London-based Perlego is aiming to tackle one of the biggest pain points for students with its e-book subscription service for textbooks.

With 15,000 students joining the platform since its launch early last year it’s been growing 53 per cent month on month. It also boasts 900 publishers on its books, including the likes of Wiley, Pearson, and the Oxford University Press.

The site offers a free version which includes a range of public domain books like Shakespeare and Plato as well as a premium version at £15 a month, discounted to £12 for students, which gives access to the site’s full library of 220,000 titles.

24-year-olds Gauthier Van Malderen and Matthew Davis co-founded the site, which provides access to additional material like reports, whitepapers and journals on top of textbooks.

“One of my biggest pain points as a student was I’d buy a book worth £200, read two chapters then never use it again,” says CEO Van Malderen.

“We’re trying to build the world’s online university library.”

Having found initial discussions with publishers hard going, Belgian-born Van Malderen says that they are now coming round to the new model.

“At first they were saying ‘go away we never want to hear of you guys’,” he says.

“Once we built up our offering that changed. We offer them data collection, which they love, and provide data on who’s reading what and how long is being spent on a specific book.

“Perlego is at its core a textbook channel but there’s so much more around it, and it allows them to recover their market share from pirated content.

“A huge problem in the textbook market is that roughly 30 per cent of the total sales are cannibalised due to second-hand purchases.

“What we’re doing is to monetise every user, which is how we managed to onboard all these publishers.”

Perlego team

The model also allows Perlego - which means 'to read' in Latin - to be more competitive on price by cutting out the middleman in retailers, removing the mark-up of bookshelves or retail space. It also doesn’t cost publishers anything to join.

“It’s so scalable,” says Van Malderen.

“You could access any student in the world because all the books are available online, which I think is pretty cool.

“For students a great argument is that you might be studying economics but also interested in history or coding.

“At no additional cost on Perlego you can dip into that content.

“Out of the 10 books a student needs we might only have six today but we have so much more on top which makes all worth it.

“It’s incremental revenue for publishers and incremental learning for students who, if they had to pay £60 for the book, probably wouldn’t.”

While the site doesn’t allow students to download the content to read offline yet, the site has been gaining traction, and won a £500,000 seed round last year.

Van Malderen and his team believe it could be the answer to a struggling market.

“Publishers are in crisis because anyone can self-publish, so how major publishers position themselves is by saying ‘we are the premium content out there’,” he says.

“How they’ll differentiate is that they won’t publish 10,000 textbooks anymore, they’ll publish only the best-selling ones.

“It’s similar to the way we saw other industries go like Spotify or Netlfix.

“What is the value of the record label? It’s finding talent and packaging that.”

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