tired of feeling so used, textbook publishers go digital 08.10.2005, 3:42 PM
posted by ben vershbow
CNET News reports that ten schools, including Princeton, the University of Oregon, and the University of Utah, are to participate this fall in a trial program in which college bookstores will offer digital editions of high-demand titles at a 33% mark-down from print prices. In exchange for these enormous savings, students get to download one, intensely straight-jacketed .pdf file - a book that is readable on only one machine, cannot be printed out in full, and will expire after 150 days.
Some of America's biggest textbook publishers, including McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin, John Wiley & Sons, and Thomson Learning are offering digital titles in the program through wholesaler MBS Textbook Exchange. Their aim? To tempt cash-strapped students away from used textbooks, the bane of the textbook industry. All in all, it's a cynical move that implicitly acknowledges the absurdly inflated price of print textbooks, yet offers only token relief, trying to pass off self-destructing, digital facsimiles as a reasonable substitute for a perfectly durable, slightly dinged used book.
What the textbook publishers ought to be doing is cultivating a more creative vision of the digital textbook, and getting over their terror of online distribution, which they can only see as an intellectual property disaster. Textbook publishers should take a look around and see that there are ways to make good business online. Charge for the service, not the copy - explore syndicated content that students can subscribe to at reasonable rates. Develop new kinds of multimedia titles that can truly take advantage of the online environment. Stop spending millions on digital rights management, stop worrying about your precious copies getting stolen.
On the web, everything is a copy, and it's pointless trying to police this reality. What's meaningful is access, what's meaningful is staying up to date. Develop a good service, with consistently updated, valuable content, and students and professors will buy in. If the textbook industry does not wake up and adapt, they could find themselves in the ash heap. More on that to come.
Carl Kulo on August 25, 2005 11:45 AM:
Textbook publishers are actively looking for new business models that meet student's educational needs at fair prices. Many pubishers are attempting to sell the idea of "syndicated content that students can subscribe to at reasonable rates" but presently, these initiatives are meeting strong opposition by both instructors and students who are strongly wedded to the idea of wanting access to a bound print textbook that they can get via present channels. We have market tested the notion of having all students in a course pay a $30 fee for access to electronic content through a licensing arrangement with the department, (much as students pay a computer fee) but we hear from customers that this would limit the freedom that students have to get the book in any way that they want. We (textbook publishers) still have work to do in this area. Any other suggestions/insights?
Matt on May 28, 2006 9:46 AM:
I think that the textbook publishers need to make digital solutions evolve into something that is more than a print-substitute.
Paper is the "killer-app" for textbooks. Move your solutions beyond paper and develop the method for the next 2 thousand years.
The problem is, maybe people don't know what they want yet? Record/CD stores disappear every day, but bookstores are everywhere.