Friday, February 26, 2010

Innovation Corner: Will the 20 Pound Textbook Still EXist in 5 Years?

Some interesting developments are occurring in the eBook/publishing arena. The recent O'Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) Conference in New York (February 22-24, 2010) covered many topics including eBooks. As recorded on the Smashwords blog (Smashwords is an eBook publisher and distributor), Raymond Kurzweil, the man behind the new Blio ebook platform, spoke of “how most forward-thinking people consider technology progression as linear (steady predictable progress), when in fact some of the most important technical progressions are exponential (progress accelerates over time, catching everyone by surprise). Ebooks are likely an exponential phenomena. They're not a fad, and they may reshape the book market faster than any of us believe.”

The posting on Smashwords ( includes some interesting stats (see the section on “Stats, Stats, Stats”) such as “Ebook customers would be willing to pay more for ebooks if they come with social-media-enabled tools that help them discuss and share the books with others.”

The posting continues, “[What are the] most popular devices for reading ebooks: This is interesting. You might guess, as I did, the Amazon Kindle. Wrong. The most popular device for 47% of customers is their computer screen. Kindle comes in at a close and impressive second place at 32%, followed by 11% for the iPhone, 10% for iPod Touch (note this adds up to 22%, pre-iPad), 9% each for the Blackberry and netbooks, and 8% each for the Barnes & Noble nook and the Sony Reader.”

The most interesting section of the post (“The Future of Digital Textbooks”) states “Whenever publishers create content for which there is great demand (such as textbooks), yet they make that content prohibitively expensive and inaccessible (textbooks), it causes customers to seek out alternative content options (piracy, used textbooks, etc.), all of which provide the publisher no economic benefit.”

“Digital textbooks offer potential relief to students and their parents. The challenge for college textbook publishers is to make the transition to lower cost digital products without putting themselves out of business. I think Flat World (see is well-positioned for the future of textbook publishing….”

If you want to know more about Flat World Knowledge, which offers “remixable textbooks by expert authors” check out the site (above) or the blog posting at

Another potential eBook/textbook tool is Scribd (, “a place for writers to sell books they can't afford to publish and for people to discover others with similar reading interests” (see which has a new send-to-mobile-devices feature that enables readers to select books on the Scribd site and send them to the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s The Nook, the iPhone or a mobile device using the Android operating system (such as the Motorola Droid, Samsung Beam, Nexus One, and HTC Hero). Scribd currently hosts over 10 million documents (growing by 10% each month) and unlike Amazon and Barnes & Noble, their emphasis in on the small self-published author. What does that mean? College instructors can author textbooks or chapters or papers and distribute to the student’s existing mobile device via Scribd.

So when textbooks skyrocket in price, faculty members can author or remix digital versions, and ebook readers, mobile devices and the computer screen are common and popular ways to access content…what do you think is the future of the hardcover or softcover textbook?

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