Higher education: E-Textbook's Fast Growth

As a graduate student at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, AZ, Dan Kerrigan had extensive experience with e-textbooks. Nearly all of his textbooks were in PDF format. Kerrigan, an assistant fire marshal for the East Whiteland Township, PA, Fire...


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Nature Publishing Group recently launched a biology e-book, Principles of Biology, which it says will be constantly updated to include the latest scientific information. It contains interactive elements, much as what Apple has incorporated into its latest software and book publishing apps, which are based on e-pub3. The price of this textbook, according to company sources, will be $49.

CourseSmart, a privately held company in California, provides e-book versions of some 40,000 North American higher education textbooks, including fire and EMS. It was founded in 2007 by publishers including Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group and John Wiley & Sons. The company has apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices that let users rent its e-books from any computer or web-enabled device.

“The student and faculty response has been great as evidenced by Course-Smart’s more than 2.5 million users,” said Gabrielle Zucker, a CourseSmart spokesperson. “In 2011, an ECAR EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research student technology study (National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology) found that 57% of respondents indicated they use e-books or e-textbooks in some extent and roughly one-third wish more of their instructors would use e-textbooks, noting that ‘e-books are cheaper than regular hardbound textbooks, easier to carry around and more accessible all the time.’ We are continually adding new titles and editions to our catalog that includes content from 33 publishers and more than 24,000 titles.”

Zucker added, “CourseSmart provides guaranteed, upfront savings of up to 60% when compared to print textbooks and allows students to access their e-textbooks anytime, anywhere via any computer or web-enabled device. Students are also able to print as many pages as they would like and particularly enjoy utilizing features such as bookmarking, note taking within the text (the digital equivalent of writing in the margins), highlighting, zooming in on charts or graphs and searching by keyword. Adoption of e-textbooks is growing rapidly and we expect this to continue.”

Apple’s push for e-textbook delivery

What Apple did to the music business, with its digital, portable and innovative devices and applications, signals what some believe the company has in store for publishing. Earlier this year, Apple announced iBooks2 for iPad, which offers users an app with the ability to interact with e-textbook animations, diagrams, photos and videos. According to Apple, textbook heavyweights such as Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson “will deliver educational titles on the iBook store with most priced at $14.99 or less, and with the new iBooks author, a free authoring tool available…(Authors using) a Mac can create stunning iBooks textbooks.”

The move by Apple, supported by traditional textbook publishers, is designed to promote the company’s iPad product, which at an estimated 1.5 million already being used in education is having little trouble on its own finding a niche.

“Education is deep and Apple’s DNA and iPad may be our most exciting education project yet…iPad is rapidly becoming adopted by schools across the U.S. and around the world,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing. “Now with iBooks2 for iPad, students have a more dynamic, engaging interactive way to read and learn, using the device they already love.”

However, some critics decry Apple’s restriction of using entire iBook content on different devices and operating systems. Only when content is used through Apple’s iTunes store is its complete interactivity possible. This is a move some say will limit the development and widespread use of the e-textbook software.

 

Changing electronic

publishing language

At the heart of Apple’s iBooks app is ePub, the de facto e-book formatting language. EPub is a free and open e-book standard offered through the International Digital Publishing Forum. EPub is used by Apple, Google and others in the digital publishing business. With the recent announcement of ePub3, text formatting became much more powerful and potentially a game-changer for e-textbooks. The improved language allows the addition of audio, video and interactivity that will greatly change the e-book experience for users.