Sunday, December 5, 2010

PW: Why E-Textbooks Just Make Sense: An Academic and a Literary Agent Explain

Electronic texts virtually eliminate the unfair and relentless competition from used-book sellers.

Richard Hull and Michael Lennie / Publishers Weekly / Nov 15 2010
Students, textbook authors, and publishers have reason to look forward to a growing demand for electronic textbooks. Students, or at least their parents, will welcome the cheaper cost. Digital textbooks will eliminate the chronic complaints of students schlepping around multiple 900-page textbooks. And authors and publishers have to be thrilled that electronic texts virtually eliminate the unfair and relentless competition from used-book sellers.

There are other reasons to like e-textbooks. First, a textbook typically has a three-year cycle before a new edition replaces it. The Copyright Act of 1976 includes a provision prohibiting the payment of royalties upon second or subsequent sales of a book including a textbook. [snip]


More benefits: a student can download a copy of the digital textbook to his computer, but can't transfer it to another computer, and so can't resell it. The electronic copy can be programmed to be inaccessible after a certain date, effectively creating a timed lease of the copy to the student for the semester or school year. And with electronic texts, a faculty member can download an examination copy to his computer, but can't upload that copy to any other computer—or resell it.

Rather than the abbreviated three-year pattern of publisher sales, an e-textbook will in effect be continuously sold until publication of the new edition. This represents a staggering 90%–100% increase in sales for the publisher over the same three-year life of an edition. Since the publisher is allowed a full three years of sales to recoup its costs and to realize a profit, the new sales model will deliver a number of benefits: cheaper textbooks, increased royalties for authors, and less money wasted on middlemen.

Publishers will no longer be driven by the used-book market to prematurely publish the next edition. New editions will be published only as changes in the discipline warrant. Further cost savings and corresponding price reductions may be available if publishers opt for a continuously updated textbook. [snip]

Finally, some of these new electronic platforms permit individual instructors to modify the text for their own classes' use, eliminating material that isn't required and adding the instructor's own material, such as video clips, study aids, or self-test material. In addition, with the use of electronic textbooks, the net cost of instructional materials will be substantially reduced due to elimination of printing, binding, warehousing, returns, distribution, and other publisher costs. [snip]

Richard T. Hull has served as the executive director of the Text and Academic Authors Association for the past five years, and was a philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo for 30 years. Michael R. Lennie has been an authors' attorney for the past 25 years and is president of the Lennie Literary Agency.



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