By: The Staff at MHCD Issue: Vision Section: Collaboration Close Up
The Age of Digital Textbooks
There was a time not too long ago when I would wake up in the morning, and lug an overburdened backpack full of textbooks across a college campus. It seemed a student like me should have expected sore shoulders and an empty wallet, but it was always rather depressing when those incredibly expensive textbooks would only be used in one class for selected chapters. And then, when I would try and sell them back, they would fetch next to nothing because the information was already obsolete. This routine proceeded for four years and cost approximately $4,000. I knew there had to be a better way.
While it is common knowledge that college tuition rates have been steadily increasing, few know that textbook costs have increased at twice the rate of inflation. The friction in the educational textbook industry has been building, and while there have been advocates trying to democratize information for quite some time, no one has been able to transcend the current textbook tradition. The textbook market doesn’t operate like most consumer markets. First, the end consumers (students) do not select the product, and the product is not purchased by faculty or professors. Therefore, price is removed from the purchasing decision, giving the producer (publishers) disproportionate market power to set prices high. Similarities are found in the pharmaceutical industry, which sells its wares to doctors, rather than the ultimate end user (patients). This fundamental difference in the market is often cited as the primary reason that prices are so high.
Enter Apple Inc., the technology behemoth that brought us the iPod, iTunes, the iPad, and the iPhone. Fresh off a record earnings quarter of $13 billion in December 2011, Apple has set its next target on the textbook industry in hopes of streamlining the educational experience. Apple Textbooks is aiming to accommodate the Gen Y learning process, by integrating visual, interactive learning tools that can be updated to reflect current information, like making sure Pluto is no longer listed as a planet—sorry Pluto. The good news is that Barnes and Noble and Amazon are teaming up with the big publishers to increase digital textbook libraries.
Currently, educational institutions account for the majority use of print media, with textbooks accounting for some 200,000 tons of paper per year. With the introduction of digital paper use would decrease tremendously. Digital textbooks would also allow for indexing and searching, which has never before been possible in a print book, as well as note taking functions that can be backed up to the cloud. Furthermore, there are deep networking possibilities for classes working together—a student could carry thousands of books without adding any weight to their backpack.
The transition from analog to digital will definitely be subject to growing pains and hybrid mixes, but South Korea’s Ministry of Education has recently invested $2.4 billion to digitize their entire educational system by 2015. Then, the Korea Education and Research Information Service will house a massive server than will distribute content to schools and student devices. The move might be bold, but it just might be time for the educational system to swipe a new page.