A repost from July 13, 2006. A still relevant post regarding the evolution of the textbook.
As I have mentioned before, I believe educational publishing - particularly in College - to be an industry ripe with opportunity and therefore very interesting. Challenges obviously exist but educational publishers have an opportunity, facilitated by the internet, to build a virtuous circle connecting the publisher/author, student, educator, advisor and institution. (Even the parent could be part of this grouping). Traditional publishing content remains the 'glue' within this grouping but publishers are also building 'platforms' adding sophisticated testing and evaluative modules, administrative modules and ultimately a social networking component that will further facilitate a level of communication among the groups heretofore unheard of. I have spoken a little about this in an earlier post.
There will be many changes resulting from this different publishing paradigm not least of which the content itself. I doubt many publishers would contest the notion that the existing construct of the traditional published text book will remain the same for much longer. In the not too distant future the course textbook is going to have more in common with an online newspaper that it will with a physical print product encased in board. Editorial and authorship may become more important than it currently is since the product will become dynamic and subject to on-going news events, reinterpretations and the feedback from users. Incorporation of audio and video, blogging and chat also add a 'real time' component that will require monitoring and management.
What is interesting about this article in the NYT today is that it highlights the significant fallibility of the textbook unit when viewed from today’s 'instant update' environment. The article points out a number of things including the surprising similarity across texts, the apparent lack of motivation to change - evidenced by continuing to publish 'name' authors in updated editions even after they were decreased and the clear lack of feedback from user to publisher/author that allowed continued publication of the same material year after year.
In many ways the article makes publishers out to be dummies but there may have been important reasons to leverage a known author for many years. Profits. Institutions, Professors, etc. act conservatively and go with what they know. Rebuilding around a new author increases the risk that the customer may go to a competitor. In addition, from a publisher point of view it is easier to tweak an existing text than start over with a new one. (Although in reading this article you may gain the impression that none of them ever start from scratch).
All the big educational publishers - Wiley, Pearson, Harcourt, McGraw Hill are building online educational content that is - or will represent - a fully interactive educational product. For publishers to gain direct access to a student that enables the student to build an online bookshelf of educational material that they can carry with them forever, and furthermore to establish a relationship with the student after they leave college, is what these publishers are really looking for. Exciting stuff if you are a publisher. And great benefits for students and educators as well.