Perlego: democratising the key resources students need

Many students can’t afford to buy textbooks. Perlego offers unlimited access to learning resources, at an affordable price. Students can choose a flexible monthly plan, or save money on an annual subscription.

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An ed-tech entrepreneur from Belgium, Gauthier Van Malderen is disrupting the traditional academic publishing industry. He is the Founder and CEO of Perlego, the world’s first digital, subscription-based service for textbooks. Inspired by popular online streaming services, Perlego is a ‘Netflix for books’, offering a library of over one million-text books, plus additional learning resources. The affordable alternative to traditional textbooks breaks down barriers to education for students and also supports the publishing industry’s digital transition. Van Malderen has previously founded several other innovative businesses, including Iconic Matter, a marketing company for university-branded merchandise, and the Teenage Tourist social platform for students to exchange travelling tips. A champion of entrepreneurial ventures beyond his own, Van Malderen continues to support the Belgian early-stage tech ecosystem through investment, knowledge sharing and mentorship as a Member of Syndicate One, a group of experienced start-up stakeholders.

Perlego is on a mission to unlock knowledge and potential by making learning accessible to all. “By working with over 8,000 publishers Perlego provides learners in 191 countries with an affordable, sustainable, multi-publisher subscription service for over one million academic textbooks. Perlego removes the cost of print, distribution, and retail markup, and drives quality content globally online, providing learners with the tools and habits they need for success,” shares Gauthier Van Malderen, CEO, Perlego.

Perlego vs traditional libraries and other online resources…

“Perlego is the only textbook platform to offer all its content on an unlimited access model from over 8,000 academic publishers. This reduces the financial burden on students and universities. Users get online and offline access, a simple-to-navigate interface, and can customise their reading experience (such as the Read Aloud audio feature and Open Dyslexic font). This culminates in an accessible and equitable platform,” he adds.

On asking about how Perlego curates and selects the academic texts and books available on its platform, Gauthier replies, “We select titles that appear on university reading lists and hand-curate additional academic content. Our content is matched to current reading lists. We immediately release frontlist titles as they are sent to us by the publishers.”

On user experience…

“Users can discover books by searching for titles, ISBN, or author. You can also browse over 1,000 topics and subtopics, or filter by publication date and publisher. Learners can interact easily with an ePub or PDF thanks to user-friendly tools like referencing, notes & highlights, bookmarks, or ‘search in book,’” he adds.

On partnerships and collaborations…

“We have built our business from the very first publishers who signed up with us in 2017 to more than 8000 academic, trade and independent publishing partners today. Key partners include names such as Wiley, Taylor and Francis, Wiley, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and Macmillan. We help publishers by earning supplementary revenue from users searching for pirated textbooks, providing visibility for publishers’ content and sharing data insights to help them optimize their businesses,” tells Gauthier.

On subscription plans…

“We try to keep access simple, so students can subscribe to Perlego for 1 or 12 months by simply heading to our website. Prices are sensitive to where the learner is based. In many cases, users make their money back by opening 1 or 2 textbooks. Institutions who want to provide Perlego can access economies of scale as they look to lessen the cost burden placed on students,” he shares.

On technology in learning…

“Platforms like Perlego are democratising the key resources that students need. We have deep customer empathy and data that helps us understand what students want, so we can build features that make a difference. A lot of institutions want to diversify reading materials, which is supported by our extensive library,” tells Gauthier.

Trends in learning…

“Artificial Intelligence has the power to enable tools that help the teaching and learning environment. Students’ expectations are changing from technology; people no longer want tech to give them the ability to find whatever they want, but to know what they want and surface it to them. Smart algorithms and AI are expected to play a strong role in this,” he opines.

Challenges faced…

“Some publishers were initially reluctant to embrace a new business model (subscription), however more than 8,000 now work with us as they have found revenue from Perlego to be supplementary rather than cannibalizing,” he shares.

What next?

“We’ll focus on finding ways to instantly surface the content that students need. We’ll also enhance the reading experience and help users get the most out of our books. This includes ensuring Read Aloud is available across more titles, optimising for smaller devices, and helping students with comprehension (including translation),” concludes Gauthier.

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