AP / Updated 08-08-2010 / 10:41:34 AM ET / ERIC GORSKI
The prospect of digital books and slow-but-steady growth in free online "open" content loom as developments that could upend the textbook landscape and alleviate the perennial problem of rising prices.
"Change is coming, but it's not going to happen immediately," said David Lewis, dean of the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis University Library and assistant vice president for digital scholarly communications at Indiana University. [snip].
Like the music and media businesses, the textbook industry has been revolutionized by the Internet.
Although used books have long been an option for students, the Web opened up a world of bargain-hunting beyond the campus bookstore.
Open access textbooks pose a bolder challenge to the status quo. The startup Flat World Knowledge contracts with authors to write new textbooks and publishes them for free under an open content license, allowing professors to edit the raw material and add their own contributions while giving students
access to a Web-based HTML book.
Last fall, about 480 professors adopted one of the company's initial 10 business and economics titles, said co-founder Eric Frank. About 1,200 professors are expected to use 22 titles to teach 95,000 students this fall.
The company is betting students will pay a reasonable price for greater convenience. Flat World's revenue comes from selling everything from $30 black-and-white copies of its books to $3 audio chapters, as well as study aids like digital flash cards.[snip].
So far, the main drawback to open access is the dearth of titles, said Albert Greco, a professor at Fordham University's Graduate School of Business Administration and an authority on the textbook publishing industry.
Greco and others forecast a major shift in the next five years to digital textbooks, which already cost about half as much as new print editions on CourseMart.com, a kind of textbook iTunes launched in 2007 by the major textbook publishers.
That would doom the used book and print rental marketplace, Greco said. [snip].