What do modern students want in a textbook? Writers want to know.

tablet with ebook in front of stack of print booksI was intrigued by an article in Research Information, a newsletter for libraries and publishers. “The rise and rise of e-reading” discussed the growth in electronic textbooks and articles. As a writer I have been intrigued by the potential for embedding interactive components and live links in texts, but disappointed to find that such materials are more typically relegated to a companion website. In my previous faculty role, I noticed a gap between the university’s enthusiasm for adopting e-books, and my students’ preference for paper textbooks. As a reader, I prefer e-books when I read for enjoyment, but usually like paper when I am working with textbooks. I thought I’d dig a bit more, and share what I discover with you, my fellow writers.

What did publishers say in “The rise and rise of e-reading”? [Read more…]

E-books, digital rights management, and the first-sale doctrine

There has been much buzz over the last couple of decades about the future of the textbook. Will print books continue to dominate? Will book rentals take a more prominent role? Will the market shift to e-books or to subscription-based access to cloud stored content or to more complex adaptive learning systems? Or will proprietary publishing fade to black as Open Education Resources improve in quality and increase in number? [Read more…]

Why you should be incorporating gamification into textbook exercises

Chess board Let’s play a game! After all, who doesn’t love a good game? Already your mind is excited to see what comes next. Eager to learn more. Ready for active participation. Primed to learn.

Isn’t that EXACTLY what you want from your students?

[Read more…]

Why print is still winning

w-onlinereading0221The debate about digital textbooks (etextbooks) and whether they will replace their physical counterparts continues this week with recent findings from the University of Washington. Their study showed that roughly 25% of students who were given free versions of etextbooks still purchased a physical copy of the same book.

“These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” said Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist who studies digital communication. “It’s quite astounding.”

Another survey done by Student Monitor found that 87% of college students purchased their textbooks as physical books, not etextbooks. Moreover, as mentioned in this Washington Post piece, “Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer [Read more…]

Amazon offers new tool for creating etextbooks, Kindle Textbook Creator

etextbooksAmazon has a new tool, Kindle Textbook Creator, to help educators and authors prepare, publish, and promote etextbooks and other educational content that can be accessed on Fire tablets, iPad, iPhone, Android smartphones and tablets, Mac, and PC.

Kindle Textbook Creator, offered through the new KDP EDU segment of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, can be used to turn PDFs of textbooks and course materials into Kindle books and upload them to KDP in just a few simple steps. [Read more…]

Does ‘first sale’ mean fewer sales?

copyrightSoon after the Supreme Court’s decision this past spring in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, a story in The New York Times gave voice to a widespread concern that a doctrine called “first sale” would soon swallow up a U.S. copyright owner’s right to control and limit importation and redistribution of not only textbooks intended for foreign markets but also of e-books not intended for lending (library or personal).

The Kirtsaeng case turned on a contest for priority between apparently conflicting provisions in the Copyright Act – one setting out the “first sale” doctrine and the other dealing with a copyright owner’s right to control importation of copies of their work. The Supreme Court tipped the scales in favor of first sale and interpreted the right to control importation as essentially non-existent for all practical purposes.1 [Read more…]

Digital textbooks and pedagogy: An interview with June Parsons & Dan Oja

Dan Oja and June ParsonsComputer ConceptsDigital book pioneers June Parsons and Dan Oja co-developed the first commercially successful multimedia, interactive digital textbook; one that set the bar for platforms now being developed by educational publishers.

The coauthors began writing and creating educational software for Course Technology in 1992 and between them have authored more than 150 college computer textbooks. They currently have several digital textbooks in print, including the best-selling New Perspectives on Computer Concepts.

Parsons has a doctorate in instructional technology and has taught at the university level for more than 20 years. Oja is an experienced programmer. He developed BookOnPublish, a software tool for assembling and publishing multimedia digital books.

Here Parsons and Oja talk to TAA about digital textbooks and pedagogy: [Read more…]

Attorney advises textbook authors on e-rights

Michael Lennie, an authoring attorney and agent for Lennie ebook tablet on bookshelfLiterary & Author’s Attorneys, compared the items on a publishing contract to a bunch of asparagus and said authors can either give all their rights away in one bunch, or negotiate them one by one.

“Electronic rights is just one of those spears of asparagus,” he said. “And on that one spear are many different e-rights elements. The author is in the enviable position of owning all of those spears.” The publisher, said Lennie, will want them all, and the author has to decide whether to give those rights to the publisher or retain them. If your publisher wants all of your e-rights, he said, here are a few things to consider: What has the publisher done with e-rights in the past? Do they have the technical expertise to do it or will they license those rights to a third party? “The publisher may give you 50 percent of the rights of third party sales, but that may only be seven percent of the publisher’s 15 percent from the licensed third party,” he said. [Read more…]

Textbook authoring in the digital age, Part two

Mary Ellen Lepionka

Mary Ellen Lepionka

There is a whole new language for the teaching and learning enterprise today, and it is not textbook-based. The very word textbook has become vilified, vulgarized—a dirty word associated (rightly and wrongly) with the profit-taking and business practices of commercial higher education textbook publishers. Expository writing on a course subject for digitized delivery is not even called a textbook. Rather, the product is content—in the form of learning objects, modules, and media assets, offered in the form of an online course or a portal or gateway to new (or newly networked) knowledge. The term textbook will become obsolete or will be narrowly defined to refer only to conversions—non-interactive digitizations of textbooks in print.

Textbook authoring in the Digital Age thus requires a different way of looking at yourself, your mission, and the students. Today, as an erstwhile textbook author, you are regarded not as an instructor but as an SME (subject matter expert). SMEs provide authoritative content and sources, organized into templates that reflect principles of instructional design. [Read more…]

Textbook authoring in the digital age, Part one

Mary Ellen Lepionka

Mary Ellen Lepionka

On August 19, 2009, I finally saw in print a statement echoing my long-held belief that the business of textbook publishing is truly in a state of radical (some would say, catastrophic) change. The statement was in a Courthouse News Service summary of a suit brought by a group of stockholders against their company, Barnes & Noble.

B&N had just bought BN College, its own spin-off private company, for nearly $600 million. BN College is a chain of more than 600 campus bookstores serving nearly 4 million college students and a quarter of a million faculty members. The stores provide textbooks, ancillary materials, trade books, and other goods through exclusive supply chains, especially Barnes & Noble.

The suit claimed that this acquisition lacks transparency (it enriches B&N’s CEO, who has a controlling interest in BN College), wastes corporate assets, and increases shareholders’ exposure to risk (potentially reducing their earnings), because, QUOTE: With used textbooks available on the Internet and rental textbooks available at 40 percent to 70 percent off sale price, the college textbook business has entered ‘permanent decline’ END QUOTE .

There it is: permanent decline (and note that lawyers, not the publishing industry, first uttered these words in print.) I couldn’t agree more and first said as much in 2007 upon news of three precipitous events that struck me as particularly ominous:

  1. In 2007 the government responded officially to the CALPIRG price revolt, which started in 2004 and was being strongly reinforced by the mushrooming open access movement. Congress’s Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance called for free and low cost textbooks and facilitated access to used textbooks, textbook rentals, digital textbooks, and textbook lending libraries. The current international member roll of the OpenCourseWare Consortium attests to the success of the open access movement, which has reached critical mass alongside the wiki-textbook phenomenon.
  2. The Thomson Corporation promptly sold all its higher education imprints. (Thomson Learning had included, for example, Wadsworth, Delmar, Heinle, Brooks/Cole, South-Western, West, and Gale—most of which became Cengage.) In a parallel development, publishers in other parts of the industry began to dump their soon-to-be no-longer-so-lucrative scholarly journals.
  3. CourseSmart was founded the same year, in which industry giants (including Cengage)—once to-the-death rivals—suddenly teamed up to try to appear to be complying with public mandates while propping up prices before it was too late. (In addition to Cengage, the CourseSmart club currently includes Bedford, Freeman & Worth, CQ, Elsevier, F.A. Davis, Wiley, Jones & Bartlett, McGraw-Hill Higher Ed, Nelson Ed, Pearson, Sage, Sinauer, Taylor & Francis, and Wolters Kluwer.)

And now that the actual curse has been spat (that the college textbook business is in permanent decline), there is no going back. The tipping point, Malcolm Gladwell would say, has been reached and passed. The question now is, how can textbook authors survive, perhaps even thrive, in this giveaway Digital Age. I see four essential, broad, brave new world measures (Are there more?:

  1. Negotiate electronic rights separately with commercial publishers. Do not sign away any “content”. Demand adequate royalty consideration in textbook rentals, the sale of e-textbooks, and the sale of digitized textbook content (not to mention foreign textbook sales and other deeply discounted sales).
  2. Keep alive and find ways to promote and publicize the values of authority, validity, credibility, accuracy, currency, and reliability in the authorship of reviewed expository text. Use the new social media to communicate these values. Develop and disseminate guidelines for assessing the quality of online textbooks and for building them. Promote yourself as an expert. Have things to say, and say them in online forums.
  3. Author high-quality online textbooks though new publishing models that will not pauperize you for your efforts. Some entrepreneurial online textbook publishers offer royalties, for example. Some combine both free and monetized layers of access to their textbooks and supplements, allowing them to be profitable. Some also act as academic portals, providing comprehensive web site support for users of their products. Depending on your qualifications and market, ability to invest, and desire to have a business, self-publishing is also an option.
  4. Sell your content in bits, as learning objects or modules, for example, or share your content on sites that earn money for you through some means other than sales of your content—through blog subscription, for example, or under the auspices of an organization that has publication grants or does profit sharing through advertising revenues (or other sources of income besides donations).

Thus, the statement that the college textbook business is in permanent decline must be modified. It’s only the traditional business model for commercial textbook publishing that is going the way of the dinosaurs. The world truly needs the stuff of good textbooks. In whole or in part, they are here to stay. Textbook authors need to defend the world’s right to good textbooks along with their right to earn a decent living from writing them.

Mary Ellen Lepionka is the founder of Atlantic Path Publishing, author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook (2008) and Writing and Developing College Textbook Supplements (2005), a consultant and content provider to textbook authors and publishers, and a member of the Text and Academic Authors Association.

Read Textbook Authoring in the Digital Age, Part Two