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OPLIN 4Cast #226: eTextbooks are different

Posted in 4cast

We have certainly written a number of posts on this blog about e-books in the past, but this post is about a specific kind of digital book: “eTextbooks.” These textbook e-books differ in important ways from the novel e-books we’ve posted about previously. Reading a textbook often involves highlighting sections of text for later review and taking notes, things which few people reading novels do. This difference in the reading activity leads to an interesting difference in the preferred hardware for eTextbooks: the reading device needs to have either a touchscreen or touchpad, like a tablet or laptop computer. Most novel e-book reading devices, like the Kindle, lack this. And because tablets and laptops are computers, they can do more things than just displaying text, things which are, in turn, beginning to drive changes in the way eTextbooks are written and marketed. Will students begin to expect similar features when they read a novel e-book?

  • eTextbooks and educational apps: iPads enter the classroom (Singularity Hub/Whitney Ijem)  “High school, college and graduate students alike are making use of eTextbooks from companies like Inkling and CourseSmart. These companies work with textbook publishers to provide digital versions of the cumbersome textbooks we are so used to lugging around. There are also apps available that aid in note taking and information gathering. Older students aren’t the only ones with iPads. In some schools, children as young as 5 are using iPads to learn the basics.”
  • 1 in 4 college textbooks will be digital by 2015 (ReadWriteWeb/Audrey Watters)  “An oft-cited study by the Book Industry Study Group found that 75% of college students say they prefer print textbooks. But Xplana [report] says that rather than take that study as a sign that students will refuse to use digital books, we should instead marvel that, at a time when only 1% of college textbooks are available in an electronic format, that already 25% of college students say they prefer to study this way.”
  • Publishers back Inkling’s iPad textbooks (VentureBeat/Anthony Ha)  “But he [Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis] argued that everyone else is basically adding limited features to a PDF of the textbook and that these e-books are basically developed by the publishers’ business divisions without much input from the original textbook creators. Inkling, on the other hand, wants to publish apps that feel like they were truly built for the iPad, which usually means working with the books’ authors to create new content. ‘It only gets interesting when the content itself changes and begins to respond to your fingertips,’ MacInnis said.”
  • Textbook renter Chegg becomes more social (New York Times Bits blog/Miguel Helft)  “CourseRank, which Chegg acquired in August, lets students see reviews of courses and professors written by other students. Students can also see when a class meets so they can plan their schedule online. They can also see who among their friends have signed up for a given course, the distribution of grades (is this class going to be hard or not?) and of course, what textbooks are required. (Yes, they can then rent them from Chegg.)”

Licensing fact:
Students often don’t purchase eTextbooks; they “subscribe” to them for a term long enough to cover the class term, usually 180 days.