For the first time, Amazon has announced that on Christmas day, digital books outsold physical books.
What does this mean?
As a person who is a heavy reader, who lives in a house of heavy readers, I am not sure how I feel about this. My wife downloads digital books and most often reads from her laptop. Living in a small town with no bookstore for hundreds of kilometres in any direction, digital books are great for us. We can download any of the newest titles for cheaper than they are available on the bookstore shelves. An obvious advantage. On the other hand, there is nothing I like more than seeing everyone in our house curled up on the couch or stretched out on the floor reading a book. Simple nostalgia.
The advantages of publishing digitally are many. Put an ereader in the hands of each student in your classroom and then picture the scenarios that are possible. Access to hundreds of texts that you don’t have to store in your classroom. Access to texts at a cheaper rate than physical books are available at. The ability to update textbooks easily and instantly as new information becomes available. The ability to search for specific information contained in the texts easily using built in tools. Texts having animations and videos built in to them in order to demonstrate concepts instead of only still pictures.
The textbook industry will come under a steep challenge over the next few years. I think we will see many open source and creative commons options for schools. We will see community built textbooks. Textbooks that can be customized for different locations and needs. Of course textbook publishers will continue to design and release high quality content for these devices. A multi billion dollar industry will not simply fade away. Experimental programs underway in places like California may provide us with information and models about how implementation will look.
I haven’t done the research so I don’t know where the price point is on the devices to bring us to a tipping point but I think we must be near it. Both the Amazon Kindle and the Sony ereader are in the zone of $250 per device so replacing three textbooks in a classroom with an ereader is approximately the same price.
The issue after price point becomes content. Do you use wikified content that is community developed? Do you develop your own? Do you purchase from publishers? The content that you choose to use of course needs to be evaluated to ensure it is high quality and passes standards just as regular textbooks do. Other questions might revolve around what is possible with that content. Are the texts in a form that students can work with it; taking notes and highlighting difficult parts? Can students post questions or examples of their own directly in the text? WIll the devices be networked so that questions, comments and problems can be shared between students and classrooms? If the students in my classroom are using the same textbooks as another set of students across the globe, can they share their comments and thoughts on a text or a set of math problems? Can we post local examples of animals that live in our place (for example) and that be supplemented directly in the text by students in other places? In short, will the platforms that we get for these textbooks allow both “official” content as well as user generated ideas?
We have many questions to answer and ideas to work with, but in the end, I think the days of content that comes to us from publishers, handed down like the word of God, are coming to an end. I hope that we can ensure there are spaces for content that is developed by communities of people, high quality content that we can edit and mould to our own needs. I hope that textbooks will become more responsive to community needs and networked to allow for user generated content to enrich the process of learning that is possible.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/umpcportal/4115390517/sizes/m/