Service operations management

How come this business insight and must-have learning tool arrives on my desk as a 500 page plus printed hardcover? Surely no one is buying textbooks these days.



Northampton, MA, United States: Edward Elgar, 2012
Dr David Parker, UQ Business School

The opportunity to review David Parker’s new book, Services operations management: the total experience, (Edward Elgar, 2012) throws up a topical question: how come this business insight and must-have learning tool arrives on my desk as a 500 page plus printed hardcover? Surely no one is buying textbooks these days.

Or are they?

According to Forbes magazine, while 40% of students can’t stay away from technology for more than ten minutes, more than half say they prefer printed textbooks to digital versions.

Universities are putting whole courses online, at no charge. But textbooks are still being printed, published and assigned to courses. The uptake of the digital textbook has been surprisingly slow. So slow, in fact, that McGraw-Hill executive, Tom Malek, has argued that students should be forced to buy digital – with the costs included in their college fees and paid to the college administration.

It’s a model that seems to go against the one thing businesses across industries have learned from the digital revolution, which has made customer king: if your customer says ‘no’, smart business asks ‘why not?’

If digital learning materials offer better value to cash-strapped, debt-laden students and provide immersive, personalised learning paths, why do so many cling to the textbook?

“Print, though an old medium, is still popular and in relatively high demand even when digital is available,” explains Paul Petrulis, Vice President, Higher Education, of multi-platform educational publishing house, Cengage Learning, and a member of the Tertiary Publishing Committee of the Australian Publishers’ Association. “At present a move to a digital-only option would be restricting access to many potential customers.”

On a practical level, Petrulis believes that colleges and universities may not have adapted to support new styles of delivery and learning, and the notionally simple process of translating print into digital may be hampered by complex permissions issues for third party materials.

And then there is habit. We’re used to doing our heavy reading in print. Even digital natives don’t tweet textbooks. Textbooks have evolved to meet the needs of the educational system as it exists, and the exam system by which students are evaluated.

And then there is the format. Early forays into digital textbook publishing meant producing PDFs of the print edition, with perhaps an online support page for updated content or self-assessment tasks.

With the launch of the iPad 2, and e-book readers selling for as little as $35 dollars, all that is changing. Earlier this year, Apple announced a partnership with McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publishers who produce 90 per cent of the textbooks currently available in the US. Perhaps this is the year established educational publishers join the e-book revolution.

Ultimately, publishers are pragmatic:

“The role of the publisher is still to engage and assist to educate students / academic learning regardless of the format of the content. They are interested in the value of their intellectual property to academics and students, not the form it is created in,” says Petrulis.

The question is, will traditional publishers prove flexible enough to take advantage of their existing assets and market knowledge, and survive against the start-ups.

And so to Services operations management: the total experience. The textbook is written by Dr David Parker, an experienced management professor who has worked throughout Europe and Australasia, to accompany services ops management courses at MBA level, particularly in the Australian market.

There are two things a student needs from a textbook – the tools to pass assignments and content to keep them engaged in the topic.

Parker’s book delivers both. Structured to match the topic areas that MBA students must master, he not only nails the theory but delivers a rich array of contemporary business stories. Did you know, for example, that Pizza Hut was started by two brothers who had never cooked pizza and who borrowed the start-up costs from their mother? He examines businesses as diverse as Google, and the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain.

Business is about people making decisions – sometimes remarkable decisions – that impact across their ventures and into the lives of consumers and society. Business reflects how customers think, and business influences how consumers behave.

As we move towards a service economy, the ability to tie theory and research to real business stories and case studies is what develops deep knowledge in tomorrow’s business thinkers. Content, not platform, is what matters.

Last updated:
24 March 2021