Software eats the world. Next on the menu: textbooks

In Marc Andressen’s WSJ article ‘Why Software is Eating the World‘, he coins a catchy phrase to illustrate a phenomenon I’ve also been following with pointed interest for years: the relentless disruption of traditional business models by digitally-powered alternatives.

Andressen’s tour through affected industries covers booksellers, video chains, record labels, telecom providers, camera makers and more. In a post in the near future, I’ll empty the contents of my Evernote tag ‘Business models disrupted by digital’ and explore the full extent of the carnage. For now, I’ll just add one more to the list: textbooks.

TechCrunch reports on a new startup called BenchPrep:

The startup licenses textbooks from big publishers like McGraw Hill and converts them into interactive web and mobile learning courses.

As TechCrunch reports with disbelief:

Eventually, publishers might get a clue that interactive digital education is going to destroy their paper book business. If they’re smart they’ll start developing their own courses or raise licensing fees. Until then though, BenchPrep will be the savior of anyone frustrated by the static book-learning experience.

This is the point though. Despite ample evidence of business models being turned on their heads or made obsolete in a matter of months, we’re still seeing giants across every industry falling behind instead of reinventing their products and building these platforms and services themselves.

The textbook industry is a great example. It doesn’t take a futurist to be able to tell you that the near future, if not the present, kids will be learning primarily on their tablets and Macs and iPhones, storing their textbooks in the ether, being spurred on by a gamification layer, given real-time assessments of their learning, cloud-syncing notes and highlights, and revelling in rich media content and visualizations that bring the subject to life, possibly even benefiting from a presentation that is personalized to their particular learning style.

Does McGraw Hill have a well funded innovation lab working on creating exactly this outcome, with a remodelled business model to match? You’d hope so, but history would suggest otherwise.

The opportunity is open to every company to find ways to innovate through technology to provide a better product and experience to your customer, be willing to change your business model in the process, and ride that wave to a new era of success and prosperity. The alternative isn’t pretty: join the world’s most expensive foodspotting list that Kodak and Blockbuster have already made famous.

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58 Responses to “Software eats the world. Next on the menu: textbooks”


  1. 1 FlagFootball

    This might be good for the students but only time will tell.

  2. 2 Pauliina Jamsa

    Very interesting post as always! It is true that traditional business models have changed, but why not? The world has changed. With the exponential growth in technology, mobiles, Internet, social media and search, even the way we look at the world has changed. We marketers have changed, consumers have changed and the ways brands engage with the consumers have changed.

    To be honest, even the way consumers buy our products has changed.

    This is why not only business models, but even the traditional marketing models such as traditional purchase funnel, need to be adapted. Being surrounded by excessive choice, consumers have become suspicious and picky and evaluate different possibilities constantly. Instead of a linear funnel consumer journey is a loop, where consumers are in a continuous journey regularly adding and dropping brands.

    It will be interesting to see whether traditional businesses will wake up and take advantage of the new media or whether they will be eaten by software:)

    (if you are interested, more about the purchase funnel/loop http://internationaldigitalmarketing.com/2012/01/09/is-social-media-killing-the-traditional-purchase-funnel/)

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    I just happened to findcome across your sit and your write up Software eats the world. Next on the menu: textbooks » *supercollider. The information you have written down really makes me think. Thanks for the info.

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