Cengage and McGraw-Hill Announce Intention to Merge

In 2019, Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education, which are two of the three largest college textbook publishers, announced their intention to merge into a unified company, which would carry the McGraw-Hill Brand.

This proposed merger has not yet been finalized, but does have major implications for the educational book market. If Cengage and McGraw-Hill merge into a new company, they would only have a single rival – Pearson.

The merger between Cengage and McGraw-Hill has raised some eyebrows, particularly among Department of Justice regulators who are concerned about potential “duopoly” concerns – that the dominance of the new McGraw-Hill and Pearson would result in higher prices and other such anti-competitive issues among textbook publishers.

When Will Cengage And McGraw-Hill Complete Their Merger?

The Cengage and McGraw-Hill merger does not have a solid date as of yet, though it was previously announced that it could occur as soon as Q1 2020.

However, the success of the merger depends on whether or not the Department of Justice opens up an investigation into the proposed merger – which is very possible, considering its potential to eliminate competition in the college textbook market.

Many institutions including SPARC are opposing this merger, so it’s definitely possible that it may be delayed as regulators begin to explore the potential anti-competitive implications of a merger between Cengage and McGraw-Hill.

What Does This Mean For College Students?

For college students, the merger of McGraw-Hill and Cengage doesn’t mean much – yet. However, if the merger does go through, there will be much less competition in the world of college textbook publishing – which could mean higher prices for textbooks.

Indeed, even in the current educational publishing landscape, the cost of college textbooks has risen 146% since 2000. In contrast, the US inflation rate was around 2% from the period of 2000-2019.

In documents and press materials for the merger, McGraw-Hill and Cengage have also pledged to focus more closely on “digital content.” Digital educational materials have already received a lot of criticism from college students, who claim:

  • Expiring access codes from online platforms destroy the used book market
  • Digital content cannot be resold at the end of the course, or even kept for future reference if the access code has an expiration date
  • Automatic billing and digital materials harm the ability to “price shop”
  • Digital materials, though nearly free to distribute, are still priced at similar costs compared to printed materials

This means that, should the merger go through, it’s possible that prices for textbooks and educational materials may go up – and a further emphasis on digital content could further harm college students financially.

The Future of the Cengage & McGraw-Hill Merger Remains Uncertain

For now, there’s no way to tell if this merger will go through. If there are no major issues raised by the DOJ, it may proceed as planned – but action by grassroots activists and college students could cause delays.

What is “Inclusive Access” to Course Material for College Students?

In the last several years, “Inclusive Access” has become a popular buzzword in the world of college textbook publishing. But what does it mean? What is it, and why is it favored by large publishers and university bookstores – while being opposed by students and independent bookstore operators? Let’s take a look at this subject in detail now, and explore everything you need to know.

What is Inclusive Access? Understanding the Basics

Traditionally, students are responsible for acquiring their own course materials and textbooks – by purchasing them online, from the university bookstore, or other independent college bookstores.

This is not the case with an inclusive access model. Instead, schools and universities sign up, and an entire student class will automatically get digital course materials – instead of requiring them to be purchased individually.

The “inclusive” element of Inclusive Access refers to the fact that every student will have access to the same materials on the first day of class and is “included” – nobody will be delayed because they didn’t get their books on time, or due to the high cost of books.

Instead, they get their course materials automatically – and the cost of the materials is included in their tuition.

Why are Publishers and University Bookstore Operators in Favor of Inclusive Access?

Large publishing companies like Cengage, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson – as well as large university bookstore operators like Barnes & Noble and Follett – are all touting the benefits of inclusive access. According to them, the benefits of this approach include:

  • Lower costs – Depending on the courses, students can save money compared to the price of new printed, physical textbooks.
  • No delays, leading to higher grades – Students won’t fall behind in the first week or two of classes due to late arrival or purchase of textbooks, which can lead to better learning outcomes.

Why Are Students and Independent College Bookstores Against Inclusive Access?

Inclusive access sounds pretty good if you ask publishers – but many students, student organizations and independent college bookstore operators are against it. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Content expires – Inclusive access content typically expires after a course ends, meaning it cannot be used for future reference without paying additional fees.
  • Cannot be resold – You cannot legally buy and resell digital content, unlike textbooks, which means that there is no way to recoup a portion of the money spent on course materials.
  • Can’t buy used – Used textbooks are a great value compared to new books. Despite inclusive access offering discounts, used textbooks can often be cheaper – and resold after being used, leading to lower overall costs. Buying used books is not possible with the inclusive access model.

Inclusive Access Could Become More Common in the Future

Since 2017, the inclusive access model has been growing in popularity, and as publishers like Cengage, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and others continue to push digital-first strategies, it seems likely that this trend will continue to grow in the future – despite protests from students and organizations dedicated to keeping higher education affordable.