- Marking another major strategic move in recent weeks among academic publishers, John Wiley & Sons announced Monday that it will acquire the assets of Knewton, a firm specializing in adaptive learning technology and open educational resources (OER).
- Wiley's purchase of Knewton for an undisclosed sum follows news last week of the merger between publishing powerhouses McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage, which Inside Higher Ed reported was a way to strengthen their positions and reduce competition in a shifting market.
- Knewton's Alta OER courseware is used by more than 300 colleges, according to a press release. Wiley hopes access to that software will improve its position in the market for affordable course materials.
While Wiley's move to increase its presence in the OER sector is important, the bigger jolt in the academic publishing field was the merger of McGraw-Hill and Cengage. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the deal by the two companies — whose combined revenues top $3.1 billion and who together offer some 44,000 titles — might get the attention of antitrust regulators as it would significantly reduce competition in the textbook market by combining the No. 2 and No. 3 players.
Still, it will no doubt shake up the industry. For instance, the deal could result in more variety in products and pricing, with digital expansion a goal of both parties. Institutions may feel more power to lobby for inclusive access deals with their publishers as a result. And fewer major competitors in the textbook market could lead to efficiencies throughout the supply chain that could be passed along to students in the form of cost savings, according to The Chronicle.
Yet some observers are concerned the consolidation would add cost for students who rely on access to used textbooks or the ability to borrow them from the library for free, EdSurge reported, as they are expected to push colleges toward subscription-based materials. Rather than leave students to their own devices to source course materials, institutions would fold into tuition and fees the cost to access a platform through which those materials are available.
That shift could make a big impact. Cengage CEO Michael Hansen told EdSurge that just 20% of U.S. courses use digital materials.
Those digital materials extend beyond textbooks to include assessment tools, adaptive content, lecture capture and homework systems, according to a recent market analysis from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.
Already-limited competition for college textbooks could further tighten price pressure for students, though publishers in the recent deals say they intend to offer lower-cost options through digital expansion.
Student costs for textbooks rose 67% from 2008 to 2018 to as much as $500 per year, Business Insider reported late last year, noting that about two-thirds of learners say high prices and requirements to purchase codes to access additional materials prevented them from buying the materials.
In an interview with Education Dive earlier this year, Mike Silagadze, CEO and co-founder of OER company Top Hat, echoed that concern, contending that the lower prices offered through inclusive access agreements may not be low enough for extremely price-sensitive students.