January 20, 2012

Why are textbook publishers going along with the transition to ebooks?

Because students won't be able to buy used textbooks anymore.

Why are the schools going along? Presumably, the price to students will be kept reasonably low, at least enough to make up for the lack of cheap used books. Since the publishers (and authors) don't make money on resold used books, that's a new income stream to them, and they ought to respond by making the new copies cheaper.

(By the way, I've downloaded the new iBooks Author app and have started throwing together an experimental project to see how things flow. It seems pretty intuitive so far. I like the way you can easily toss in photos. If it works, the idea is to upload it to iTunes, and perhaps charge some piddling amount for it.)

38 comments:

Revenant said...

I've gotten used to my kindle to the point where actual books are starting to seem oddly bulky and irritating.

The main advantage is that it is a lot easier to flip to the page you want in a normal book, but I figure a few more generations of usability improvements should lick that problem.

Robert R. said...

Considering regular e-books have little to no discount, I think you have to be real gullible to believe that e-textbooks will be significantly cheaper to the student in the long run. Especially since unlike regular books, a student has little discretionary choice in the matter.

PackerBronco said...

As a textbook author I have to tell that used book sales are without question one of the main concerns of publishers and authors. I get decent royalties the first few years of a new title and then it drops a lot. So we're constantly revising and rewriting to keep the book "fresh". My textbooks are focused on Web design and programming, so there's always something new to write about. I'm not sure how someone writing a calculus book could keep updating and revising.

Anyway this has been discussed and my pubisher is looking at the e-book market. The current model will have the books selling at a lower price but with "expiration dates" that will cause the book to expire at the end of the semester, and reading rights to the e-book will not be transferable.

Hopefully it will all be a wash: lower royalties but higher sales.

Opfor311 said...

From what I've read on ZDNET, it appears that Apple is only planning to have ibooks2 work with ipads. They have no desire to have it work on any other device, to include other Apple products, such as iphones or Macs.

Anthony said...

Worse than device lock-in is Apple's licensing terms. If the author of the linked article is right, you can *only* sell your iBook through Apple.

Kylos said...

Zdnet is worthless for news. Pure speculation.

edutcher said...

An upside is that books which are notoriously huge (e.g., nursing at 1000 (or even 1500)+ pp) can be easily dealt with.

The downside is those with graphics (I'm thinking the legendary coffee table genre, particularly art. or medical texts) aren't going to make the transition at all.

Peter said...

"The main advantage is that it is a lot easier to flip to the page you want in a normal book"


That's why I rejected it. I could have lived with the Kindle's other flaws, but I read mostly nonfiction. And it is just so painfully slow to go through the menu->bookmarks->select_bookmark->wait for screen to refresh (and again if you wish to flip between two bookmarks) that I just couldn't stand it after awhile.

Moose said...

I'm starting to get the TPC vibe from "The President's Analyst" about Apple.

Let's just give them all our money and let them implant the chips, OK?

Kylos said...

Anthony, it does seem draconian, but from Apple's perspective, why should they give you a free tool so their competitors can profit? Perhaps it would be better to sell iBooks Author instead, though I would guess that any price that would make up for lost revenue to competing sellers would be too prohibitive for most text book authors.

It will be interesting to see how people respond as the terms become more well known. I think it's too early to know whether it will be successful

Synova said...

My Chemistry "e-book" sucks. It sucks so much I'm putting "e-book" in scare quotes.

The text is not adjustable. I'm looking at pictures of the pages that have such bad resolution that I have to enlarge the whole thing to read it comfortably and it's still not comfortable. The letters are pixelated for freak's sake. I can only display a portion of a page at a time and have to scroll back and forth and back and forth. I have a 27" monitor that does HD.

I'm not at all impressed.

My Nook will handle magazine content interactively. It will show page lay-out but selecting a graphic will open a window for a close-up, and selecting text will open a window with the text without having to mess with columns of type. It's nifty.

It's also old news and no reason for anyone to be looking at static representations of paper pages.

Opfor311 said...

Kylos,

It is that kind of thinking by Apple (as a Hardware company) that will cause this to fall by the wayside as others take over this market. Amazon, for example, while still selling Kindles, has made kindle apps for almost every platform in existance. By doing so, they can sell ebooks to nearly everyone. The old 'give away the razor, sell the blades' approach works much better that the 'lock them into my unique format'.

Geoff Matthews said...

A $15 textbook that you can't sell back is a better deal than a $70 textbook that you can sell back for $40.
This is a great development, one that I've been waiting to happen.

Geoff Matthews said...

PackerBronco,

There is a lot of abuse with new additions (not accusing you of this). I teach intro stats, and the book in the business department at my school is on its 15th edition.
The only thing changing is the examples.

chuck b. said...

I am not quite there mentally with the transition to e-books and the idea that I might not be able to get a hard copy troubles me. It troubles me that it troubles me, too.

Otoh, a lot of the books I buy nowadays--math and applications books around ~200 pages long--are available as print-on-demand paperbacks for $20-50. That's a better price than a text book, and often the paper and binding are better quality too.

I tend to underline and make a lot of notes in the margins. If I could do that in an e-book and know that it would be available to me permanently in the cloud or something, that might might make it easier to transition. As it is, I upload copious pages notes to Google docs all the time.

My advice to anyone taking classes right now is to scan all your notes, homework, and tests and put it all in the cloud. You might be surprised to find you need them again some day. And it can be a lot harder to re-learn something that you've forgotten than you'd expect. Every little bit helps and saves you time.

Opfor311 said...

Geoff,

"A $15 textbook that you can't sell back is a better deal than a $70 textbook that you can sell back for $40."

While that is true, a $60 dollar e-book that becomes disabled after a semester, is not better than a $70 textbook that you can either resell or keep. There is no way to ensure that e-book prices will stay much lower than the traditional textbooks.

Cris said...

Richard Stallman, the Free Software guy, wrote presciently about e-books back in 1997: The Right to Read.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Having my college years a long way behind me and no longer needing to study to keep up with my licenses, I'm not really sure about "e-books" verus real/tangible books.

I do know that I still have some of my old college texts and all of the CFP materials and quite often would go to both for reference and for work information.

The durability, over many years, of E books is doubtful. I'm also doubtful about the actual ease of use, as Synova has indicated.

In addition, there are other costs to the E Book concept. You have to have an electronic device, internet connection.

I guess, I'm just an old fashioned kind of gal and for texts and reference books, like the literal books instead of virtual books.

But...hey...I'm not the target market.

Chuck66 said...

When I got me MBA (rather recently), most books sold for between $150-$250 new, maybe about 35% less if used, through the univeristy book store.

Then I discovered used books on Amazon and picked them up for about $25 each on average.

PackerBronco said...

There is a lot of abuse with new additions (not accusing you of this).
=======

I appreciate that. Like I said, the textbooks that I write DO have to updated on a regular basis. I just finished one book on HTML5 which required major rewrites - it was practically a new textbook.

For other books, we're pretty careful about swapping at least half of the end-of-chapter problems and examples with new ones. After all, if you're teaching from the textbook you need new homework problems since your students can easily buy the answers from multiple sources.

Geoff Matthews said...

Opfor311,

I agree that there is no guarantee that e-texts would stay at $15. I wouldn't expect them to.
But hard-copy texts have gone through serious inflation. At my school's bookstore, average prices for textbooks is around $100. When I went to school, I NEVER spent $100 for a textbook.
The other option here is the open-textbook movement, which places the materials online. I haven't found a good intro to stats book yet, but I am pushing Khan Academy to my class.

Class factotum said...

I'm not sure how someone writing a calculus book could keep updating and revising.

And yet calculus and differential equations were the books I couldn't sell after I finished the class because the publisher had released a new edition. Probably because of all the advances made in math in one year.

Ambrose said...

It is over for real books; the future is e. It is only a question of how long it will take. Time to move on. Not even King Canut could stop this. Textbook publishers are businesses after all, and they are going along with e books because the ones who don't will be fired and see the stock options lose all value. Markets work.

Carnifex said...

Robert R is entirely correct. It is naive to assume a lessening of the prices of school books. The prices charged before were exorbitant. It will just illustrate further the mark-up colleges inflict on poor students.(channeling my inner ows)

As far as Apple locking out outside users, I guess they forgot the lessons of Betamax. Superior platform, but locked users out, VHS was open to everyone, and consequently, took over the market.

My mom got a kindle for X-mas, and I had to set it up for her. It was enough for me to learn that I don't want one. I don't want any e-book. Let me amend that, I would like one for my bug out bag so I could download some survival manuals, but otherwise, I got no love for electronic readers. Give me a real book period.

Synova said...

My opinion...

No student OWES more money to a textbook writer. Nor does life OWE a textbook writer a continuing income stream. If an existing textbook is usable the choice to use something *else* that is *new* in a situation where students have no choice but are, figuratively, held up at gunpoint... it's theft.

The market doesn't support the new textbooks without the captive consumers.

Avoiding market realities by forcing a product on consumers is not... nice.

shahid said...

PackerBronco wrote: "The current model will have the books selling at a lower price but with "expiration dates" that will cause the book to expire at the end of the semester..."

Your publisher is apparently thinking of a strictly rental model. Very unlikely (I'd even say "when pigs fly" unlikely) that Apple or Amazon are going to go along with your publisher on either of their digital stores. To understand why, you may want to ask who their customers are and what they profit from. (Companies like that don't do well annoying their customers.)

Of course, your publisher could create its own storefront and reader app (or just serve over the web), but then I'd suggest they should just push up a for-pay website...

Levi Starks said...

I downloaded two of the E textbooks trial versions from I tunes today, and I'm impressed. I wouldn't say they were perfect, but a very nice start. I would like to see more interactivity, there is a lot of potential.
In the physics book there is a section on wave theory, and you can click on a picture of the Tacoma narrows bridge and watch a video of it collapsing.
Rather than the textbook industry being concerned I would say that it's the teaching industry that better be watching its back. The thing that's missing from YouTube videos that teach is the book. Ebooks contain both

Jose_K said...

The durability, over many years, of analogical books is doubtful. But for academics books in the USA, only 10 % of most pre 90´s editions, books are printed in acid base paper. It autodestroy in 25 years at most.Well before they turn yellow( look a t any bok printed in the 70´s). Beside that humidity from the enviroment or a/c , worms, bugs , rats, heat usually do the rest. I had a 1600(200 were court oppinions . 10 a year /20 years as lawyer) books : law , philosopy, economics,political sciences, opinions of the courts in my office. I began collecting in 1980.Two weeks ago , i collected what remains . 150 survived. I had read most of them or used in my research but still..
Now ,in my kindle I have recoverd some of the lost ones. There is foundation in the USA dedicated to spread conservative ( Im not conservative) and classic liberal( Im one) thinking. 800 well edited classics from Hamilton to Mises , from Smith to Buchannan . Mill and Milton. Dicey and Humboltd.And a huge natural law collection. So I was able to replace the 40 books i have bought theam in print. Sure, they will charge soon for them but they have charged a symbolic quantity always.
My literary colection( more or less same amount) is in far better shape but i have a humudifier to protect them and still many have ended in the trash.

Jose_K said...

And since too many law books are only recopilations ( Like casebook, especially here with no stare decissis) or exegisis, as some german lawyer said,the legislator changes a comma and a full library end in the trash.

PackerBronco said...

Synova said...
My opinion...

No student OWES more money to a textbook writer. Nor does life OWE a textbook writer a continuing income stream.


I can't disagree with that. It's why I strive to make each edition of my titles different and valuable to the professor and the student.

I would prefer an e-book system in which each student who uses my textbook pays me and my publisher, at different rates if they are renting the book for a semester (like I did with my history of asian pottery class) versus owning the book for continued study in their field.

Do you have a problem with that? Or would still call that theft?

Chip Ahoy said...

Maybe I had just get into the pop-up book business. I could stand as counterforce to this ineluctable development. Something like the high fidelity vinyl people, except entirely different.

Joe said...

Textbook publishers are idiots who shot themselves in their collective feet years ago. Instead of printing books on shitty paper designed to last four months, they printed "quality" monstrosities.

Then again, we are talking about one clueless industry selling to another.

cokaygne said...

I don't really know enough to comment, but I enjoy this thread.

I'm retired and read only for pleasure. Kindle is revolutionary. Have bought and am reading a lot of classics, many of which are free or sold at a ridiculously low price.

Apple is trying somehow to beat Amazon at the e-reader game. Reminds me of when they just about gave away Macs to educators, but had a huge markup for everyone else. Big corporation and government bought PCs cause they were cheaper. Eventually when people started buying computers for home and personal use, they bought PCs so they could work at home. Schools have had to adapt because their pupils have PCs at home. Unless they can clone Jobs (they're probably working on it) Apple is finished.

It is an old story. You can try to make money on volume, or try to make it on markup, but you cannot do both. Amazon and Microsoft are one pole and Apple with higher education are the other pole.

Bob_R said...

The way that prices will be reduced is through self publishing. (Authors get 10-15% royalties on textbooks.) Maybe there are some cases where the publishing house provides substantive help with the production of the text, but there are many where they do not. If you are prepared to create (and/or get rights for) your own pictures it's pretty easy now to self publish. Self publishing has some risks for some academics since the prestige of certain publishing houses helps build a case for promotion and tenure. But people in the P&T race seldom write textbooks.

I'll have to download the iBooks Author app. So far I have not seen any ebook publishing app that works well for math. I have a textbook written in LaTex that I've been trying to convert to an ebook and I have not been having any luck. I'd be happy to put it on Kindle or iBooks for $10. The competition is $125.

Steve in Philly said...

One techie response to this is to see how Amazon responds.
As a parent who's just gotten through kids in college I may dislike textbook price inflation - but how is it different from all other college cost inflation? It ain't just the textbooks . . .
As a practical matter, having followed the Apple Ed launch announcement this past week my first response to iPads as ed tools wes that it won't help poor kids in the least. We're talking not about e-books as much as iPads. Does anyone - ANYONE - have any idea what happens to a poor kid who has to walk to/from school carrying a tech toy? Those iPads wouldn't last past the first two weeks of school in neighborhoods where they'd do the most good. Shiny high tech! Helping kids LEARN! Well, some kids. I don't believe that the digital divide is as wide as advertised, but it could become that wide, and worse.

Bill said...

The real problem for many people--including me--is that we don't want to give Apple money or purchase an iPad, something we have no use for.

Besides, I can't stand reading books on an LCD screen--I have a Nook and absolutely love it, but e-ink is massively different than a backlit computer screen. I understand what Apple is doing, but I'll be more than happy to keep my physical textbooks.

Kirk Parker said...

PackerBronco,

Yeah, there's a reason the Open source curriculum stuff was spearheaded by the math folks.

wv: horder - a person who keeps all their old textbooks.

PackerBronco said...

Joe said...
Textbook publishers are idiots who shot themselves in their collective feet years ago. Instead of printing books on shitty paper designed to last four months, they printed "quality" monstrosities.


Joe, I hate to say, but I suspect you don't know a damn thing about the industry. Like everything, the publishers respond to the demand. Students like bright shiny pages with pretty pictures and little text. They want blocks of text no bigger than a twitter message or at most a blog post.

True story: I was talking with my publisher about design changes for my next book. The idea was to incorporate more images, more blurbs, and a lot less text. "Kids just don't want to read," my publisher explained to me.

"They don't want to read?" I replied, "uh, they do know they're buying a book, right?"