate in every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life,” he said.

A Digital Record

An NFT is a digital asset created and stored on a blockchain. This technology allows users to view data without editing it, enabling the secure selling and trading of NFTs, while keeping record of transfer of ownership.

When an NFT is minted, creators have the option to include royalties written into the terms. This ensures that as the work changes hands, an automatic payout of a predetermined percentage still goes to the original owner.

Royalties are coded into the smart contract of the blockchain, which guarantees that the terms of the NFT are fulfilled each time a sale occurs, giving creators a cut of the profit indefinitely, as long as their work continues to be sold.

Proponents of NFTs say the transparency of blockchain technology also allows creators to be able to track the chronological order of ownership, knowing exactly where their work is, and whose hands its currently in.

The move to digital helps diminish the secondary market, and technology like blockchain and NFTs allows us to participate in every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life.Andy Bird, CEO of Pearson Education

A number of companies and investors have taken nascent steps to bring blockchain into the K-12 market, or at least shown an interest in doing so, mostly focused on areas such as recordkeeping, grading, and student credentialing. Others have questioned its potential, either because they view blockchain as overhyped, or because they see risks in applying a still-evolving technology in school settings, where it is barely understood.

Pearson sold off its K-12 curriculum and instruction business three years ago. While the company still works in the pre-college space, perhaps most notably in assessment, a large majority of the editorial content it produces today is directed to the post-secondary world.

The company doesn’t yet have specific plans related to this technology, according to a statement emailed to EdWeek Market Brief.

“However, we are certainly interested in how it can make learning better for students and bring more value for other stakeholders,” the company said. “Blockchain is an interesting technology that provides transparency to everyone and has the potential to be good for authors and students.”

Pearson added that the company is focusing on making digital textbooks more affordable and accessible than print ones.

“Digital materials, in any form, are good for student consumers,” the company said. “NFTs would be no different because it would allow us to deliver better quality content than print books and at a lower price.”

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Image by Getty.

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