Making Textbooks Less Expensive and More Relevant
Right around the time major news outlets were reporting on student protests regarding tuition hikes, a new kind of textbook publisher was letting scholars know that it had heard their cries for lower textbook costs. Less expensive, customized, relevant books now are available, announced DynamicBooks, a subsidiary of Macmillan Publishing.
The Feb. 22 announcement of DynamicBooks' formation indicated that not only could students buy cheaper textbooks in whichever channel they preferred, but that the content could be updated almost in real time. For instance, the chemical element Copernicium, which was named in February, already is included in DynamicBooks' textbooks. Previously, the process of including chemical element 112 in textbooks may have taken years.
Clancy Marshall, general manager of DynamicBooks, spoke with Book Business Extra about the launch.
Book Business Extra: What goals do you have for DynamicBooks?
Clancy Marshall: Our goal for DynamicBooks is to create a platform that can bring together students, instructors and authors, and do a better job of meeting the needs of all three groups. For instructors, we're bringing them greater flexibility in rearranging content for their courses. And we're offering the instructors complete customization ability, so they can actually go in and edit and rewrite any section of the text to make it completely current and relevant for their students.
There are other e-book platforms that enable instructors to highlight or annotate the textbooks. The difference with DynamicBooks is that the instructors can actually go in and rewrite sections or create questions. They can write questions into the textbook, and they can bring their Dynamic Book into class with them. They can access it on a mobile device or on their laptop. As they're talking about an issue in class, they can explain the material to students. And then they can actually correct the explanation in the textbook to make it exactly match up with what they've told students in class. ... It's not instant, but it is within 24 hours. So if an instructor is making changes in the classroom, by the time the student goes home to study … they will be able to access those changes. ... I think that it makes the textbook a vehicle for instructors and students to communicate, which is not how textbooks have been used in the past.
For students, the relevance is also a huge benefit, in that—when we've conducted focus groups and talked with students about their concerns about existing textbooks and e-books—one of their biggest complaints is they feel like the textbook isn't relevant to what the instructor is teaching in the course. And so they don't see the purpose in spending money on something that's not directly related to what their instructor is saying. This enables them to have a text that is directly related to what they're learning in class. In addition to that, we're offering them something that's lower priced, and we're giving them more accessibility. DynamicBooks can be accessed online, or they can be downloaded, or they can even be accessed via iPhone.
… For authors, we're enabling them to actually be in touch with the community of instructors, who are working with their text, to build a better book. ...
Extra: How will this approach address the high price points for textbooks?
Marshall: We're working with a number of different publishers … [who] are providing the content for the DynamicBooks platform … to keep the price point low. DynamicBooks also enables them to avoid unnecessary revisions. So publishers can spend less money to provide the books because instructors are constantly revising and updating [them].
... We're also giving students flexibility in deciding what they want to pay for. They could buy just the digital DynamicBook, which would give them access online, and they could download it. They could also print it page by page, and they can access it on their iPhone. Or, they have the option of purchasing a printed, bound, black-and-white version if they don't want to spend the money for a full-color, printed, bound text. We're trying to make sure that we're giving students a lot of options. ... Let's say they're using a psychology book, and the instructor says, "OK, I'm going to customize ... this psychology book ... .' Then that instructor gets a unique URL to give to their students, and their students can go right online and buy the digital version. The instructor also gets a unique ISBN so the student ... can purchase that book from the bookstore, or they could purchase that book from any online retailer. They would just plug in the ISBN, and they can purchase it from anywhere. ...
Extra: How does this model combat digital piracy?
Marshall: ... Piracy arises when the customer feels like what they're paying for is too high priced. I think that students, as a result of feeling like textbooks are priced too high, may have tried to find pirated versions that they can purchase for less. I think that the great thing about DynamicBooks is that it addresses the two issues that I think are problematic with textbooks today. One is that they're priced too high for the students. DynamicBooks, on average, are going to be about 40 percent to 50 percent of the price of a traditional book. It also addresses this idea that textbooks aren't worth paying for. It's not like you can just go online and find a pirated version that would include your instructor's individual edits and notes. ...