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Navigating the world of professional certification and training options, alongside other dispatches from the new global workplace.

Declining textbook sales hurt Pearson - will their certification business save the day?

Wednesday 6 November 2013

One news item related to certification and licensure to catch my eye recently was the announcement by Pearson, parent company of the Pearson VUE international network of testing centers and publisher of numerous certification and licensure exam study guides, that they are expecting their revenue to fall this quarter as a result of weak demand for textbooks in the United States.  It's no surprise that demand for college textbooks is dropping as a result of online marketplaces, e-books, and more college faculty members taking the cost of their students' education seriously.  I suspect that professional certification - both administering exams and developing the material to prepare individuals for exams - is a major part of Pearson's survival strategy for weathering the storm in the college textbook market.  A major university bookstore administrator I talked to claimed that they are expecting a 10% drop in textbook sales year-over-year ad infinitum, so I wouldn't be surprised if Pearson one day is known primarily for its role in the professional education market, rather than its (quite fine, I might add) line of introductory environmental science texts.  Indeed, given that the cost of publishing is much easier borne by highly paid white-collar workers who often won't bat an eye at being charged $120 for a set of exam prep workbooks (or just $117 if they choose the Kindle version!) than cash-strapped college students with little respect for intellectual property, I'm surprised that other players in the educational publishing industry, such as McGraw Hill and Prentice Hall, have not moved more aggressively into the professional certification and licensure market.  Of course, Pearson has a tremendous first-mover advantage that they share with ETS/Prometric (it's not cheap to set up a network of secured testing centers in a collection of college towns and world capitals that would make many retailers jealous), so I don't think that it's particularly likely that their professional testing business will be threatened anytime soon.  Yet, there's always the possibility that testing centers themselves will become obsolete as universities devise new ways of keeping tabs on their students in "Massively Open Online Courses"...

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