The rising cost of learning…

First there was decimalisation, then the Euro, the litre and now the e-book. Isn’t it interesting that to many of us the actual increasing costs of things are not so obvious when there has been a change of culture or context?

With the introduction of decimalisation in the early 70s and latterly the Euro across central Europe many products were rounded up in price. Even more recently the move from selling petrol from gallons to litres allowed the price to jump without many people causing a fuss. I recall when I first passed my test often driving to another garage for ½p price difference on a gallon – but now the price varies by often up to 10p per litre in the same area. People have just accepted it.

What prompted this thought and is it relevant to Learning and Development?
Today I was told that I was a ‘lucky winner’ and had won a prize in a competition (well I had completed a survey and agreed to be entered into the prize draw). Great I thought, I was provided with a web link and £75 worth of vouchers to spend on downloads of training activities, exercises or icebreakers… hey £75 worth of resources free – not to be sneezed at. Until I realise what they cost – 2*£5 credits per item – itself not outrageous until you look at the printed pack this one activity is derived – 100 items for £249 – or £2.49 each – printed and an electronic copy on disc… now what is the better value… 20 separate purchases or 100 activities? All for the same price. In addition mots if the items were 2 or 4 credits per activity – so that would leave £5 credit or I would have to ‘top it up’ – very clever.

I want it and I want it NOW
Now I know that we are in a world where we all want it today…now – but is it really that sensible? In the social period that is the credit crunch will people be changing their on-line and resource purchasing habits?

Having looked at this one example I looked at a couple of competitor sites – basically they all do the same thing , but, reading between the lines and looking at the statistics that some of these site show the number of downloads of a single item is not that great. Often in single or low double figures. If you only want one item then £10 is good value – but if you think over time you will need more is it worth paying the price of instant gratification?

The wonderful e-book
This leads neatly on to a conversation I had with a fellow trainer this morning, we were talking about website and selling product and the discussion got round to e-books. Now a good book, with nice pages and bound costs £6-29 – most around the ‘tenner’ mark. So why o why do people pay £29, £39 or £49+ for an e-book?

Often these e-books have poor layout, spelling mistakes and generally not very good in terms of content. What is more we usually pay to print them on our own printer.

Our discussion concluded that people buy e-books because they have learnt to trust the author; after all the web site was written by the author and this builds trust. Personally I wonder if it is more simple that that; we believe an e-book is more like software than a book and we know how much software costs (indeed many used to come with huge free books – manuals!).

Books like the one minute manager cost £6.99 or £3.49 on Amazon…. These books have 107 pages of content – few e-books have this many and often cost almost 10 times more, and more often than not still sit on the shelf of ‘will read one day’ books and articles.

Is this us as purchasers really buying a quality product – or have we been conned into the currency of the ‘download’ on the web? Are e-books and e-activities over priced? We can all read a book in a shop and make the decision that it is right for us; but that is not the case with these electronic products.

Now I am not saying that people should give all their work away for free – far from it – but as purchasers we need to understand that when comparing one technology with another it is OK to do that and to help the market find the ‘right’ price for the product on offer.

Food for thought?


Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI, an organizational effectiveness consultancy. He has been involved in HR, OD and strategic development for over 20 years. He can be contacted via

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