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Scoble Is Right: Start Iterating -- Fast!

The Textbook Evolution

Books2 It's going to happen.  It's just a matter of time.  Far too many parents and students are up in arms over the cost.  I'm talking, of course, about the current state of the textbook industry.  Here's a related article I read earlier today from The Christian Science Monitor.

I'm always thrilled to see textbook publishers who are looking to innovate, so I was particularly delighted to see the efforts of my former employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., were noted in that article.  The free digital textbook program Wiley and the University of Texas have created could produce a great deal of useful information to help shape future initiatives; the article didn't say what sort of monitoring and measurement tools might be used, but I'd like to think the system will provide the metrics required to enable both publisher and university to quickly see what works and what doesn't.  It would be even more exciting if the results from this program and others like it were to be shared publicly, so that every publisher and school wouldn't have to work in isolation.

That's a nice segue to the various "open source" textbook model that I keep hearing more and more about.  The Christian Science Monitor article refers to one called Connexions, but there's another one called Flat World Knowledge that's been getting a lot of PR too.  Can the open source model work here?  It won't be easy given all the current textbook ecosystem stakeholders who are so well entrenched and have so much to lose.  This is also a sector that tends to move at a glacial pace, so sudden shifts are unlikely.  No matter how it plays out I definitely think the open source publishers are worth keeping an eye on and much can probably be learned from their efforts.

P.S. -- I have two kids in college, so I feel the pain on this front as much as anyone!


Mchael Miller

I'm not a big fan of e-readers; in general, I think they're a solution in search of a problem. That said, I think e-readers are the perfect solution to the college textbook problem. Instead of buying hundreds of dollars worth of textbooks, students just download e-versions of those texts for the current semester. The only issue with this is that students I've talked to don't seem to like reading books electronically; they prefer the old-fashioned paper book approach. We'll see...

Joe Wikert

Hi Mike. To paraphrase Charlton Heston, "you'll have to pry my Kindle from my cold, dead hands!" Seriously, I was a skeptic at first too, but once you own one for a bit it's hard to not get hooked.

Btw, regarding your point about students not wanting to read electronically, I think that's true in some cases. But I also think just as many aren't buying the textbooks at all! IOW, they're going through some classes without the "required" books. That's where textbook publishers really need to step in and figure out how to build a better mousetrap.


Thanks for posting this Joe.

I have been at Wiley for 5 years and although I love the feel of having a book in my hands, I am starting to see that this is indeed going to be the way of the future. We just received a Kindle to begin testing our content on, and although we have just started testing, I am finding that it is extremely easy on the eyes and convenient for author updates. The only problem I see is how a publisher can keep up revenues while providing discounted content. Hopefully increased sales will equal increased profit, and at the same time open up other avenues for income...time will tell.

Michael A. Banks

I would have bought a Kindle for my daughter when she was in college, if enough important texts were available for it.

There's a possible angle for Kindle and/or Sony ... just as Commodore and Apple did separately with computers in schools, perhaps the ereader manufacturers can offer students a really big discount (that's going to have to happen, anyway). It could pay off by putting eReaders in the hands of people who are going to be influencing things in a few years.

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