The CEO of textbook publisher Pearson said that the company plans to make money from second-hand sales by turning its titles into non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Books that help people learn are often sold more than once. This is because students often sell study materials they no longer need. Publishers have never been able to make money from the sale of used books, but with the rise of digital textbooks, they now have a chance to do so.
NFTs give ownership of a unique digital item by putting it on a blockchain, which is a decentralized digital ledger. Most of the time, these are pictures or videos, but technology lets almost anything be sold and bought this way.
After Pearson’s interim results came out, CEO Andy Bird told Bloomberg about his plan to sell digital textbooks as NFTs. This would allow the publisher to keep track of who owns a book even if it changes hands. “In the analog world, a Pearson textbook was sold up to seven times, but we only got a cut of the first sale,” he said, explaining that “technology like blockchain and NFTs lets us get a cut of every sale of that item as it goes through its life.”
Bird, who used to be the chairman of Walt Disney International, joined Pearson in 2020. Before that, the company was having trouble with the rising costs of making college textbooks and the fact that many students choose to buy them used. This new plan is the latest step in his plan to move the publisher in the direction of digital media. It comes after the Pearson+ subscription app, which gives students access to 1,500 titles for $14.99 a month, was released last year.
It’s not a completely new idea to sell books as NFTs, but it hasn’t taken off as much as the NFT market for visual art has. Most of the time, NFT technology is used in books so that authors can self-publish. And even though digital distributors like Germany’s Bookwire have started NFT marketplaces, as author and performer Walker Caplan wrote in LitHub last year, most of the publishing world does not yet feel the need to use this new technology. This is because readers tend to think that having read a book is more important than owning it. Even if traditional publishers do move into this space, Caplan wrote that they “may not be welcomed with open arms” because NFT writing is based on the idea of decentralization.
If Pearson’s use of NFTs works well, though, this way of selling digital copies of books could become more common among traditional publishing houses. Bird is also looking into how the company could use other new technologies. He said that a “whole team” is working on “the implications of the metaverse and what that could mean for us.”