Archive for June, 2011

The Move to Digital: eTextbooks and Price Experimentation

Move to Digital

For our Move to Digital series, we are  featuring a few articles from Katherine Molina, a recent M.B.A. graduate from the MIT Sloan School of Management, where she studied the business of innovation, education and entrepreneurship.  The first two concerned Consumer Trends and Drivers toward e-Textbook Adoption and Digital Product Sales and Format/Model Competition. This is the third and final post from Katherine in our Move to Digital series.

Pricing is often the 800-pound gorilla in eTextbook conversations, partially because textbook pricing overall has become such a rancorous subject for students and observers alike, and partially because of the tragic truth of most digital content revolutions – as content (from music to literature to photographs and art) goes digital, prices go down and margins suffer.  Price experimentation, however, the time-honored way of finding appropriate price points for new content and the glamorous, sometimes controversial digital hot topic of trade publishing for the past year or so, is not an easy option for textbook publishers to explore. Long sales cycles, government-backed expectations of price transparency in advance of adoptions and, particularly for large publishers, a vast print-based infrastructure to support don’t allow for rapid response to market data. Online (and in-store) eTextbook retail outfits have some more room to test various prices for existing products, but they still may not be able to understand price and demand dynamics for untested products and features as publishers begin rolling them out.

With these limitations in mind, I would argue that price experimentation with eTextbooks is still not only possible, it will be necessary to the health of the industry. In a new world of disaggregated content and seemingly limitless possible product feature improvements, publishers will need to be more market-oriented than ever before; they will need to understand what prices are acceptable to both faculty (in principle) and students (in practice) for different digital features and flexible content packages in order to earn out their development investments and achieve acceptable sales volume. Ideally publishers and retailers large and small will be doing this as much as possible now and in the coming 1-2 years; as custom content and large-scale integration with university-wide systems continues to ramp up, the negotiating partners are only going to get bigger and tougher. Knowing how students really value different digital options will help publishers (and retailers) come into these meetings well-prepared.

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The Move to Digital: A Conversation with Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge, Part Two

Move to Digital

Last week, I sat down with Eric Frank, the founder and president of Flat World Knowledge, a leader in open-source and digital textbooks. You can find first part of our interview here, and stay tuned for part three later this week.

The biggest points brought up this week were:

  • FLAT WORLD KNOWLEDGE:  “I think we’re certainly going to be over 3,000 unique faculty, 1,800 colleges and some where in the neighborhood of a couple hundred thousand students when the doors open in the fall. And by then we’ll have 40 books published that we would marketing in the fall semester.”
  • ONE PURCHASE, MULTIPLE PLATFORMS: “What we are saying is: so, you bought a book from us and we are going to give these files and you are going to be able to access these files via your handheld device or on your desktop, or on your iPhone via the scan reader that reads the e-pub file. So, by and large, you are making one purchase and you are getting an e-book that renders in multiple places for you.”
  • CUSTOMIZABILITY: “And we have a platform on that site called M.I.Y.O. or “make it your own,” that allows someone to go in someone to drag and drop table of contents into a different order; click trashcans to delete things that they don’t cover; click any paragraph or act in the book and edit it directly online using a browser based editor; upload PDF’s; insert YouTube videos; and do all that in a pretty simple interface.”
  • REPLACING STANDARD TEXTBOOKS: “It wouldn’t be very difficult to market to the Campbell Biology users and say, ‘there’s an alterative, try it for two weeks and if it isn’t working for you, then buy Campbell.’ “

Jeff Cohen, The Textbook Guru: What numbers you are allowed to share, can you share some numbers about titles that you have, adoptions, numbers of colleges–where you guys are currently at, or what you are expecting for August? It is my belief that the buzz of 2010 was the rental buzz. We saw the market go from three rental players to 10 or 11rental players last August, and it seems like the buzz leading up to August this year is really going to be around the e-textbook as people are really starting to understand the difference between e-book and an e-textbook, and a lot more players are entering the field. So, do you think, could you speak to your adoptions, your number of titles and schools you are currently covering or you are expecting on covering for the August back to school period?

The Move To Digital: Breakdown of the Big Three in Digital Learning Platforms

Move to Digital
As with any new technology, it can be tough to navigate the territory. As a starter, I’ve rounded up three of the top digital learning platforms getting the most attention today: Xplana, Inkling and Kno.

1. Xplana

Xplana is a great source for those who have access to the Internet. Xplana offers free e-textbooks for a wide range of courses online. Xplana is purely online, and it offers more than textbooks. Xplana plans to turn its platform into a social network of sorts, allowing students to help one another while utilizing the resources on the site. Xplana has released an app for Android, as well as an app for the iPhone, that will allow students to access their materials on the go, as well.

What others are saying:

“Just as new devices have helped spawn the growth in e-books, Xplana also points to some significant developments around open educational resources (OER) and open textbooks. States and institutions have embarked on a number of OER initiatives to help address the affordability and availability of textbooks, including Washington State’s Open Course Library project, a program that aims to make core college materials available on the Web for less than $30 per class.” Read Write Web

“Launched in 2010, currently has more than 400,000 educational assets – e-books, open educational resources, and curated content – available to its community of users in a wide range of subjects from agriculture and animals to English and languages, science and computer science and non-academic areas.” Taxo Diary

Pros: Since Xplana is online, it’s easy to access, and doesn’t involve carrying anything extra around.  The fact that it’s free is perfect for starving students who don’t need any extra monthly fees or the like. The apps for both Androids and iPhones make it so that students can access what they need at any time, since most people usually carry smartphones these days. Continue reading

The Move to Digital: Digital Product Sales and Format / Model Competition

Move to Digital

For our Move to Digital series, we are  featuring a few articles from Katherine Molina, the first of which was published last week. Katherine is a recent M.B.A. graduate from the MIT Sloan School of Management, where she studied the business of innovation, education and entrepreneurship. She lives in New York City.  

In order to understand the textbook’s transition to digital formats, we should understand what digital options are available today and how they interact with print alternatives. Focusing on U.S. college markets and setting aside the digital “extras” (websites, datasets, extra tutorials and case studies, etc.) that come with or supplement textbooks right now, the typical options for full-length textbooks right now fall into one of the following buckets:
Option Typical price Where to buy
Purchase a new print textbook High, typically between 80-100% of SRP Brick-and-mortar stores, publisher websites, retail websites
Purchase a used print textbook Low to moderate, depending on age and condition. 15-75% of SRP. Brick-and-mortar stores, retail websites, exchange websites, student listservs and personal connections
Rent a print textbook (new or used, no guarantee) Low, usually hovering at 40-45% of SRP for one term use. Price varies with length of rental. Online rental and textbook-specific websites (Chegg, BookRenter, etc.), and a growing number of on-campus college bookstores
Purchase an eTextbook Mid-high range, varies by site. Online retailers, publisher websites, and some in-store pilot programs at Barnes & Noble-operated campus bookstores through the NookStudy program.
“Rent” an eTextbook Lower range, varies by site and by length of rental term (most often 140-180 days, ranges from 60-540 days)

The Move to Digital: A Conversation with Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge

Move to Digital

This week, I sat down with Eric Frank, the founder and president of Flat World Knowledge. Eric has over 11 years of astounding success in higher education publishing before breaking the mold with Flat World Knowledge. If you haven’t heard about them, its about time you did. They are changing the textbook game, leading the pack in digital open and free college textbooks.

This is the first part of a three-part discussion with Eric, also available below in Podcast form below, about our experience with digital and how it’s rapidly changing the textbook environment.

The biggest points brought up:

  • OPEN SOURCE CONTENT:  “That’s a big debate in the context of 80% of jobs in 2020 are requiring degrees and 40% of people will have them. What barriers can we remove and just the whole question of free content in whatever publishing or information field you are in, what is that about—open systems and open source supplies for more and more things”
  • THE COST OF DIGITAL: “I think people are looking to technology to keep costs down, and I think that it is often over looked in the tech debate but probably one of the greatest reasons tech gets adopted across lots and lots of markets—cause it’s driving costs of things way down.”
  • DIGITAL PLATFORMS: “I actually think of open content being more of the ‘car,’ and the things like Blackboard delivery or Inkling delivery on an iPad as being more of the highway that it is driving on. I’m not sure that they are mutually exclusive.”
  • WHERE CHANGE WILL HAPPEN: “If the question is ‘where digital will be implemented faster,’ it probably will be higher ed.”

Welcome to the new TextbookGuru!

With the Move to Digital as our theme recently, it was about time The Textbook Guru got a more web-savvy makeover, too! As you can see, has a shiny new look. This redesign not only makes it easier for you to navigate past posts, but connect and share with me and your contacts.

I’m excited about some special features and series I have in store, so thank you for reading and stay tuned! Let me know what you think about the makeover in the comments, and as always, please send me your opinions, suggestions and thoughts.

The Move to Digital: Consumer Trends and Drivers toward e-Textbook Adoption


For our Move to Digital series, we will be featuring a few articles from Katherine Molina. Katherine is a recent M.B.A. graduate from the MIT Sloan School of Management, where she studied the business of innovation, education and entrepreneurship. She lives in New York City.  

Following on the recent TBG post about barriers to digital textbook adoption, I thought it would be useful to look at the flip side of that issue – what factors are beginning help students break into the digital textbook realm.

As writers here at TBG and many others have pointed out, despite the high costs of traditional textbooks, college students are only beginning to show interest in electronic versions. A 2010 NACS report lists the two key factors for this growth in interest as increased student awareness of digital products and increased professorial savvy about how to access, assign and use these resources. Increased product sophistication from publishers (taking delivery, readability and scalability into account), and the rise of e-reading devices and tablets have also been exhaustively discussed. To this list, I would add two more important factors:

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The Move to Digital: Four Obstacles to Overcome Before Digital is Universally Adopted

I’ve talked a lot (and a lot, and a lot) about how new digital tools like E-Books are being used and are changing the game. But the fact of the matter remains: no matter how excited we may be about the technology, we’re still a long way away from wide-scale adoption. Before we jump the gun, here are five challenges that have arisen in the move over to digital, and that E-Books and other digital resources will have to overcome to become the standard
1. Universal access

If schools start implementing digital textbooks as a required source, it would be have to be a technology available to all. K-12 is dictated by the lowest common denominator, so if not everyone in K-12 can access an e-textbook at home or at school then it would make the move to digital slower. Because public K-12 institutions have to enact change across an entire jurisdiction, adoption can’t happen until everyone is ready.

This isn’t as big of a problem on college campuses; they tend to have access to Internet through the campus or surrounding areas—and if they don’t then the College students are expected to be able to find it regardless of their location. But that’s not to say that on all campuses it’s going to be a wide spread phenomenon. With all the new technology out thereiPad,Kindles, etc. it’s hard to detect if the basic student population is going to be able to keep up, especially when the public still views E-Readers or iPads as a luxury.

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The Move to Digital: How the Internet is Changing Education (Infographic)

As part of our Move to Digital series, I wanted to share this infographic with you from the people at the Education Database Online. We’ll save commentary on for-profit and online educational institutions for another post, but take a minute, do some scrolling, and appreciate a great graphic!


The Move to Digital: The Status of Math in the United States, and the classroom of tomorrow


Here at The Textbook Guru, we’re kicking off a two-week series of posts about The Move To Digital, exploring how increased digital technology, platforms and strategies are changing the textbook and education landscapes. To kick off the series, I’m happy to present a guest post from Brian Lepley of the Worldwide Center of Mathematics, where innovators provide free math and research videos and textbooks, designed to make education more accessible and affordable:


Pundits and educators agree that over the next decade there is going to be a radical shift in the way education is structured within the U.S. We spend the most amount of money on education and yet it has been well-documented that the U.S. is struggling to compete with many of the other leading nations across the globe, specifically in math and the hard sciences. In order for the U.S. to continue to maintain its position as a global leader, educators are going to need to think of new and different ways in which to reach the youth of the nation.

With the advent of the Internet and the decreasing cost of video production technologies, some of the world’s greatest teachers are now right at the fingertips of students everywhere. Several new learning environments and tools have also been developed that truly individualize the learning process for students and make it significantly more effective. These advances in technology present a new way to think about education as well as make us consider the difference between how students learn today versus how students will learn tomorrow, specifically in this case with regard to math.

Math Today

Whether in elementary school, high school, or college, the majority of today’s math classes consist of a teacher standing at a chalkboard (or whiteboard) lecturing his or her students. There is some dialogue between the teacher and the students, but for the most part, the students are required to simply be sponges absorbing the information conveyed to them by the teacher.

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