Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Are We Near a Tipping Point for Digital Textbooks?

Interesting piece on the obstacles facing the adoption of digital books in academia. I agree that there are problems that won't be solved in one or two years, but I think five years is a reasonable timeframe. I don't think anyone would disagree that we've seen a paradigm shift in the last couple years, primarily with the launch of the Amazon Kindle. Amazon has not solved all of the issues, but they have proven that there is a viable market for e-books and manufacturers, developers, and content owners have taken note.

The title of the article is interesting as well. I see the biggest hurdles to e-book adoption not from student readiness, but faculty readiness and the willingness of publishers to let go of their aging business model. I think we're seeing movement in those directions, with Google and creative commons, faculty pilots at college and universities, iPhone apps from publishers CourseSmart and Pearson, as well as publishers releasing e-books, and even looking at rental models for their content.

Consider as a model The Pragmatic Programmer, which allows consumers to purchase the paper book bundled multiple format DRM-free e-books (PDF, epub, and mobi). So with one purchase, you have the content on paper, on your laptop, Kindle and iPhone. Unfortunately, not all publishers are as forward-thinking as Pragmatic, the devices are still too expensive and limited and there is not enough academic content available, but I think we're nearing a tipping point.

Digital Textbooks: 3 Reasons Students Aren't Ready
For higher education students who spend an average of $702 per year on course materials, mostly textbooks, the prospect of going digital is an appealing one. Among the theoretical benefits of digital textbooks is the possibility of significant cost savings due to lower overhead costs — bits are cheaper than printed pages, after all. Unfortunately, students shouldn’t chuck their backpacks any time soon; there still exist some major hurdles that digital textbooks must overcome before they widely replace traditional, printed textbooks on college (and high school) campuses.
The reasons cited for lack of student readiness are:

  1. Cost Savings Must be Greater
  2. A Standard Format is Needed
  3. Questions of Ownership
The article concludes:
Digital textbooks are indeed a potential game changer, and they are likely going to be a major part of the future of academia. A year from now, the National Associated of College Stores estimates that digital textbooks could account for 15% of all textbook sales. However, for that to happen, textbook publishers, ebook reader manufacturers, and schools must first address some of the major hurdles that are making students wary of electronic books.

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