Thursday, May 3, 2012
Indiana University > How Nik Osborne Plans To Disrupt Class
Dian Schaffhauser / 05/03/12
The head of Indiana University's e-texts program lays out how his institution plans to "disrupt" the traditional textbook publishing model with the help of publishers themselves
Nik Osborne, leader of the Indiana University (IU) eTexts initiative and chief of staff for the Office of the Vice President for IT, could be considered an "old-timer" when it comes to the implementation of digital textbook programs. After all, his institution's implementation of e-texts has been going on since 2009.
Now five other universities will also be running pilots based on the model developed by IU through a program set up by Internet2's NET+ service. Participating universities in will get McGraw-Hill e-texts, the Courseload reader and annotation platform integrated with their learning management system, and the opportunity to be part of a joint research study of e-text use and perceptions.
In that model, the institution negotiates a deep discount off the list price of the textbook in order to have access to an e-text edition. In return for the discount, the university guarantees that every single student in the course will buy the e-text, which is charged like a lab fee. [snip].
But IU isn't done tweaking its approach to managing e-texts. In this interview, Osborne explains why digital textbooks offer so many advantages over printed ones and why the current "course fee model," as he calls it, isn't the final word for disrupting the traditional textbook model.
In referring to IU's use of digital textbooks, you were quoted in the New York Times as saying that what Indiana U has implemented isn't an innovative technology so much as an innovative business model. Can you explain?
The piece that's really innovative about what Indiana U is doing is we're considering the whole marketplace. When we made this arrangement, we were considering, what does the publisher need to have, what does the author need to have, and what does the student need to have? You have to create a model, I think, that works out for all three of those pieces. [snip].
That's what the students need--reduced textbook prices. What do the publishers and authors need?
The publishers and authors are stuck in this really vicious cycle. Because they only get paid whenever that new book is sold, they're in a situation where they really have one or two semesters in order to make all the money on an edition of the textbook. [snip].
The other issue [publishers] have to deal with is piracy. [snip].
The other issue we see as a big problem in higher education is that a lot of students are choosing not to buy books at all. [snip].
We're trying to figure out how to solve all these problems at once. That's when this fee model came in. If the publishers will drop the prices dramatically, we'll guarantee that each student who touches their textbook pays for it. [snip].
And that's more effective than just offering each student the option of buying the ebook?
Exactly. The deal with the publishers is they'll drop the prices substantially, but only if they get that 100 percent sell-through. If we're just going to open it up to letting the students choose, then we're just in the marketplace.
Is this model sustainable?
We think so. There are things that we'll fine-tune as we go forward. Right now at IU we have deals with Wiley, McGraw-Hill, Macmillan, Norton, and a few others. They seem to like the process, because from their side, once they get a faculty member to sign up for a book, once a faculty member has said, "I want to use this textbook," they've just sold it to everyone in the class. [snip].
So we think it's sustainable. We seem to be gaining more momentum with the publishers. Other institutions are buying into this. I think that's when it starts to get interesting. When you get other institutions throughout the country and throughout the world to be interested in models of these types, then the publishers will do even better. Again, students save money, publishers and authors earn a fair amount for their content. It's a win-win.
Is the eTexts program expanding at IU?
Yes, it is. I don't have the exact numbers quite yet for this year, fall 2012. But last semester we had 130 sections and over 5,000 students. This year I think we're at over 200 sections. That's a good, solid increase.
When faculty members have developed their course instruction based on a certain book, it's really hard for them to change. They're resistant to that change. We've been trying to get out there and try to get more deals, so we can provide our faculty with options for those who are using those publishers.
Is there tweaking of the course fee model that you foresee coming in the next year?
There are a couple of really interesting pieces.
One is this "discount off list price." Thus far, we've basically had a model where we get a discount off of list price from the publisher. The list price is really just a made up number. The publishers each have their own list prices for their books. [snip].
So we want to move away from that. We want to move into more of a flat rate or bucket pricing. Some publishers, like Flat World Knowledge, will give you a flat rate price for all their books. Some of the other publishers--especially the larger ones--can't do that because there are certain books in their portfolio that do cost a lot more money for them to make. What we've asked them to start thinking about is distributing books into buckets. Let's say you have a $15 bucket, a $30 bucket, and maybe a $50 bucket. [snip].
We think that’s an interesting next step for the publishers to take and really button down the system. The other one we're really interested in is around digital supplemental materials. For example, McGraw-Hill has a product called Connect. Pearson has one called MyMathLab.[snip].
In the first semester, we had some pushback from faculty who were interested in the e-text, and then they got the price for the digital supplement, and said, "That's too expensive." When we pushed back to the publishers and said, "OK, for that price, that supplement is too expensive for the faculty. You need to think about that." At least with McGraw-Hill, we've been very happy with their response. They actually came back with some flat rate pricing for their McGraw-Hill Connect feature. [snip].
According to reports put out by the project, nearly nine out of 10 students believed that the IU approach saved them money on textbooks. First, is it true, and second, does it surprise you that students believe it?
Certainly, the students--and maybe the students' parents--believe that. They're the ones paying these high prices. I think it is true. We did some very minor looking at prices and figuring out, OK, what if you went out on the marketplace and bought a book or bought another e-text compared to the prices we gave students. When we did that analysis, the IU e-text price was lower.
If you compare that to some of the deals with IU e-texts, especially given that the IU deals allow continued access while the student is enrolled, and at price points lower than 50 percent, then the student has done better. It's clear, and we can clearly state that they've done better.
Overall, given the data that we have collected, and the data we collected prior to pushing forward at a certain price point. I think overall for 110,000 students, that e-text deal is a better deal. But again, there's always going to be that person in the room who says, "I bought a book for $50 and I was able to sell it to somebody for $40." That's great. But could 110,000 students have done that? The answer to that would be no.
One thing to think about too as you look at the entire e-Text initiative is that there are some other benefits to the initiative outside of money.
Some of the things that the digital software through Courseload can allow faculty and student to do and how they interact, I think there's some added value there that you don't get just from the textbook. For faculty that have really embraced this initiative, they are truly utilizing that software. And they are interacting with their students in ways that they cannot do in a textbook. [snip]..
Also we heard from the faculty when this initiative was getting started about how valuable they feel it would be for that the student to maintain access to their books. For example, if you're taking Biology 101, you're going to use a certain textbook. You're going to annotate it, highlight it, and you're going to have a lot of value you're going to add to that book. [snip].
One of the things we've been trying to educate people on is, why is it that some of the deals that are coming out limit access past a year or past a semester? If you think about it, there's really no reason. I've spoken to a lot of publishers, and some have said they have contracts with certain copyright holders that do increase the price on the publisher if they allow access for longer amounts of time. But those are few and far between.
Now the IU approach has been picked up by a bunch of other universities. They'll be doing that as part of Internet2's NET+ service. But do you have advice for other institutions that may not be part of Internet2 regarding e-text programs?
There are so many different kinds of institutions out there with different demographics and different focuses. For IU this process makes sense. If it makes sense for IU, it probably makes sense for a lot of other schools. But that doesn't mean it makes sense for every school. What we're really trying to get all these institutions to start doing is just to start thinking about this shift to digital--and what steps they need to take at their institution to be prepared for it.
The NET+ [program] is great because for those institutions that are interested in IU's process, they can--for a low rate--try something like IU is doing very easily at their institutions without a lot of work on their end because of the way we've set it all up.
Institutions need to know they don't have to do this on their own. There have been a lot of steps taken already. We should be able to unite and learn from each other in higher ed, so we're not all on an island doing this by ourselves.
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