Educational publisher Pearson finds a way to make NFTs even worse

Back in April, Walled Culture noted that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) offer very little benefit for creators, despite the grand claims made for them.  Since then, the once trendy sector is collapsing, with both NFTs and cryptocurrencies revealing themselves to be little more than scams and pyramid schemes.  But just when you might have hoped that NFTs would start to fade away, the educational publisher Pearson has come up with a new NFT scheme. It appears designed to make a student’s life a little more difficult, reported here by Yahoo:

School and university textbooks are to be turned into non-fungible tokens (NFTs) under plans from FTSE 100 education publisher Pearson to get a cut of the lucrative secondhand book market.

Chief executive Andy Bird said blockchain technology would allow Pearson to place unique trackable codes in its digital books, letting the company take a slice of any resale by a student or college.

There are several kinds of awfulness here.  First, is the idea that you don’t own an ebook when you buy it.  If you did, you would be free to sell it on, and to keep the money from the sale.  Since digital textbooks are routinely wrapped in Digital Rights Management (DRM), there’s no question of selling a copy and keeping the original.  But it seems that DRM manacles are not enough for Pearson, which now expects a cut from such sales too, even though it has already been fully paid for the ebook.

Also awful is the idea that Pearson has a right to track what you do with the ebook you bought.  This feeds into the narrative that companies can watch what you are doing with their products, with no opt out. It is particularly reprehensible that an “educational” publisher should be teaching students that unavoidable online surveillance is perfectly normal.

Finally, it’s sad to see a company taking a new, albeit flawed technology like NFTs, and immediately think: how can we use this to squeeze even more money out of a market where prices are already outrageously high, and students already struggle to afford books that are required for their courses?  It’s yet another reason to view NFTs as a marker of bad behaviour, and to avoid any company that deploys them.

Featured image by Szalax.

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