Posted on February 25, 2019 by staff

The textbook is dead. Long live the book!


In our lifetimes we’ve said RIP to the cassette tape, CD, minidisc, VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray.

Film and music have taken their final steps from out of this physical coil and into the cloud, leaving nothing for us to hold on to.

The same can’t be said of books. When the Kindle was introduced, many predicted a similar fate, but it’s yet to arrive.

In fact, publishing is in good health. British publishing broke all previous revenue records in 2017 as collective sales rose 5 per cent to £5.7 billion, and the physical book still outpaces the ‘ebook’ format.

I’m no luddite, but maybe having to hold a book while reading is something people enjoy.

It could be that a screen of any kind – even increasingly sophisticated ‘e-ink’ screens – don’t feel like a true vacation from work and your phone.

Maybe we don’t have enough time in our busy lives to make it cost-effective.

So, while Netflix and Spotify have become the new virtual home for their respective medium, a true pay-as-you-use book store is yet to become a household name.

But there is, hidden within the format of the ‘book’, an opportunity which every other would-be entrepreneur has missed.

Though at first glance identical to your favourite novel, textbooks are an entirely different experience.

Students need information quickly. They are on a deadline and – just as you did – they leave it until the last minute to get started.

By today’s standards and under that pressure, textbooks are a terrible way to get access to information.

You might not be studying, but hundreds of thousands of students are, and they continue to endure, rather than enjoy the experience.

The ‘Spotify of books’ never took off, and the market evidently doesn’t want it, but a ‘Spotify of textbooks’ start-up has already quietly cornered the market.

Founded by three Australians, Tao Mantaras, Daniel Engelke and Dave Sherwood, it first spun out of Oxford University.

The trio, originally from Perth, were recently recognised in Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ of social entrepreneurs.

Sherwood, a Rhodes scholar, was studying at Oxford University and dropped out to start the company. Like me, they’d had enough of the fractured experience of textbooks.

They relocated to the UK to build Bibliotech and its relationship with key UK publishers.

Since 2015, they have brought on board most of the major publishers and are in around 30 per cent of UK institutions including Imperial College, ULC and Oxford.

Because the proposition is so obvious to students, who are typically 18 to 24 years of age, they are able to get 100 per cent of them on board. This keeps their monthly fee accessibly small, and provides students with access to thousands of textbooks.

It also keeps academic publishers happy. The start-up offers analytics to universities, professors and the publishers themselves. They can show which books perform well, which don’t, and which students have completed their reading.

For the students the experience is far closer to a ‘Google for textbooks’ than a Spotify or Netflix.

They can search for the statistics and paragraphs they need across the thousands of books on offer, and find the most relevant information from the entire database. All while knowing that the credibility of the information is far more reliable than the first page of your average search engine.

Seemingly since birth I have known I can ‘Ctrl F’ to the information I need online, and I wish I’d had that during my study.

You know you’re getting old when you start to realise “how easy the youth have it these days”. Having spoken to Bibliotech, I’ve crossed that threshold.

I hope there is always room in your house or local library for great reads, and enough time to read them – but I am happy to wave goodbye to the physical textbook as it joins the CD and Blu-Ray in the sky.