Every day brings more news about the book industry's ongoing evolution. Whether it's a shiny new e-reader, a recently-opened e-storefront or some other development, it's clear some experimentation is taking place...maybe not as much as you'd expect, but there's some happening nonetheless.
One area where experimentation efforts should be ramped up significantly is the textbook market. Seth Godin wrote his own rant about this over the weekend and I think he makes a number of excellent points. College students are some of the most clever, resourceful and imaginative people on the planet. They're no more tired of getting hosed by overpriced textbooks than their parents, but they're fortunate enough to be in college at a time when e-alternatives are all around.
The problem here isn't that the customers are not willing to try new alternatives to the tired old textbook. No, the real problem is with the system itself. Publishers, schools, authors (which oftentimes means "professors") and campus bookstores all have plenty at stake and have enjoyed the current model for far too long. It's yet another case of The Innovator's Dilemma. You'd think it would be an excellent opportunity for an upstart to come in and completely obliterate the system, sort of like what Craigslist did to the newspaper industry.
Kudos to efforts like what Governor Schwarzenegger is trying to do in California. Then there all the open textbook programs that have been sprouting up. All well and good but I'm not sure any of this will have a material impact on the current model. Something bigger has to take place first. Maybe it will come from several states joining forces and saying "enough is enough!", but California probably won't influence market-wide change on its own.
On a related note, for-profit schools like ITT and Devry are growing in popularity, partially because of the better value they offer compared to the traditional four-year institutions. As a publisher I've found these schools to be very open-minded about choosing the best course materials. If the pendulum continues to swing in their direction maybe this is where the new model will arise. They'd be wise to follow the "chapterettes" model Godin describes towards the end of his rant.