A weekly compilation of important articles, releases, & announcements in textbooks, plus personal commentaryâ€¦
Textbook Affordability Act passes first test in Oregon legislature, March 3, 2011
Reported by the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), Oregon’s House Subcommittee on Higher Education unanimously passed HB 2963, which would require Oregon’s Joint Boards of Higher Education to prepare a report on reducing textbook costs by fall 2012.
Same story – different state. We’ve been down this road before, and while I’m not trying to downplay the significance of a state government getting involved in the textbook racket, what’s really going to happen? They’ll get a bill passed, then issue a report stating what everyone already knows – textbooks are priced so incomprehensibly high because nearly all higher education publishing is controlled by four huge corporations.
So what will Oregon’s real response be? Will they follow Texas & California’s lead & switch elementary/secondary education to open, digital textbooks? Or will they simply “encourage” professors to be more knowledgable and considerate of price when selecting the textbook for their course? This does nothing. Publisher reps will continue to push the next new edition on professors, convincing them their class needs it. E.g., “This new edition even comes bundled with test banks, homework management, DVDs, & 3D glasses!”
Again, it’s great that governments are recognizing textbooks as a real problem, but I don’t see any tangible results coming out of this.
Cengage Announces MindTap, An(other) Interactive Learning Platform; March 2, 2011
Reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Cengage Learning announced an upcoming publishing/learning platform, to be revealed at the TED conference. In summary, features include:
– Allows bundling of content by professors, such as tutoring services or note-sharing
– Combines Cengage-owned content, such as Aplia and Newsweek archives.
– Textbooks will be read in an ordinary Web browser
– Interface features side-by-side “pages” showing the e-text on one and an app launching/viewing UI on the other.
This is yet another move by one of the big four publishers to try to “define” a digital textbook. What’s happening is they all end up competing with each other, racing to push out a more dynamic, content-rich platform than their rivals’ offerings (in this case, Cengage vs. Pearson/Wiley/McGraw-Hill). I don’t know of much testing or research that has proven (or even suggested) that this is how textbooks will evolve, but every publisher’s “VP for tech/development” sure seems to have the same idea. I agree that the possibilities for adding dynamic content to textbooks are enormous, but students don’t study like they surf the internet. There is a fundamental difference in content consumption, but everyone is (wrongfully, in my opinion) quick to model the “new textbook” after a college student’s Web experience.
What is certain is that today’s student isn’t choosing a static e-textbook yet, and definitely not at the current price points. It seems to me that publishers are just throwing around millions of dollars and hoping that something “hits”. All this talk about the evolution of the textbook is disrupting their existing print business (maybe just in perception?) and wondering how this will play out, so they’re all sinking their deep pockets into new “platforms”.
Can Tech Transcend the Textbook?; March 1, 2011
Features on CampusTechnology.com, this article provides a pretty comprehensive overview of current e-textbook offerings, as well thoughts on why adoption has lagged behind most expectations.
Some summarized points from the article:
– The NACS reports that digital books account for less than 3% of current textbooks sales, though this figure is surely derived from sales data within their network of brick-and-mortar college bookstores.
– McGraw-Hill’s VP of business development says, “â€¦academic publishing is slower to change, but so is the market we serveâ€¦ As long as the online experience doesn’t offer significant value over the print experience, the preference will still be print.”
– Matt MacInnis, co-founded an e-book publishing startup called Inkling, which develops a platform where content is displayed as sets of “cards” featuring audio, video, animation, test banks, etc. in addition to the text for an “interactive digital experience”.
– CourseSmart, the collaborative e-textbook venture, is also featured. CourseSmart e-textbooks can be accessed through a web browser or handheld device and support standard e-textbook features (search, highlighting, note-taking, etc).
– Finally, Flat World Knowledge is profiled as an outlying alternative. If you haven’t heard, Flat World generates its own content by contracting with professors interested in authoring their own text. Digital versions of these texts are available free, and black-and-white or color print options are available for purchase.
This is a great, comprehensive article, but nothing we haven’t heard before. It’s no surprise that students aren’t buying digital textbooks en masse yet. Startups are popping up to try & cash in on the whole digital platform battle. CourseSmart doesn’t do anything spectacular – they essentially offer overpriced PDFs for students that don’t want a (usually) cheaper used print copy. What Flat World is doing is extraordinary, but they’ll still have to convince professors to use their content, just as the big 4 publishers do. If it becomes a high-dollar battle for classroom book adoptions, there’s no doubt who will win.
This article further illustrates how fragmented the industry continues to be, even as this digital “revolution” starts to unfold. With so much money at stake, it’s likely that generating and distributing learning content will continue to be both extremely competitive and sectored over these upcoming years.
Any thoughts, questions, or comments?