The Complex World of the Textbook

Who knew the college textbook marketplace could be so complex? The agents in this ecosystem and their interests are so intertwined that as a whole it poses a massive amount of inertia for those who attempt to change the marketplace. I’ve been involved for about a year with an effort to change the textbook ecosystem for Ohio college students, and I am amazed at the complexity with each new layer of the onion that is peeled back. I thought it worthwhile to document my findings here and ask what insights others have.

Selling Placement in Library Search Results

This morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus blog has a story with the title “Should Colleges Sell Ads to Pay for New Technology?” that links to a blog posting by Martin Weller of the Open University in the U.K. As it happens, a colleague and I were talking about a strikingly similar topic at lunch yesterday: not just that advertisements could pay for new technology but that ads could pay for content in the libraries. I felt strangely uncomfortable with the concept, and I still do, so (in jester fashion) what better way to explore the discomfort than in a posting here on DLTJ.

Discussions of Textbooks Hit the Mainstream Media

There has been an increasing focus on the cost of textbooks in the mainstream media this year, and I don’t think it is the case that I’m just becoming more sensitized to it. Take for example the editorial from the Washington Post on February 7th. The second paragraph succinctly describes the issues being debated most often:

There are several reasons that textbooks are so costly. For one, even though there have been no major advances in fields such as calculus and elementary physics in decades or even centuries, publishers still churn out new editions of textbooks on these subjects every three or four years. The changes are typically superficial, but they prevent students from being able to purchase used, older editions. Publishers also frequently bundle unwanted additional materials such as CD-ROMs and study guides with textbooks. Professors rarely assign these extra materials, which drive up costs, and students often cannot sell the books back to bookstores once the shrink-wrap has been removed. Publishers can get away with these shenanigans because there’s a fundamental disconnect in the textbook marketplace: The people paying for the books (the students) are not the ones choosing them (the teachers).

“Teaching with Digital Texts” presentation

At the Ohio Digital Commons for Education conference yesterday I had the privilege of chairing a panel for a session called “Teaching with Digital Texts: Comparative Experiences from the Field“. The panel was a mixture of the principle investigators and the publisher representatives from two pilot projects that ran last fall testing the economics and suitability of enhanced digital learning materials. The abstract of the session and the participants were:

Textbook Disclosure Rules in U.S. House Bill

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an article today [subscription required] about legislation pending on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that in part includes rules for disclosure of textbook selection and pricing. The lever is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a major law that governs federal student aid. (In other words, it is unlikely that, if passed, an institution would not follow these proposed rules because it would mean not getting federal financial aid money for their students. Nice lever, eh?) The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the “College Opportunity and Affordability Act,” the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, on Thursday, February 7th.

Seeking Details on Websites for Digital Textbooks

This topic is a bit far from “library technology” but part of my day job at OhioLINK has been involved with research on digital textbooks. To that end, I’ve been looking at companies that sell a digital form of the printed-and-bound textbook. The sites that I’ve found are summarized below; I would appreciate comments (public or private) that list other sites that you know about so this list can be as comprehensive as possible. Also, if you happen to be researching the same area, please get in touch if you are interested in comparing notes. The list is broken down into two parts, and the companies are listed alphabetically within each part.

ODCE2008 Preliminary Program, Registration Now Available

ODCE Conference LogoThe preliminary program [PDF] and conference registration for the 2008 Ohio Digital Commons for Education (ODCE) Conference is now available. As a member of the conference planning committee and a track co-chair for the Moving Ohio Forward track, I got an early look at the sessions to be presented and can honestly say that they are an exciting mix of high-tech and high-touch ideas. For example, just in the Moving Ohio Forward track, there are programs about sharing digital learning objects, Creative Commons licensing of digital learning objects, a report on the pilot projects of enhanced online textbooks, and a “blank-easel” attendee participation session called Ohio Has Too Many (Fill in the Blank) Programs; Let’s Get Rid of a Few. All of that, plus a keynote presentation by Eric D. Fingerhut, the new Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, and six preconference workshops, means we’re going to have a great meeting!

Textbooks On Reserve Program at Miami University

At the Academic Library Association of Ohio meeting last week, I saw a presentation by John Burke, director of the library at Miami University – Middletown, and Krista McDonald, director of the library Miami University – Hamilton called “You Can’t Do That! Library-Initiated Textbooks on Reserve Programs.” It was an introduction to their program to provide access to textbooks through the library’s course reserve service. It was such a great session that I felt compelled to write it up and share it with a larger audience.