Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Doing It Right Digitally

I complain a lot about the broken textbook industry and how things continue to spiral out of control in a "chicken and egg" battle involving bookstores, publishers and students. The price of textbooks goes up -- sales go down. Prices go higher. Sales plummet further. It's a vicious cycle.

Everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else with very few parties actually looking for real solutions.

But sometimes there is good news -- a glimmer of light among the gathering storm cloud. Sometimes one or more of the groups out there tries something a bit different in an attempt to break the vicious and maddening cycle.

Not that many days ago, I blogged about a university department working with a publisher to offer a workable and very promising solution that I believe was good for the publisher, I know was good for the bookstore, and which I also believe was beneficial for students. A wonderful three way win situation.

And here is some hope in the world of digital books/ebooks that I'm quite delighted with.

First off, I'm very proud to be a member of the CCRA (Canadian Campus Retail Associates) and to know that the time and money we're investing in working together to come up with solutions like this that can actually benefit students and save them money on their textbooks.

Campus E-Bookstore is an initiative to allow for ePub format books to be downloaded by students. The initial offering, or phase one of the platform is a selection of the most popular public domain titles being used most often in North American campuses being offered for free. Full details can be seen on a NACS press release announcing the partnership between CCRA and NACS Media Solutions.

The idea is to help individual campus stores be able to provide easy links to these texts for those students looking for an alternative or compliment to existing course materials. With the ability to create dynamic links and an easy way to get a decent DSV (or Digital Study Version) copy downloaded with as little hassle as possible. These study versions have been produced in the EPUB format, enabling them to be viewed on most mobile reading devices, such as the Sony Reader.

I believe that a project like this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Just to reiterate -- a group of campus stores paid money to create digital material to be given out to students for free.

My own experience having access to POD technology in my bookstore has continued to demonstrate that even when students can get a public domain or open access textbook for free (via Project Gutenberg, etc), they will likely purchase a hard copy of the book if it is a REASONABLE PRICE. I use upper case for the words "reasonable price" because reasonable means different things to different people. But I have seen the positive effect of giving something away for free and offering a low-cost alternative hard copy. Those who wish not to or cannot afford to purchase the product but still access the content are happy -- those who want a hard copy for a decent price are happy. And sales of the reasonably priced hard copy typically increase.

Of course, FlatWorld Knowledge is another entity out there that has the right idea -- in a similar fashion, they offer free online versions of textbooks and reasonably priced hard copies available for sale.

There is a fantastic interview from CBC's Spark with Nora Young that you can download and listen to where Eric Frank explains the concept of Open Textbooks.

At the end of the day, I'm delighted to see another glimmer of hope in these two wonderful efforts to put a stop to the madness.

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