IU's e-text program, with nearly 10,000 students using digital textbooks, offers lessons learned for other universities.
While Wheeler's intuition about the explosion of tablets -- 15 months before Apple released its first iPad -- was spot on, his real concern was how the university would manage content on these devices. Just as important, he was concerned about the prices students would have to pay for this digital content.
At the time, textbook publishers were keen to control their lucrative textbook price margins, as it was clear education was going digital, Wheeler said. Publishers saw digital as a way of dealing with the used-textbook aftermarket, which had begun to cut into their business, he added.
An ancillary problem was technological, as every publisher at the time dreamed of using its own platform for its own digital titles. "This would have been a support and [digital rights management] nightmare," Wheeler said.
"We wanted to get ahead of that," Wheeler explained, adding he wanted to use a wholesale, site-license model, which IU had successfully done with software companies years before.
"We cut one of the first big [license deals] with Microsoft in 1998, and cut the first deal with Adobe in 2008," Wheeler said. Under the Adobe license, for instance, IU students have access to virtually every Adobe software product.
Wary at first, publishers have been receptive to IU's overtures, said Wheeler, who has inked deals with four of the five largest textbook publishers to date, and is close on the fifth. The e-texts deals also include online simulations, tutors and labs.
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