Tuesday 9 October 2012

Tools of Change Frankfurt: Digital Textbooks, Online Learning and the Future of Educational Publishing

Sheila Bounford introduces the session
The first breakout session in the appropriately named Megabyte room was chaired by Sheila Bounford. She marshalled an insightful discussion on digital textbooks. Sheila was joined by Amir Winer from the Open University of Israel, Michael Cairns from SharedBook and William Chesser from VitalSource Technologies.

Winer provided insight into institutional developments on digital textbooks. They are moving from linear to fragmented delivery: to fragmented and modular texts. Their vision is a study guide with visual, audio and textual content, with editable academic text, video lectures, links to papers and interactive coursework.

Cairns observed that the growth in custom textbooks in the US has been driven by the big publishers, but institutions are starting to exert more influence over content and price, and are forging distribution content deals with publishers.

Key highlights from Chesser's talk include:
  • At VitalSource Technologies they delivered 5 million e-textbooks in 2011, with 2.5 million users worldwide on 6,000 campuses, working with more than 200 publishers, adding 10,000 new users on a weekly with 100,000 titles in 17 languages across 180 countries.
  • Chesser reported that the typical number of pages per visit c. 30, average visit duration was around 22 minutes: indicates more in-depth, reading and studying going on.
  • Successful criteria for digital texts includes: use – sell through; mission – transition; value – price point. Successful characteristics of digital text includes: distribution ease (for student and faculty); being an organic part of course.

Chesser went on to observe that based on this criteria he would grade the least successful approach as straight B2C. Rental is next, but beware that students have reacted negatively to this. The print + electronic model (from 10 years ago?) is next, BUT as publishers didn’t charge extra they were effectively telling the market that the value of digital is zero.

Selling one chapter at a time is more successful– not reconfiguring products. However, in most textbooks, the chapter isn’t as much of a standalone product as you might hope. At the other, more successful end of the spectrum, hardware is pre-loaded with digital textbooks. There is a curriculum sale or tuition-inclusive with a school-wide programme. This is the most successful model at the moment.

When they surveyed students who had actually tried both, if price and availability are the same, 47% said they would take the e-textbook, 35% said they would take both, and 18% print only. The market is potentially sizeable, but publisher content is not always available or optimised to deliver in a contextualised or consumer friendly way. 

The most powerful observation from the session for me was that many publishers already have appropriately formatted content in their journals programme. Just image what could be achieved to meet this nascent demand if you applied journal programme workflows to your textbook programme? Unfortunately, despite journal publishers having worked on this for years, book departments often don't work in that way.

1 comment:

  1. I'm honestly surprised book publishers have really pushed for the rapid digitalization of textbooks. I'm looking forward to seeing more positive movement here.