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Textbooks and eBooks

Books2_2This article from talks about textbooks/ebooks and features some great insight from two executives here at Wiley: Chariman Peter Wiley and Senior VP Steve Smith.

With two kids currently in college I can tell you that I'm particularly interested in the short-term future of the textbook industry; it feels awfully antiquated and certainly doesn't leverage the technology that's readily available.  I agree with Peter Wiley's assessment that printed textbooks will eventually give way to an e-alternative.  As Steve Smith notes later in the article, we can definitely offer more value online.

I recently saw a demo of a very cool piece of software that's a classroom tool offering value to both teacher and student alike.  Despite the fact that this particular tool lends itself to the integration of textbook content, it was interesting to hear how this software vendor hadn't hooked up with any publishers yet; they've had the product adopted at a number of institutions but it's unclear how much it's actually used on campus.  This could very well be a case where the software was licensed by a school, instructors are given a quick overview of it but then it's never touched again.  That would be tragic, especially when you consider the functionality this product offers.

What's the solution?  One approach would be to have the software vendor work directly with the textbook publishers to create an offering that's more fine-tuned for the instructor's needs.  Rather than hoping professors will integrate the content with the tool, why not involve the publishers in this effort?  After all, most publishers are looking for opportunities to add value through other ancillary materials; this might be an excellent way to stand out from the crowd and drive even more adoptions.

Back to Steve Smith's point about offering more value...  A simple conversion of textbook to PDF, for example, isn't going to cut it.  That solution has existed for years and yet printed textbooks still rule.  The entire ecosystem needs to change.  In this earlier post I mentioned my own experience with Purdue's policy on providing an online listing of all required textbooks (they don't) and their relationship with the local campus bookstores.  If my experience is consistent with what others are running into elsewhere, a major revolution will be required to significantly change the current model, and it needs to feature benefits to all the current stakeholders in this complex formula (universities, professors, students, bookstores, authors and publishers).


Bob Martinengo

Students with disabilities are the 'advanced guard' of the digital revolution in education. They are scanning books themselves, their schools are scanning for them, and publishers (including Wiley) are providing thousands of free (as in DRM-free and cost-free) files every year. Sadly, commercial ebooks are mostly useless for this need, due to excessive DRM and proprietary formats.

Also unfortunate, in my view, is the federal governments approach to the issue. The Dept. of Ed. awarded $32 milion to a non-profit organization to provide accessible textbooks. The problem is, none of these books will be available to anyone without a qualifying disability, thus walling off any innovation or wider take-up of this technology.

Some of this money should have been offered directly to publishers to offset costs of introducing new products. In essence, they gave it to a middle-man, rather than to the producer. For details, go to

In the meantime, commercial ebooks will continue to languish on the virtual shelf.


Harvard is in the midst of an interesting bricks & mortar vs. online battle:

I agree with Jerry Murphy (with whom I worked on a project last spring). There is no reason why *he* should share the proprietary information he and his staff extracted with care from the professors. However, maybe it is the responsibility of the university to get the information and distribute it before classes begin so the students can decide where to shop.

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