Building a better textbook

I think the biggest thing a publisher could do to reduce textbook costs to students would be to allow instructors to customize their textbooks and only pay for material they want.  Several publishers already do this but I think its an idea that has not reached its full potential yet.  No one wants to pay for something they don’t need.  One of the benefits of e-books should be the ability to modify books as the publisher does not need to build lead times into their production schedule for printing.  Alternatively, rather than charging for each textbook purchased, publishers could charge a single flat rate for access to materials to institutions rather than students.  That way universities would be able to better leverage their buying power by purchasing in bulk while publishers would have a steadier stream of revenue.

Personally, I’m okay with the idea of students using content from a text to create their own mashups and posting it online.   The way I see it, either students can either properly cite their references in order to give credibility to their content or they can post it as a “questionable” resource.  In either case, I’m counting on the credibility of the author having value as a respected expert in the field.  That being said, I’m okay with all of this provided the student’s intent is not of a commercial nature.  If the student is simply looking for a new way to present the information in a useful manner, rather than condemning the action, the publisher and author should review their delivery method to see if there are improvements they can make.  As indicated by several sources in the NPR article (http://www.npr.org/2012/02/19/147112456/e-books-flipping-the-page-on-publishing-standards?sc=ipad&f=1019), this is an opportunity to make the book smarter by taking advantage of community feedback.

The common theme in these two ideas is that its time for publishers to work towards creating smarter textbooks.  The days of printing massive textbooks intended to cover everything are gone.  People want smaller and more manageable pieces of data.  Bottom line, if the product were better, people would be willing to pay for it rather than stealing it.

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