Online Resources – are we all going digital?


Somewhere in the world there is a huge demand for online access for supplementary ELT materials. Or is there? Discuss.

John Walsh, Founder and Managing Director of  BEBC, raises some issues and concerns about ELT Publishers’ relentless drive to produce everything “digital”.

Do you buy and do you use online resources contained in ELT coursebooks and grammar books? Over the last two years, ELT publishers have been working under the impression that students and teachers have been crying out for extra materials (practice tests, placement tests, supplementary exercises, etc) all to be available online. This “demand” has led management at the top of the publishing houses to instruct commissioning editors to include digital content wherever possible to meet the demand.

Several facts cloud this debate and I raise these for discussion.

  • Are teacher’s aware that when they purchase a book with an attached Access Code they are often only buying a licence for online use which will expire a number of months after the Code is activated? This period varies from 12 months to 21 months currently and online support ceases at the end of the stipulated period. This applies to material from Pearson, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Macmillan. It does not apply to online material from National Geographic Learning (Cengage) where there is no expiry date for support.
  • There has been a very low uptake on these titles (compared with editions which are either stand-alone books or are perhaps accompanied by CDs or CD-Roms) and sales do not appear to reflect the supposed demand.
  • Of those titles that have been bought, publishers concede that there is currently a very low level of conversions (c. 10%) where the Access Code has been activated by the students or institutions making the purchase. They put this down to “early days”
  • Publishers are increasingly making the “Book only” or “Book with CD/CD-Rom” editions unavailable and re-issuing the books with a mark up in price anywhere between £2.00 and £9.50 (Pearson’s FIRST CERTIFICATE EXPERT Book + CDRom and OUP’s IELTS MASTERCLASS respectively). Here again, National Geographic Learning is exempt from these price increases (OUTCOMES and SPOTLIGHT ON FCE are provided with online access codes yet Cengage prices are at the lower end of the price range for this material).

 It is important that teachers and students know when they are only buying licences for this online access and equally important that publishers are made aware of the real demand (or lack of it) for this material. Publishers, too, need to examine critically the amount of sales and conversions. Publishers need feedback, and I feel sure teachers will have views, on the present demand and the price they are prepared to pay for this added functionality. No doubt, in time, the world will go wildly and, perhaps, completely, digital, but until that time comes, I believe teachers, students and publishers need a free and fair exchange of both information and opinions.

John H Walsh

Managing Director

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