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Textbooks Are So Old School

May 5, 2009

by The Forum
Textbooks Are So Old School

Update 5/6 8:09 AM: Here it is! Prediction: By the time the Class of 2015 is taking Freshman Humanities Seminar, all their texts will be digital. And they will not pay $100 for a textbook of which they only read 80 percent (they will pay for 80 percent).

With Google scanning books ever faster for Google Book Search, and allowing users to search and preview books, and a new Kindle device launching this Wednesday, the future of books is digital. Soon, CMC students will save hundreds of dollars per semester and learn more efficiently.

Recent news clips:

"Google has been scanning millions of books all along trying to digitize as many as it possibly can. It is so serious about capturing and indexing the knowledge stored in books that it has a patent, which was issued on March 24, 2009, on how to scan books faster than was previously possible... There are other book scanning projects besides the Google Book Project. The Internet Archive, for instance, runs 18 scanning centers around the world, which all together digitize only 1,000 books a day."

--"It Turns Out That Google Even Has a Competitive Advantage in Scanning Books,", May 2nd, 2009

Books will become increasingly searchable, so you don't have to flip through the indexes of dozens of books (if they have indexes) to find the information you need.

"For nonfiction and short-story collections, a la carte pricing will emerge, as it has in the marketplace for digital music. Readers will have the option to purchase a chapter for 99 cents, the same way they now buy an individual song on iTunes. The marketplace will start to reward modular books that can be intelligibly split into standalone chapters.""You'll read a puzzling passage from a novel and then instantly browse through dozens of comments from readers around the world, annotating, explaining or debating the passage's true meaning. As you read, you will know that at any given moment, a conversation is available about the paragraph or even sentence you are reading."

--"How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write," Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2009

My corporate finance course, as many courses do, covers about ~70 percent of the content in our textbook. Why are we paying $180 for the full textbook when we don't use 30 percent of it?!  CMC students could probably save an aggregate $300,000 if we paid by the chapter. (Remember: nobody thought people would buy music by the song until the iTunes Store came along.) Now imagine how much cheaper textbooks would be if other costs associated with the dead tree version were not built in-- publisher, manufacturing, transportation, book store margin, etc.


" Inc. on Wednesday plans to unveil a new version of its Kindle e-book reader with a larger screen and other features designed to appeal to periodical and academic textbook publishers, according to people familiar with the matterBeginning in the fall, some students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will be given large-screen Kindles with textbooks for chemistry, computer science, and a freshman seminar already installed."

--"Amazon to Launch Kindle for Textbooks," Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2009

There are hurdles to overcome, of course.   This is only a sign of what's to come.

One problem will be the price-- the eBook readers will be expensive at first and books will not be priced appropriately as publishers, just like music record labels, try to grasp onto what profits they can for the next few years.

Another problem will be general consumer and publisher hestitancy-- people are slow to accept change.  When Google launched Gmail a few years ago, they knew they did not have the capacity and could not afford to let millions of people store 2 gigabytes of e-mail forever; competitors thought they were crazy.  They just knew that soon enough, as always, semiconductor and hardware prices would decrease and become more efficient, allowing them to offer more storage space.  Similarly, all the technology in the current iPhone was available well before 2000-- it was just way too expensive to produce on a mass scale.  They launched products before the world was really ready for them.  (Note: Apple is rumored to be launching a "mediapad" device soon.)

People aren't ready to read all their books on a screen. Then again, they won't be ready to read newspapers online until Wednesday; my parents still get home delivery.  I think they'll change that after Wednesday.

Next superdork installment at the Forum: "The end of the paper notebook"

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