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Oct 17, 2012 | 3 minute read

API as a Product: How Pearson Education is Monetizing its Content

written by Linda Bustos

Pearson publishing is a pioneer in innovation in digital content monetization. Its Plug and Play developer program uses APIs to make thousands of pieces of content assets acquired over decades available for remixing into new, creative and interactive products and experiences.

The API as a Product

A great example of the "productization of APIs," Pearson's Plug and Play developer program offers subscriptions to various API products depending on the amount of database calls used per month:

The currently available data sets include:

Eyewitness Guides

Based on the famous Eyewitness Travel Guides, this API supplies developers with geocoded restaurant, café, bar, and hotel listings for major cities of the world, tagged with metadata like address, phone number, opening times, website, and transport information.

Longman Dictionary

Voted one of the best dictionaries by iPhone app users, The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English boasts "the most up to date dictionary of the English language aimed at non-native speakers of English." It includes audio files in British and American English and highlights the Academic Word List for English-as-a-second-language students.

FT Press

Provides access to business-centric content like Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Book Series.

Nursing & Health Survival Guides API

The Nursing & Health Survival Guide series provides pocket guides for health and social care professionals, but how impractical to carry a library of these books around? This API enables access to topics like diabetes, cancer care, midwifery and dental nursing.


The vast library of DK Publishing illustrations and photographs (you remember these books, right?) are available for use in apps. Here are some examples to jog your memory.

Pearson Kitchen Manager

My personal favorite, this API connects to over 3,000 recipes from text books of the top culinary schools. The API has been hacked and worked into some smokin' apps already:

Kitchen Manager

This internally developed app for Windows 7 is a hands-free virtual cooking tutor. Using text-to-speech, recipes from across publications can be searched, and instructions can be "read out" without the need to get your mucky hands all over your device.

Tasteful Movies

Two apps are better than one. Kitchen Manager API meets Netflix API to suggest movie-and-meal pairings.

Angel Cook

Just enter the ingredients you have, and it will search the database for what’s possible to cook.

Peachpit Visual QuickStart Guides

Millions have learned software and technology through the Visual QuickStart Guides' task-based tutorials. The potential to remix this content into teaching apps is huge. Imagine being able to search across programs by task - should you use Photoshop or Illustrator to achieve such-and-such effect? Or across titles within the web usability genre to address specific issues?

Penguin Classics

Just released last week, there are no built examples to point to, but remixing works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, Dracula or Jane Eyre has potential for interactive and fun Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style stories, where the reader can explore alternative endings or plot lines.

Or, the API could be combined with the Longman Dictionary to define difficult words for young readers, or provide translation and audio pronunciation for English-as-second-language. Think of the potential for creating new products for the education system.

Pearson made ~$2 billion from digital content last year, and repurposing these assets offers more opportunity to monetize. But its APIs can also be used internally. There's no word when or if its premium content like Financial Times or its higher-ed content will be offered to third party developers. Developing its own remixed products, especially in the education space, can breathe new life into the business.

In our webinar Q&A with Forrester Analyst, Brian Walker noted:

The ecosystem has evolved to the point that ecommerce APIs are core to business strategy. A business leader needs to think about APIs as a way to drive and extend their business. It’s not just about integrating 2 technologies together and leveraging APIs to do that in a programmatic and efficient way. What makes a shopping API different is it’s a productization of what APIs can do, and it becomes part of a business strategy moving forward. Think about a shopping API as an investment, and in itself a channel that can be utilized in a wide variety of ways to drive the business forward.

APIs as a product to sell and to use internally is a business strategy that Pearson is embracing, it will be interesting to see what other digital content companies follow suit.