The iPad as New Forum for Digital Textbooks?

Probably the deal that has gotten me most excited about the possibility of really good digital textbooks has been the introduction of the iPad.  Needless to say, Steve Jobs has made no bones about going after the digital textbook market, and all I can say, is go for it.  I suppose iTunes is a bit of a music cartel, but I’ve been relatively happy with that drug of choice.  I can only assume that iPad would be a hit with college students in portability, visuals,touchability , and multi-functionality.  When you’ve seen what can be done with graphic novels, magazines or an interactive that could appear as part of a digital textbook on iPad (such as Marvel Comics, Popular Science Magazine, and The Elements), one sees that the iPad is a disruptive innovation  in the world of textbook publishing, perhaps even more so than typical e-readers (like the iPhone was for smartphones).  The cost for some of these is still drug pushing, but how sweet it is.  Another complementary aspect to a digital textbook in iPad is the ability to use its Voice Over feature, which reads the textbook out loud to you.  In addition, it is published in the open book platform,ePub.  Though the iBookstore is not stocked with digital textbooks yet (McGraw-Hill has already signed up), it will be interesting to see what textbook publishers develop this summer for its fall lineup.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World:

In the posting “The Complex World of the Textbook” from the Disruptive Library Technology Jester blog, a very complex portrait of the textbook “ecosystem” is presented.  Complex indeed!  My mind is swirling.

DLTJ identifies the US GAO as publishing a report called College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings to Drive Recent Price Increases. They identify a diagram that illustrates this complexity called “The Typical Life Cycle of a College Textbook.”

The 2005 diagram provided looks like this:

Only 5 years later, the diagram should look like this:

OK, this is an actual U.S. government diagram describing the Afghanistan war situation (and it doesn’t include the opium drug market unfortunately for comparison and for fitting analogies), but you get the drift – it’s getting more complex.

On a side note, this diagram came from a complex PowerPoint demonstration.  I learned in our job talk exercise, that more on PowerPoint slides is not necessarily better…

Drug Cartel/Market Analogy

Andrea James writes thoughtfully and powerfully in her article “Prescription for consumers challenging academic textbook cartels.”  Again, we get to the drug analogy, and how fitting it is.  This reminds me of Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s lively article “Dealing with the Pusher Man.”  She compares the textbook publishing industry to the prescription drug racket.  This analogy is quite fitting too in that some folks have tried to get their prescription drugs in other countries, similar to students purchasing European or Asian versions of their textbooks for cheaper prices.  She references this analogy in Dr. James V. Koch’s report in that –

  • faculty=physicians
  • textbook publishers = drug cartels

and add…

  • textbooks= brand-name drugs
  • textbook salesmen = drug pushers and dealers


Her statistics on textbook publishing blow my MIND!  Here are the ones that really make a play:

General: In 2006, 4.9 billion spent on textbooks, nearly 2 billion of that on used.

Faculty: 1 of 2 don’t know textbook costs.

Publishers/booksellers:  FIVE CONGLOMERATES CONTROL 80% of TEXTBOOK PRODUCTION, FOUR WHOLESALERS HOLD TEXTBOOK DISTRIBUTION (particularly used books), and operate 35% of college bookstores.  They then operate as cartels to present re-importation from non-US markets, remove used books, rapidly changing/modifying editions (that could mean just changing some exercises or making a pretty cover), bundle, fix prices, and other nefarious practices.

Institutions:  Almost all profit, receipt of government financial aid will ironically increase textbooks costs, and looking at rental ebook systems, but which will possibly destroy used book market.

Students:  80% of students are buying required textbook, 67% are purchased used textbooks online, and often students are stuck with mainly high-priced means of obtaining textbooks (except sometimes looking for drugs, oops, I mean textbooks in Europe and Asia online).  A big player in student textbook purchasing behavior is Amazon.

Open Textbooks:

One remedy for this includes open-textbooks (Open Textbooks, Open Source Text, Flat World Knowledge, Wikibooks, and also is CNX to develop math materials and CAPL that offers visual media for elementary schools).

Digital Textbooks – Rentals and Effect?

With digital textbooks, which seem to operate as timed digital rentals, the ability to have currency and portability is enhanced, with the promise of cost reduction (again, there is the promise, but we have to see).  Of course, digital textbooks add to the complexity of the whole textbook market in that it will eat into the used textbook market as well as forcing textbook publishers to modify their offerings.  I wonder if some aspects of digital textbook publishing might enter the cartel-like aspects of digital serial publishers?