Friday, February 25, 2005

Chronicle of Higher Education: Online Textbooks Fail to Make the Grade

[Apologies to those readers who don't have subscriptions to the Chronicle online.]

February 11, 2005, page A35. "Online Textbooks Fail to Make the Grade: Students prefer handling pages the old-fashioned way." A very insightful article, well worth reading. The online version uses this as the lead-in: "Bound to differ, Students have shown a preference for printed textbooks over online versions, but publishers are encouraging them to make the switch anyway."

The key phrase in the lead-in is that publishers are encouraging them to make the switch anyway. Throughout the article it is revealed that publishers are pushing e-textbooks, not because they think the "newer generation" wants them, or because an online version of textbooks is somehow better. Rather, the motivation is because publishers can make more money. For example, McGraw Hill's textbooks are now marketed "per viewing", an arrangement where the student gets the equivalent of four looks at each page in the textbook. Then his/her license expires. In other words, if youj "purchase" a textbook with 100 pages, you get to look at 400 pages. That could mean that you look at the first page 400 times, or the whole book four times.

In the end, the article quotes one publisher, Mr. Greenberg, of an outfit called Atomic Dog, as saying, "that he is interested in using the online versions of his books for marketing leverage -- as a supplement and enhancement to paper textbooks, not the main attraction. He believes that is where the textbook market as a whole is going." Further, he says:

"I think in the future you'll see some combination of classic print with digital resources," he says. "The real value of digitization is the interactivity, not the readability. ... It's silly to think that the book, as a printed item, is going to go away."

Smart man.