College textbook maker Pearson eyes NFTs to claim a cut of second-hand sales

Apparently, a $300 required textbook isn't enough of a grift.

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NFT advocates often tout the technology's ability to grant the creator a cut of second-hand sales as one of its major attributes. Artists can earn from one of their digital creations years after first selling it. Others are looking at NFTs to earn a buck from the secondary market too, including the publishers of college textbooks.

Pearson, which said in 2019 it would focus on digital textbook sales, wants a piece of the action. “In the analogue world, a Pearson textbook was resold up to seven times, and we would only participate in the first sale,” CEO Andy Bird told Bloomberg this week. “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."

There's an obvious reason why students resell textbooks. They're expensive! Students often have to spend hundreds of dollars on required materials each semester — or even hundreds of dollars on a single textbook. Selling on a textbook when it's no longer needed just makes sense.

Turning textbooks into NFTs and banking on the blockchain to track ownership of them (from “owner A to owner B to owner C,” as Bird put it) seems unnecessary, though. Digital rights management already exists and doesn't need to go anywhere near cryptocurrency. Pearson has a $15 per month subscription service for its textbooks as well.

Bird could simply be bloviating about a zeitgeisty technology to try and keep Pearson's investors happy — even though NFT sales have plummeted this year. In any case, there's still not much he or Pearson could do to stop students from screenshotting every page of a textbook before selling it on.