Exclusive: Can Cengage revolutionize textbook industry?

Pioneering what could lead to a new age in academia, Cengage Learning launched Cengage Unlimited on Aug. 1.

The new service is a digital learning subscription designed to save students money on textbooks each semester. After paying an access fee, the student then has access to almost the full library of textbooks Cengage has to offer.

“What we decided they needed were fundamentally two things, which was based on what the students and faculty told us,” CEO of Cengage Michael Hansen said. “One, they want quality material, they want the materials that get them through the class, that allow them to pass in as easy a way as possible while still learning something. And secondly, we want affordability. That led to the birth of Cengage Unlimited.”

Cengage offers more than 20,000 products across 70 disciplines. For $119.99, the student gains access to the library of textbooks for four months. For $179.99, the user gains access for a full year, and for $239.99 the student will receive a two-year subscription. Even after the subscription ends, users will retain reference access to their course materials for the first year for free.

“The way you consume video, is in all likelihood, you have a Netflix subscription,” Hansen said. “The way you consume music is that, in all likelihood, you have a Spotify or iTunes subscription. And we said, we can essentially do the same thing in higher education for course materials. Therefore, we opened up our entire catalogue of products.”

Thus far, this sort of service is unprecedented in the textbook business. 

 “Typically new startups came in and revolutionized businesses,” Hansen said. “It was not the record companies who invented Spotify. It was some guys in a garage who invented it because they saw the customer need. And frankly, the incumbent players, like the record companies, ignored the consumer. I think that we, as one of the few companies in an industry, were the incumbents. We were part of the problem, and we decided to be the solution. If you ask the people at Cengage, that is probably the thing that we are the most proud of.”

Cengage Unlimited partnered with Chegg to offer subscribers a month of free access to Chegg’s Learning Services. Unlimited subscribers will also gain 30-day free access to Kaplan Test Prep materials and 6-month free trial of Quizlet Plus.

“This is essentially what students told us: they want to be part of a learning hub,” Hansen said. “We, essentially, want to be advocates for the students. Whether we sell this particular product or not doesn’t matter. This is obviously additional value for the students who buy this subscription. We ultimately, are putting them in a position to be more successful in their learning experience.”

Students can purchase their subscription straight from the Cengage website or at bookstores on or off campus.

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