Eye roll

Pearson plans NFT textbooks for resale profit extortion

Because what else is the blockchain for if not making money in a spectacularly underhanded fashion?

Australia, Sydney, The Co-op bookstore books textbooks UTS University of Technology Sydney student l...
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Pearson CEO Andy Bird wants to mint the company’s ebooks as NFTs to maximize its profits, in perhaps the most brazen misuse of the blockchain we’ve seen yet. Turning digital textbooks into NFTs would allow Pearson to make a profit off each resale of an ebook, Bird told reporters while announcing the company’s mid-year financial status.

“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,” Bird said. Tracking an ebook’s resale activity would give Pearson the chance to make a profit each time the digital book changed hands.

Because of their heft and price, physical textbooks like those made by Pearson traditionally have significant resale value, but the company has never been able to make any cash off these resales. The blockchain — that ever-expanding digital register of each transaction made with cryptocurrency — presents a unique opportunity for Pearson to take a cut of this lucrative market. If consumers even buy into it, that is.

How would this even work? — How, exactly, Pearson plans to incorporate NFTs into its business model is unclear. Not even Bird knows for sure.

“We have a whole team working on the implications of the metaverse and what that could mean for us,” Bird said in his briefing.

Pearson already has its own digital textbook ecosystem, called Pearson+, a platform that could likely be updated to include NFT technology. In order for the system to really work, Pearson would need to make it very user-friendly. Even the most streamlined of NFT-buying experiences can be overwhelming.

Blockchain abuse — Bird is right: The blockchain presents a unique opportunity for Pearson to profit off the extensive textbook resale market. As is the case with many blockchain use cases, though, this isn’t so much a question of whether or not it’s possible — it’s a question of whether or not taking advantage of that technology is actually a good idea.

The reason the textbook resale market thrives is that companies like Pearson charge hundreds of dollars for their materials — books that are often being purchased by broke college students. Students buy used textbooks because they can’t afford to give Pearson — a company that made £1.78 billion in the first half of 2022 — their already-limited funds. Using the blockchain for this purpose would only further capitalize on students’ needs.

If Pearson does implement an NFT-based resale strategy, we’d expect textbook piracy rates to skyrocket.