E-Textbooks for All / Inside Higher Ed / October 7 2008 / Andy Guess
Many observers, both in academe and in the publishing industry, believe it's only a matter of time before electronic textbooks become the norm in college. Some campuses in particular may already be getting a glimpse of the future through partnerships with individual publishers or with consortiums
Such deals tend to offer students a choice in addition to their current options in the hope that they'll opt for the cheaper alternative. In contrast to that model, and through a partnership with the publisher John Wiley & Sons, an experiment soon to be underway at the University of Texas at Austin will shift certain classes entirely to e-textbooks.
Beginning next semester, for the initial pilot phase of one to two years, the university will cover the electronic materials for the approximately 1,000 students enrolled in a handful of courses in largely quantitative subjects such as biochemistry and accounting. [snip].
Most of the biggest textbook publishers already offer some or all of their catalogs in electronic form, but e-texts remain a relatively small portion of the overall market. What remains to be seen is how the publishing industry alters its business models ... .
Obstacles to widespread adoption range from technology concerns to questions about whether students or, perhaps more importantly, faculty members will warm to the idea of reading (and taking notes) on screens rather than on printed paper. [snip].
So, to test-drive new models and observe students' preferences, campus-wide pilot programs have been cropping up over the past year. Most recently, the University System of Ohio, in a statewide program, is creating a partnership with the publishing consortium CourseSmart, which has deals in place with campuses across the country as part of its effort to jump-start an e-textbook market based on a subscription model. [snip].
"This pilot aims to improve student outcomes, provide students with equity of access to the most current materials and increase faculty satisfaction and efficiency while respecting faculty independence and freedom of choice in the selection of course materials," Bonnie Lieberman, Wiley's senior vice president and general manager for higher education, said in a statement released Monday. [snip].
Students in participating classes will have two ways (besides printing their own copies through the campus store) to access their textbooks electronically. They can download to their personal computer an e-book that will be usable for the duration of the license, or they can access the materials online through a service called Wiley Plus, which offers additional tools for students and faculty. The downloadable e-books have features like searching, note taking and highlighting; the online versions boast added functionality such as interactive tutorials, quizzes and grading tools for faculty.
The Root of All Prices?
The genesis of the beta test wasn't a corporate board meeting, but an academic with a theory.
Michael Granof is the Ernst & Young Professor of Accounting at the McCombs School of Business at UT-Austin, and himself a Wiley textbook author and chairman of the highly regarded campus book store, the University Co-op. He publicized his diagnosis of the textbook market's ills, at least as perceived by students who pay the steadily rising prices and faculty members who resent churning out new editions every few years, most recently last year in a New York Times op-ed
According to that model, publishers would stop trying to recoup their costs for a book in a single semester and undermine the used book market by releasing frequent new editions and adding CDs with online and multimedia extras, Granof said. Instead, they'd get a steady stream of revenue from legitimately issued licenses, whether in e-book format or as print-on-demand copies.
Granof doesn't pin the future of the textbook industry on e-textbooks per se; it's the structure of the market that's the problem, he said.
Instead, Granof predicts that switching to e-textbooks en masse could lead to the kinds of intellectual property issues and widespread piracy seen in the music industry. "So far, students don't like electronic books. My scheme doesn't depend on the use of electronic books. They can get a hard copy," he said.
Frank Lyman, the executive vice president for marketing at CourseSmart, said the benefit of this kind of model is that when institutions commit to purchasing materials for 100 percent of students enrolled in a course, they can get good prices from publishers. There are a "number of institutions kind of looking at the model, and they're going to try and see how students react," he said.
While he said CourseSmart has some smaller-scale pilots in a similar vein at for-profit institutions, the consortium mainly focuses on partnerships in which college students are provided with e-textbooks as another, cheaper, option. [snip].
Added Wiley's McKenzie, "The pilot phase is really proving the concept, and that's why the mutual work we're doing together to evaluate its efficacy is really important, because we have our own internal surveys that show very, very high satisfaction for example with Wiley Plus, and this is really validating that with a major prestigious university ... . [snip].