Can ELT afford digital?

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be able to attend the MAWSIG conference in London. This is a gathering of talented materials writers, editors and publishers. The theme of the conference was “New ways of working for new ways of learning” so the focus was heavily on digital and writing for digital.

As I said, there were lots of clever people there full of great ideas but having worked in digital for a few years with the responsibility for producing digital content, apps, platforms and so on, I know only too well how much this can all cost. I think there is a general consensus that the current ELT digital offering is somewhat pedestrian and could and should be vastly improved but can we afford it? Do the funds exist to pay for the innovation that everyone agrees is needed?

There are two basic ways to make money out of digital content: either you sell it or you deliver it for free with advertising and the advertisers pay you. It could be argued that there is a third way, where you sell something physical, such as a book and the digital is an add-on that enhances the value of the physical product. I would say that this is actually a combination of the first two, where you are using digital to market your own product.

This blog is probably not the place to go into the detailed costings of course development but I think it might be interesting to consider the costs related to, for example, the development of an app and compare these to what people are prepared to pay for digital and I do think it will be obvious where some of the problems lie around what can be done digitally for ELT.

There are lots of places you can go to get a rough calculation on the cost of developing an app, I will put some links below. From some of the calculations I have done, I think it is safe to say that the cost of developing a half-decent app is very roughly equivalent to the cost of developing one level of a paper-based course. These are development costs, not the costs for creating the content to go into either the book or the app we are discussing.

So my app and my book have cost about the same to develop and I now need to go and sell them to recoup these costs. In Western Europe a course book retails at approximately $35 but who is going to pay that amount for an app? As of January 2016 the average price of an app was $1.02**! And that is in in the Apple store, one of the big problems here is that while Android phones and tablets are far more popular than Apple ones, Android users generally don’t pay anything at all for apps.

Another way of looking at this problem is to consider the courses that offer “with/without access to digital platforms” options. Typically the packs that come with access, cost double those without but are they twice as good? Is the digital access really worth twice as much as the Student’s Book? If you think about all the wonderful content in a Student’s Book compared to a set of drag-and-drop activities with trackability, I think the answer is probably not. So if we wanted to offer all the great innovative things that people were discussing at the conference, maybe we would need to be charging three or four times the price of the Student’s Book for access to that kind of digital content. Would anyone pay $140 for a Student’s Book pack?





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Luke Baxter

Luke Baxter is the Digital Publisher at Richmond in Oxford. He taught English in Argentina and then Madrid, where he founded a Business English academy. He joined OUP as an Editor before going to Richmond in 2010. Luke has an MA in Latin American Literature from Warwick University.

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