A Rented Resource — Keeping You on the Hook and in Their Books

As this past weekend ended, so did my personal subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud for Students and Educators. I remember how elated I was for a great deal for my year long subscription agreement; getting the full slew of apps and tools that the company offered for a limited time price of $19.99/month. I have to admit that while I was their customer I enjoyed the perks of having access to all the apps I needed, and even the ones that I didn’t (maybe one day I had thought I would find the ambition to become some super creative Adobe guru). But as the subscription ended, I couldn’t help but to think about what if I still needed these tools for school, or even worse, what if as a student, I couldn’t afford to continue my patronage to Adobe.

College Students Used to Sell their Textbooks


Image courtesy of Flickr user DataGazetteer under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike license.

This concept really got me thinking. A lot of our academic learning technology is no longer an investment, but rather a rental subscription. In my experience, the cash-strapped society of college students want nothing more to get the most bang for the their buck in terms of their textbooks, class materials, and resources. They want to get it cheap and when they are done with it they want to get rid of it for even more.

For a long time, this paved the way for the used goods market. This was extremely prevalent at my undergraduate institution, where the school bookstore would buy back books that were in demand for the next term and dorm room furniture and refrigerators were on display like Nana’s yard sale. Building your personal library is just not as important to the common undergrad as the money is that you can get from resale.

Naturally, this created a large market gap for producers of all these materials. The book publishers and software companies had clients who had originated the first purchases, but who were not interested in either keeping these books as investments in educational resources or didn’t want to shove out another $500 every year for the student price of an annual software upgrade. Students got rid of what was marketable, and chose to suffer through last year’s version of Photoshop.

The Educational Materials Rental Market

Image courtesy of Flickr user MTSOfan under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike license.

As a producer or distributor of these educational materials, this meant you were missing out on all the revenue made from the secondary exchange or lack of new interest in newer but similar products. So in rolled the option to no longer just buy, but to rent or subscribe. Books and e-books are now available for the term. Of course you don’t have to return them to the library every night, but they still belong to the bookstore. And you can’t write or make notes in the margins if you want your deposit back.

E-books are scripted to delete themselves, become unusable, or even cut off your access when the agreed term ends. The bookstore can make the most money by renting out that book, term after term. So much for that comprehensive senior thesis right?

From Rental Textbooks to Rental Software

Educational software is another realm that is new to this academic renting/subscription model. Major software companies have recognized that producing a product that you were completely happy with, i.e. Office 2007, doesn’t mean you ran out and got Office 2010, or will plan on getting the new Office 2013. The old one works, and you don’t need another as a student. So to keep you on the hook, they roll out an out updating version that is available for a low low cost per month, but that they know you need for most likely more than a year.

Adobe and Microsoft recently presented the Adobe Creative Cloud and Office 365 to capture this market and to end the practice of keeping and using older versions of software. In fact, Adobe has contemplated getting rid of all of their boxed versions, forcing users to subscribe if they were interested in any of the Adobe field products.

While Microsoft and Adobe aren’t necessities for courses, the technical training with these applications for programming, engineering, art and a lot of other studies is required for class. That is why so many courses require a subscription for Lynda.com as a textbook. Research journal subscriptions are another educational resource that a lot of times are required by professors to have, both of which do not allow you to have any or very limited access rights to the materials once the subscription term ends. We, of course, at the College of William & Mary are fortunate enough to have these subscriptions provided for us as a part of the cost of W&M tuition.

The age of investing in resources, both educational and technical, seems to be dwindling when it comes to academic technology. This age, brought on by the current cycle of student wants and needs and market wishes of producers, will certainly be evolving in the coming years.