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What you don’t know about Perlego

Natalie Naik

It has been a great year for Perlego, what are your top achievements?

Thanks! Well, we started the year with 220,000 titles and today have 520,000. That has been great to see. We’ve brought some great new publishers on board, including Cambridge University Press, Elsevier and Taylor and Francis.

We’ve tripled our subscriber growth, and we’re about to hit our 100,000th paying subscriber.

We’ve grown geographically too. You may have noticed that a lot of our contracts with publishers are global agreements, so whilst our core market is currently the UK we are expanding to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and hopefully, we can launch in North America soon.

You’ve had incredible funding success that eclipses that of all other e-textbook providers, what is it about Perlego that the city has seen that has driven this investment?

It feels like the industry is now right for a multi-publisher solution. Pearson has launched a direct to consumer business and a lot of publishers are accepting that subscription models are the future when it comes to etextbook provision.

How have you done all this?

I joke that I wouldn’t have got into it if I knew just how complicated the publisher side of things is!

I think we’ve managed to validate a huge value proposition, which is that publishers lose a lot of money due to piracy and the second-hand book market. We feel that we can help them provide content more efficiently, recuperating money from revenue and mitigating the second-hand book market.

For publishers, we’re good at directing students, for example, our partnership with Talis, UCAS, but we also allow students to refer their friends. We’ve been successful at targeting students as a direct to consumer brand. Publishers tend to have difficulty with this.

It’s been a tough 3 years, but things have been accelerated with COVID-19, as we’ve seen publishers are understanding the need to find digital solutions and work with innovative platforms.

Can you tell us more about your partnerships?

We partnered with Talis this year, of course. The great thing about this partnership is that there is a strong intent to convert when students are looking for their book and can immediately find it on Perlego. That was a strategic partnership for us, our 2 others are Barclays, so any student that takes out a loan with Perlego gets 1 year for free, and we also did a deal with Vodafone where students could get 6 months free with Perlego as part of their mobile package. Of course, the publishers we work with are our partners too, as well as the universities we work with. We’ve extended our model to enable universities to buy Perlego subscriptions on behalf of their students. 

We’ve seen the growing frustration from librarians this year (although it’s been an issue for years) on ebook pricing models. What are your thoughts on that?

The reason we’ve seen this spiralling effect is that the traditional model doesn’t work. In this model, you release a textbook, you might sell 10,000 copies in the first year, and in the second you sell 4,000, and in the third event less. Publishers then release a new edition with recycled versions in order to sell more. 

We need to find a way for publishers to create revenue, whilst ensuring that there’s still affordability in the market. I truly believe that a subscription is a much more efficient, sustainable model.

How are you helping Higher Education libraries to meet their current needs?

Providing online resources is essential at the moment. Students being able to access the resources they need when not physically on campus is important for student confidence in the library, and perhaps student retention during the current situation.

Of course, where there is good coverage it can be a very cost effective solution, which we know is a challenge with etextbooks and ebooks.

We have a wide range of resources, not just academic texts. The aim is that the library can offer resources that support study skills, employment, and health and wellbeing.

What are the benefits to publishers of partnering with Perlego?

We outsource their ebook distribution, so they don’t need to create those ebook platforms as we’ve built that up.

We provide anonymised aggregated data on market trends, we can share with them which items or chapters within an item are the most used, or interacted with, so they can make more data-driven decisions.

Of course, it’s also growing revenue over a student lifetime. Where a student may have previously bought a textbook once, and not become a repeat customer, we’re able to retain users for 3-4 years and return some of that revenue back to them.

Going back to the beginning, what made you start Perlego?

It came from a personal pain point of mine, which was the high price of university textbooks. I was doing my postgraduate degree and I was buying a single accounting book worth £100, and only reading one or two chapters, and never touching it again. I had a subscription service for music, for TV and films, and I thought surely a subscription model for textbooks should exist. 

I did some market analysis, realised students were unhappy with the model, and 4-5 major publishers were suffering too, so it seemed like a great opportunity.

What problems were you hoping to solve?

On the student side, it’s accessibility and affordability. On the publisher side, it’s a way to distribute content more efficiently, recuperating revenue from piracy and mitigating the second-hand book market.

We’ve heard that many students struggle with keeping up with new editions. How does Perlego address that?

We get all the latest editions. As soon as a new edition comes out, we upload it within a week.

We know that a lot of students like to work off older editions as well, or are perhaps guided to by their lecturers. One of the early mistakes we made was that we would just remove previous editions to make way for the new one. Now, we keep those previous editions until it’s no longer used.

Lifelong learning and metrics for employability are top of our institutions’ agenda, what are Perlego doing in this space?

Lifelong learning has become one of the biggest trends in education, the fact you may want to upskill or reskill throughout your career. On our consumer version of Perlego, about 30% of our users identify as lifelong learners. These users typically find us organically.

We have a lot of professional content such as the full CIPD collection (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), the full CFA collection (Chartered Financial Analyst) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) study resources. 

So I think both in the ways in which people find information, the cycle of education and learning, as well as the types of content we have, is how we are addressing this with Perlego.

Many of our institutions have international campuses, how do you see Perlego fitting in there?

Perlego is on a mission to build the world’s online learning library. Secondary to that we want to make educational content affordable for all.

Globally, we’ve got 200 million students, but textbooks only cover the needs of about 40 million of those (that’s 22 million in North America and 19 million in Europe). I hope that we can open in territories like India and Africa, where they don’t have the inefficiencies of print distribution model that we’ve seen here, so we can open up those markets to publishers which seems like a priority of publishers.

You can see from our global collections that we are trying to close global deals. Our of our 520,000 titles, 170,000 are available across the world. We are intentionally trying to be more global, not just UK focused. 

What’s ahead for Perlego?

We’d like to continue to continue to grow our coverage of items, and increase awareness of Perlego in Australia and New Zealand. We’d love to start working with the universities there just as we have done in the UK. We’re excited about extending our partnership with Talis to this region, so that students can access Perlego items directly from their reading lists.

Another big goal for us in 2021 is international expansion, mainly targeting the US. We also need to grow the team, so it’s important for us to maintain our company culture and values as we do this.

Thanks to Gauthier for speaking with us. To find out more about Perlego and Talis Aspire, check out our recent blog posts here.

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