Pushback from the Education-Industrial Compex

Textbook publishers resist the digital trend.

“Bye-Bye”? Maybe not yet.

Apparently, some industries insist on replaying their own version of the 1990s music industry’s resistance to digital music–and the major publishers of textbooks are totally there.

In my last update I talked about the potential of e-textbooks as opposed to traditional, printed and bound “dead trees” textbooks. My post focused on the versatility and vastly-expanded possibilities e-textbooks could offer.

Unfortunately, that kind of versatility and useability do not describe the way things are right now.

Just like the old record companies, textbook companies are doing their best to resist the new realities of the digital landscape. Some of their techniques make digital textbooks a very bad “deal” for students.

They persist in charging high prices, yet often make their books “expire” after 6 months–making them more of an overpriced rental than a purchase. Sometimes they embed copyright enforcement measures that make digital textbooks impossible to sell, and they place stiff restrictions on sharing, as well.

All of these measures hinder accessibility, jack up expenses, and hinder the use of the book. (And in spite of all this, textbooks still get pirated anyway.)

Add to these problems the unpredictability of platform options, and you begin to understand why such an apparent “no-brainer” hasn’t really taken off yet.

Reading textbooks on laptops, with their backlit screens, is hard on the eyes. But other options are unpredictable.

Cautious districts are sticking with paper versions for now.

Will the Kindle fizzle out or take off, as a textbook platform? Will more people adopt the Nook, the iPad, or some other platform for textbooks? Will the book for any given course be available in the right format? Will any of these suffer the same fate as the HP Tablet?

To continue with the music industry comparisons, no school in this age of shrinking budgets wants to be caught with a storage closet full of expensive “8-tracks” in a world that has settled on something different.

 In spite of all this, I think grassroots demand is likely to turn the tide eventually. Especially on the college level, we’re beginning to see it rather strongly. Some colleges are pushing for all e-text adoption, or e-textbook rental. I know of more and more professors who are beginning to eschew single, or even multiple “dead-trees” textbooks in favor of online resources. Most scholarly journals are available online, and have been for some time.

The world as a whole is going digital. How long can the textbook companies resist?

PHOTO CREDITS: 
The “Bye-Bye Textbooks” graphic is from the Schools.com website. 
Many thanks to The Beaumont Enterprise newspaper for the image of piled-up “dead trees” books.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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