Archive for March, 2012

Interview Series – Rob Reynolds, Ph.D. – Next Is Now

Dr. Rob Reynolds is the Director of Direct Digital, a service of MBS Direct, LLC (a former employer of mine). You can read Rob’s thoughts at his personal blog.

I was first introduced to Rob’s writing with a special report he did called “Digital Textbooks Reaching the Tipping Point in the U.S. Higher Education “.  Expanding on the throughts from this report, Rob authored the book “The Future of Learning Content”  where he explores digital textbooks, open content, Apple and more.

Jeff – Dr. Reynolds, Thank you for your time. I look forward to understanding more about the tipping point for digital textbooks so lets jump right into things. Your research indicates that digital textbook sales will account for about 6% of the market in 2012 and 11% in 2013, to what do you contribute that growth to? Is it more titles being available or more students willing to try the digital format?

Dr. Reynolds – There are a number of trends driving the growth of digital textbooks in Higher Education. The biggest factor is cost. Increasingly, students are looking for lower prices alternatives to new print titles. And, while digital textbooks are not necessarily the cheapest option (used books with some form of guaranteed buyback or the general winner here), digital is a consistently less expensive solution and it is convenient. Another important factor, as you mention, is title availability. Because of issues with rights clearance and a lack of clear market strategy, most large textbook publishers have only recently begun making most of their front list titles available in digital format. Having complete title coverage will certainly hasten the adoption of digital.

Some of the other trends that I discuss in the book include the popularity of tablets and smartphones, a continued increase in online shipping by students, the evolution of e-textbook reader software applications, and the textbook rental market. This last item is actually an important motivation for textbook publishers to make the shift to digital.

Jeff – Many argue that until Digital Books are significantly cheaper than a physical book the market will still push towards print. What do you think is the tipping point in terms of price?

Dr. Reynolds – While cost is a leading factor in consumer behavior around digital textbooks, it is but one of many. We will see the current growth patterns continue for the next several years even with current pricing patterns around print and digital. Now, if the price of digital learning content drops beyond certain thresholds, we will definitely see an uptick int hat growth. And, keep in mind that this price drop may not be (will likely not be) driven by traditional publishers. Low-cost alternative publishers such as Flat World Knowledge, Textbook Media, and Soomo, as well as a growing open textbook catalog, are gaining increasing traction and this sector of the market will grow significantly over the next five years.

Regarding tipping point for price, I think it’s safe to say that $40 will likely become a maximum value for stand-alone textbook products in the future. It is also possible that traditional publishers will adhere to this pricing for many of their core stand-alone textbook products. Of course, their primary interest is in selling fully integrated technology products – e-textbook, assessments, media, adaptive learning programs, and learning outcomes – and redefining a simple textbook as only a part of what instructors and institutions need to be successful. Integrated technology products allow publishers to target the more lucrative enterprise sales market and eliminate both the used and rental markets.

Jeff – You revised your report to show the impact of Apple’s iPad. Is that the game changer that is necessary and will programs such as the iBook publishing suite speed things up even more?

Dr. Reynolds – The iPad is indeed a game changer. This coming fall approximately 22%-25% of all incoming freshmen in 2-year and 4-year institutions will have tablet devices. Most of those will be iPads. Of course, the overall tablet craze will only increase with the release of Google’s low-cost iPad-challenger this summer and Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablets in October.

Regarding the iBooks Author application and other digital publishing platforms such as Inkling Habitat, the ease of production and distribution can only have a positive impact on the growth of digital textbooks. That said, there are two important things to keep in mind. First, writing or constructing textbooks in their current form is a sizable task, even with an intuitive technology platform. Second, and related to the first, I think we will see a pretty dramatic shift towards the disaggregation of textbook content. This will lead us to assign a greater importance to digital authoring tools that facilitate the mashup of disparate content types and sources.

Jeff – Content is still king and even with the growth of Open Education Content the publishers still hold the rights to the content being used in higher education. Is the final battle over content or platform. For our readers content would be the physical content included in a textbook while the platform would be the system used to deliver the digital content such as Chegg Digtial, CourseSmart, Kno, Inkling or Dr. Reynolds platform Direct Digital.

Dr. Reynolds – My experience has been that distribution platforms come and go. I’ve been designing such platforms for reading and learning for more than a decade now and have witnessed this rapid evolution first hand. LMS platforms are changing right before our eyes and digital reading and distribution will continue to evolve as well.

As I discuss in my book, the modern textbook is simply the result of needing a convenient and logical construct for holding collections of learning materials. I don’t think there can be any doubt that this particular construct will also evolve (as will the associated business models). This evolution will champion content, most certainly, but will push publishers and distributors to revenue streams that are driven by services rather than content ownership per se.

Jeff – If you were a student and only had enough money to buy a single electronic device which would you suggest to purchase? An iPad, Android Table, PC, Mac, Kindle or something else? Why?

Dr Reynolds – While I’m not enrolled in a college or university, I am always a student and take online courses all the time. I think the answer depends on what you want to accomplish. If all you really want is a great content consumption device, I think the Kindle Fire is hard to beat. I also can’t wait to see what Google comes up with in the $149-$199 price range. If, however, you are looking for a productivity device, the iPad is hard to beat. It has a better app ecosystem, is more intuitive in its design, and there is a large group of peripheral manufacturers that support the device. I like the concept of the new Galaxy Note smartphone (with its stylus), and think the Windows 8 tablets released this fall will provide great productivity as well.

Jeff – Thank you for your time. I want to share with readers that if they want to read your fully revised report they can find it in Chapter 6 of your book, which they can obtain free here. Reports from past years (2010 and 2011), can be found at here (2010) and here (2011) and respectively. You cover a lot of ground and we only touched on a few small issues. Anything else you would like to add?

Dr Reynolds – I think the most important thing to realize is the rapid change inherent in the textbook industry today and the volatile nature of the overall market. There are some definitive realities we will all be facing over the coming years, but the most certain one is that textbooks as we know them today will have evolved significantly by the end of the current decade. Business models will change and so will some of the major players. Content will continue to matter a great deal but will be more disaggregated and personalized, both for instructors and students.

Which e-Book reader should you buy?

I get asked this question a lot.  Since I don’t have the big budget of a major review site I typically just recommend that people go to Best Buy and try them so they can see the difference.   I have been an iPad user since the first generation but never upgraded to v2 or v3.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

When I started working on eBooks I remember my wife telling me that she didn’t believe she would ever be an eBook reader, she just didn’t understand the need for a digtial copy when she could hold a physical book in her had.  Recently we went on a trip and she was reading “The Hunger Games”.  She got so into the book that she finished before our layover was complete, now she didn’t know what to do.  I suggested she go to the bookstore at the airport (that is why they have them their) and get a new one but the book she wanted to read was not in the store.After some reassurance that it can’t be that bad to try it via the iPad she purchased the book.  Needless to say, I didn’t see MY iPad the rest of the trip as she finished that book and one other before we got home.  Now she is a convert, she likes carrying it around instead of a book and the fact that she can just download another book was  a big benefit to her.

Last night she finally realized that she probably needs her own eBook reading device and asked me which one she should get.  So I started with the questions that people always ask me.

  • Do you want a reader or a table?
  • Is Flash important to you?
  • Do you want wifi or 3G/4G
  • Black and white or color?
  • Are Apps important?
  • How big of a screen do you want?

I then suggested that she go to Best Buy and check out the selection! (At least I give my wife the same advice I give others)

Today while doing some more research for her I found this great article that doesn’t just ask the questions, it provides some of the answers as to which reader does what.

Just thought I would share if anyone else is trying to make the same decision.


Ron Reed – Executive Produce SXSWedu (#sxswedu)

As we look back at the SXSWedu conference I wanted to take a second and introduce the Executive Produce and founder of the SXSWedu conferenceRon Reed is an independent sales and marketing consultant in K-12 publishing and been involved in the educational space since graduating from college.  In 2011 SXSWedu made its debut focusing on innovations in learning. With the 2012 conference recently ending we thought we would catch up with Ron and see how the show went.

Jeff – Thank you for joining me and congrats on a very successful SXSWedu conference. Can you share any statics from this years show?

Ron –  Our attendance grew 250% from our inaugural conference last year, to over 2000 registrants at SXSWedu 2012. Clearly there is a hunger for innovative solutions to the many pressing challenges in efficient, empowered learning. I really appreciated you’re being here, and felt energized about the positive buzz and tremendous enthusiasm at SXSWedu.

Jeff – This years shows was packed with Keynote Speakers, Distinguished Speaker, Concurrent Sessions and the new LAUNCHedu, based on initial feed back which part of the show do you think has gotten the most positive feed back from show-goers.

Ron – Certainly our high quality of speakers throughout the conference was well received. We were very proud of the program. In the post conference survey, which we really encourage our attendees to complete and submit, attendees ranked highly and particularly appreciated the wide variety of concurrent sessions. We take a little different swing at SXSWedu, hoping to engage stakeholders across an array of perspectives, from early childhood to higher education, to career & workforce development. Involving education professionals, entrepreneurs, legislative and policy leaders as well as representatives from business and industry makes for a rich conversation about innovations in learning.

Jeff – Nobody can deny that education is changing and technology will play a big role, What major changes do you foresee in the next 12 – 18 months that will impact they way education is taught to our students?

Ron –  Goodness, I should really defer to our community, who are much closer to the action than I am, but in general I was taken with the interest in open education resources across the spectrum of teaching and learning, from elementary and secondary to post secondary. This is one of the larger disruptions that is driving significant change in traditional teaching, empowering learners and leaders to access and customize resources for specific needs. I was also pleased with the rich discussion surrounding gaming and learning. Good games, by their nature, engage their audience. I’m curious about the appropriate deployment of those engagement strategies to help energize learning, and involve and personalize experiences for learners.

Secretay of Education, Arnie Duncan @ SXSWedu 2012

Jeff – Your show was a great combination of teachers, administrators, professors and tech geeks. I am sure you get a lot of feedback. Anything we can expect next year to make the show even better?

Ron –  We’ve got several ideas…as was the case last year, we dreamed and schemed about new components for the conference, then worked hard to invent and implement. One thing that struck me was the tremendous energy and synergy that resulted from driving a discussion between educators and entrepreneurs. The LAUNCHedu startup competition was very well received. We had a lot of feedback about student entrepreneurs and the merit of shining a light on their ideas. It seems odd to have a conference about learning and not engaging more fully those that are on the receiving end. I look forward to exploring how we can help make that happen in 2013.

Jeff – While I really enjoyed the sessions that you had just sitting around and meeting other show participants was a real highlight. The number of tech companies in attendance who are trying to understand trends and develop products to improve education was truly impressive. Have you considered a tech showcase for all the start ups who want to just demo their products (like a mini tradeshow floor)?

Ron –  Great question! We had a healthy amount of feedback on that point…that above and beyond the sessions, attendees enjoyed the casual conversations and interactions with others who shared their passion, albeit from a different vantage point. In terms of a tech showcase, you echo the request of many others. While I’m interested in addressing that, I’ve been reluctant to do a traditional exhibit or trade show. I tend to think that approach to showcasing vendors tends to diminish dialog at a conference of thought leaders rather than elevating it. But having said that, providing a venue for attendees to see what’s next and new from the invited finalists of LAUNCHedu makes good sense. Stay tuned, and perhaps we can come up with a meaningful opportunity to further drive that discussion about the intersection of education and entrepreneurialism.

Jeff – Anything else you want to add?

Ron –  Just that SXSWedu is really a community-driven conference. We invite the submission of panels and sessions via our PanelPicker intake environment. We’ll open Panel Picker to programming suggestion in mid to late August. After receiving session proposals, we flip the environment so that our community can provide feedback as to what sessions rock or don’t rock, and the community can provide input directly to panel organizers as to what topics and issues they hope the session will address. We really look to our community to help guide and inform what programming content should ultimately be on the program.

Jeff – Thank you for your time. As a participant in your show I can say that it was a good use of my time. I am sure others feel the same way. I look forward to seeing you next year for SXSWedu 2013, March 4-7 in Austin, TX. I encourage all my readers to add this to your show list.

Ron – Thanks so much, Jeff. We look forward to seeing you at SXSWedu next year!

eBook Review: iBook

Here we are, four reviews deep into the Textbook Guru eBook review series. If you’d like to take a look back at my other reviews, you can find them here: Kno, Inkling, CourseSmart, Chegg.  For our fifth review, I’ve chosen to take a look at the iBooks platform by Apple. I’ve chosen this platform for a couple reasons. First, being Apples native eBook reader, it is likely that iBooks is installed on more mobile devices that any other platform we’ve reviewed. Whether or not users are taking advantage of this pre-installed app is hard to say. Second, the iBook platform is the first in our series to allow self publishing. So whether you’re a self publishing author, or just need to have your own documents readily available, iBooks allows you to upload your own PDFs into the app.


Self publishing is a lot of fun, but lets get down to why we are really here, to review textbooks. If you’ve ever downloaded an app to your iPhone or iPad, or purchased an album on iTunes, then you are already familiar with the purchasing process in the iBooks platform.

Finding and purchasing any book only takes a few clicks (or finger taps). When searching for a textbook, you will usually have an ISBN or the full title an author, which makes searching a breeze. However, if you’re looking for more casual reading, the ‘featured’ and ‘browse’ tabs are a great way to see what kind of books (typically fiction) are popular on iBooks. But we’re after textbooks, so if you sort by category, you’ll find that all the textbooks iBooks has to offer in one place. Many of them you can ‘sample’ by downloading a free chapter to take a preview of the features.


Apple has been a big player in eBooks for a while, a market they grew quickly thanks to the iPad and iPhone apps that help you view all you iBooks on any device.  However, recently they have started getting into the eTextbook market. Studying is probably one of the last things you’d think to use an iPad for but it is increasingly becoming a platform for consuming any and all media, so why should textbooks be separate? Apple touts a lot of exciting eTextbook features that are becoming popular such as 3D models, embedded video and interactive quizzes. Lets dive in and take a look at the iBooks experience from start to finish.

The photo above is your ‘Library’ which is the central place to find all your downloaded books or documents. Foregoing a simple list, Apple has a visually simple and intuitive virtual bookshelf for your digital books. This is a small touch, and isn’t much different than Chegg or Kno which use thumbnails of your book covers as buttons, but having them organized on a bookshelf makes them feel more like real books and less like files to be opened.

Once you open a book, you have a simple and hide-able menu bar at the top of each page that contain all your tools. The first and most obvious tool is the ‘Library’ button which just takes you back to your virtual book shelf. The next is a menu to help you jump from page to page in the book without flipping. This menu lets you skip between chapters in the book and the next menu which looks like a note pad lets you jump between bookmarks and notes that you have set while reading. As simple as this kind of navigation is, I have to say Apple did well to put all these markers in one place as opposed to others that have made notes and bookmarks navigable through their own menus. Apple has also included a traditionally simple bookmark tool that is always accessible in the upper right of any page. Just tap the small greyed bookmark logo and it will be replaced with a bright red bookmark to save your place.

Next on your menu bar is your settings options, indicated by a pair of capital A’s. This pop up menu allows you to adjust the brightness of your screen through a slide bar and the size of the font through two size buttons. Again, a very simple way to do very simple things. Of course, what eBook platform would be complete without a search function? iBooks allows you to search within the text, on the web or directly through Wikipedia. I find it humorous that so many teachers have a vendetta against Wikipedia and it’s use in academia as source material, however so many search tools love to include it as a searchable reference. As controversial as Wikipedia is in the academic community, I think this is proof that it is still a valuable resource for many students.

Next lets look at the more advanced features iBooks has to offer. For starters, iBooks is only the second platform I’ve reviewed to offer 3D modeling in some of its eBooks. It’s hard to see in a still image, but the molecule below is interactive directly in the page, unlike Kno which has to open an overlay window to make models interactive.

iBooks also has embedded video and image slide shows, like in the image below. Figure 1 is an image slideshow containing 4 images (indicated by the dots below the caption). Sliding your finger across the image flips it to the next image. In the next column, Figure 2 is a playable video, a very handy way for eTextbook publishers to emphasize or further explain a complicated theory.

One of my favorite features on iBooks is one I haven’t seen anywhere else, virtual study cards. Similar to the way iBooks displays your library as a bookshelf, it displays study cards as traditional 3″x5″ note cards. These have chapter specific glossery terms on them so you can quiz yourself. Simply define each term then flip the card to see if you got it right. Swiping puts the card at the bottom of the deck and moves on to the next one.

Each section and chapter has a review section to help you remember what you learned. This is nothing new for textbooks, but many iBooks textbooks have interactive quiz questions built into these section reviews. You get to chose an answer for each question and instantly see if your correct or not. The beginning of each section also has study tools to help you generally understand what will be covered in detail in the coming section.


For the features it offers, iBooks delivers them in Apples traditionally simple yet elegant way. As a general eReader, iBooks is a solid choice and integrates easily into the lives of any iOS device owner. As a study tool for eTextbook users, I think iBooks is a great choice because it is leading the move to digital with many of the most advanced features found in eTextbooks today, but wrapped up in Apple’s intuitive and simple design. The iBooks library of eTextbooks is growing as Apple expands into this market, and chances are many of your textbooks are already available. I think it’s important to note that if you are in a communication or writing field of study, iBooks is likely to have all your assigned novels, biographys, non-fiction etc. This means that iBooks could be your central place not only for textbooks, but other assigned readings (including PDFs your tech savvy professor uploads) and any books you find time to read just for fun.

Don’t Call It the iPad 3 (#ipad3 #sxswedu #ipad)

Quick comments on Apples announcements from yesterday. That it would be about iPads was no secret, and the expectation was for the iPad 3 that would feature a bulked-up camera and . . . the and was the unknown.

In a move not unlike the last iPhone release when we got the iPhone 4s instead of the expected iPhone 5, what we got today was not the iPad 3, but something called “the new iPad.” And that’s an apt moniker (though hardly seductive and inviting or creative) because this iPad is more third-generation than it is an iPad 3. What I mean by that is that it’s been substantially upgraded and modified, but it’s not a radically new machine.

So what is it and what is it not? Well, it is a lot more like a full-on computer in terms of capabilities, features, power, and memory. Rather, the new iPad is getting closer to approaching (and replacing) a laptop (first stat of the announcement: “More iPads were sold last quarter than any PC maker sold PCs”). The new iPad sees changes in the forms of retina display, 5MP camera with face recognition, faster processor, upped graphics (four times the performance of earlier iPads) and HD processing, 2084 x 1537 display at 264 ppi, and 4G LTE network, and 200,000+ apps that are priced much lower than most software packages.

It’s definitely fair to say that the emphasis of the new iPad is on multimedia. Today was all about creating and sharing and collaborating (all relying on connectivity and iCloud storage) and being the device to power that. This was shown by demos of Garage Band, iMovie, iPhoto, and SketchBook Pro — all audio-visual apps and all with integrated email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. buttons. The increased power and graphics and network speed will also satisfy gamers (The new iPad has more memory and screen resolution than the Xbox and PS3). It’s a multimedia and recreation tablet that is not any sort of productivity machine or eBooks reader (though between iWork and iBooks, it handles both quite well). This is a machine for making fun and having fun with friends and family.

So what about productivity and eBooks? Well, Apple’s made it pretty clear that the iPad 2 fills that niche and that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, even mentioning the pricing and calling it attractive for the education market.

In a nutshell, the new iPad isn’t a replacement for the iPad 2 so much as a veering off in a different direction and toward a new sort of tablet line for a very different target user. For once, Apple isn’t really making an older version obsolete or phasing it out so much as giving it a sibling. What we have here in iPad 2 is a reliable and down-to-earth older child who always comes through without a lot of flash or power or speed or adventure now being joined by the new iPad, a wild-child sibling with a much more “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” attitude.

  • iPad 2 will remain priced starting at $399 and reaching $529.
  • The new iPad starts at $499 and goes up to $829 for maximum storage and connectivity.
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