Cheap Textbooks? Baloney, Baloney, Baloney

January 20, 2012

Did I mention “baloney”? I read “Publisher Terry McGraw on Steve Jobs and Digital Textbooks: “This Was His Vision” and stopped what I was doing to capture my personal views on this topic. Here’s the passage that spiked my blood pressure:

After Apple’s big education presentation yesterday, McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw chatted with a gaggle of reporters, and explained things like the logic behind $15 digital textbooks.

Sure, there may a few $15 textbooks. There are even some free textbooks floating around if you are teaching a class in introductory perl. But where the rubber meets the road in Texas or Florida, the textbooks are going to remain expensive and only get more expensive. It does not matter what a senior publishing executive thinks at this point in time. The big textbook outfits are like a government agency. The president exerts precious little control over what these bureaucracies crank out. For what it is worth, here are the points I jotted down:

  1. Publishers have to maximize their revenue. It is the American way. Look at the cost of electronic books on Amazon over the last three years. Prices are going up. The prices will keep going up. Beavers do what beavers do.
  2. The digital textbooks will cost more to create than their print counterparts. Publishers have to spend a lot of dough to be decent video, entice programmers to make a multimedia thing work, and hire expensive specialists who have more than an a BA in art history from an Ivy League school. Publishers are not good at making games and movies which is the direction digital content is heading.
  3. As the method of teaching shifts from the prison model to an online framework, alternative content types will start getting traction. Publishers will buy these outfits and try to recreate the glory days of state wide text book adoption or the wild and crazy personalization required to sell textbooks in Saskatchewan.

Beavers do what beavers do; that is, charge as much money as possible for content intermediated by outfits like McGraw Hill, Cengage, and others. The gnawing is not nibbling away at prices. The gnawing means the prices are going up. And make this content searchable? Not likely in my life time.

Stephen E Arnold, January 20, 2012

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