Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

When Will Electronic Textbooks Take Over?

By Dennis D. McDonald

In my recent post Negroponte: Next OLPC Machine Will Be a Book I questioned where the content was going to come from to feed the use of this new dual-screen device as an electronic textbook. I sent a link to a friend of mine who is in the publishing business and this is one of the comments he sent back via email:

Very interesting - we’re working hard to make a lot of primary material-based educational content available but our experience of the textbook side is that publishers are nervous about how going digital will affect their current business model of printing a new textbook each year and charging a lot of money to buy it.  We’ve talked to some publishers about turning their textbooks into subscription products and they worry that going digital will simply make it harder to justify charging all that money each year for relatively trivial updates in content … 

I completely understand that reaction. It’s similar to how many traditional publishers reacted when CD-ROM publishing technology started going commercial. Early CD-ROM adopters in the encyclopedia area, for example, began eating the lunch of the traditional publishers. Some traditional publishers waited too long and were never able catch up with the digital revolution.

I figure the same will happen with textbook publishers, especially now that really cheap devices are emerging that can support digital distribution and access at a significantly lower price point than a full computer.

This is what I emailed back to my friend:

All it will take is one high-quality rebel to jump into digital textbook distribution. I studied the economics of that business last year for a client and saw the raw numbers of what you say. Someone’s going to come along and convince a large state to go with digital distribution, bundled with something like this new e-book. Talk about a saving in gasoline for shipping!

  • Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald


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Negroponte: Next OLPC Machine Will Be a Book