Amazon has just created a whole new round of piracy. So if you are a textbook publisher…or any publisher for that matter what are your choices?
A) Continue to pretend that that Kindle does not exist and continue with your model of creating traditional textbooks. […]
B) Embrace that media and textbooks have changed that this is the start of an evolution of textbooks and content, and start creating ways for students to purchase their books in Kindle format. […]
William Gibson is correct: “The future is here, but not evenly distributed.” Huge parts of the U.S. will continue to need textbooks for the near term, particularly in poor inner-city and rural schools. Student and teachers in rich urban magnet schools and suburban schools — and even rich individuals in those poor schools — will start carrying Kindles with (some pirated) textbooks in them.
But the bigger tidal wave is just around the corner. I teach ancient history. I need access to things like the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Gospel according to Mark, Exodus, and the writings of people like Herodotus, Julius Caesar, Livy, and Suetonius. For decades, these works have been expensive or out of print for students. The solution was textbooks: massive, thousand page tomes of world history every bit as obsolete as the Nuremberg Chronicle. These texts had to cover everything: the rise of the Catholic Church, the Gupta Empire, the collapse of the Han Dynasty, the Mongol Ascendancy, Marco Polo, Erik the Red and Ibn Battuta.
I don’t need a textbook any more. I have Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, and other sources. I can build a ‘textbook’ specifically for my course, and put it online.
Has Amazon just changed the game? Will textbook publishers be able to wrap their heads around this fast enought to change their modle? Even the New York Times after knowing that they could save money by giving everyone a Kindle, can’t seem to fully wrap their head around the change.
Yes, Amazon has changed the game, in that Amazon has created a tool that enables the use of .pdfs in the classroom? Will textbook publishers be able to adjust to their changed business model? I doubt it. It’s in their interests to continue to milk poor rural and poor urban school districts for as long as possible; and as a result they will keep textbook prices high for a long time — as long as they can, really.
But really… there are plenty of free sources out there. If your school is using big, heavy literature books like those pictured here, well… you’re missing out. All of Jane Austen, all of Charles Dickens, the whole Bible, numerous other books of literature and poetry… they’re all online, and free.
I know that teachers have lots to do, really I do. “But we don’t have time to assemble our own textbooks!” I hear you cry. Yet the truth is, a teacher who know how to find, remix, and represent content has more 21st century options than one who doesn’t. Find partners, build teams, create content specific to your school district, and undersell (cheap or free!) the textbook publishers using free online content.
The real sticking points here will be maps and images. We need access to more images, so that we’re not stuck all the time with the same half-dozen images of authors, political figures, battles and historical events. We need to find content providers who are willing to unlock their digital images and troves of maps in exchange for the privilege of having the archetypal icon of Edward III and his Model Parliament in all the textbooks, that students and teachers will travel dozens or hundreds of miles to see in person.