Electronic Textbooks: The Next Campus Fad?NEW YORK
For more than 20 years, Dr. Sanford Berg has taught “Managerial Economics,” a required business course at the University of Florida. He will do so again this fall —with one great difference.
“Students will have the choice of using the traditional textbook or downloading an electronic version on their laptops,” Berg says. “The technology is still young, but we feel it’s important to be out front on this kind of thing.”
Most people think of Stephen King’s entry into online publishing when they think of e-books, but many publishers and professors believe college texts are the more promising market. E-texts are cheaper — the cost is comparable to a used book —and easier to update than the paper versions.
And while John Updike has written that nothing can ever replace the aesthetic pleasure of holding a bound paper novel, it’s hard to imagine students feeling the same way about a backpack overloaded with school books.
“This is going to happen faster in education than anywhere else,” says Susan Driscoll, president of Worth Publishers, which this fall will release several textbook titles in electronic form.
“Students do everything on laptops these days so I definitely think electronic books are a trend that’s going to expand,” says Dr. Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who plans on using e-books next year.
Over the next few months, publishers will be meeting with authors, professors and college officials to work out agreements for the upcoming year. This week, WizeUp Digital Textbooks announced that more than 75 titles would be available for this fall, with Harvard, Georgetown and Ohio State among the schools using the books.
“There was some skepticism two years ago, but now teachers are saying, ‘Finally. This is what we’ve been asking for for some time,'” says David Gray, CEO of WizeUp, which expects to triple its electronic offerings by next year.
Few believe e-books will replace paper texts on campus, and issues common to electronic publishing still need to be resolved: royalty payments to authors, the awkwardness of reading a book off a computer screen and making sure students can’t simply download materials to each other.
But the desire for e-textbooks is apparently even stronger than the industry’s ability to produce them. Pinker and other professors say they would be offering the electronic version now if only the books were ready.
Flexibility is the quality that professors mention most. While the traditional college textbook is updated once every few years, e-books can be updated every year, or even during the semester. The electronic format also allows for links to newspaper articles and other supplementary texts as well as for audio and visual aids.
“I was talking to a textbook publisher about having an audio feed attached to a math problem,” says Julie Greenblatt, vice president of business development at Versaware Inc., an e-publisher. “Instead of just having the teacher walk you through the problem, a narrator walks you through and uses visuals to illustrate.”
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