Traditional dead tree publishing is giving way to tablets and e-readers. This shift is making waves in the school textbook industry, and Nature Publishing Group is eager to capitalize. TechCrunch reports that Nature is moving forward with its $49 electronic textbook “Principles of Biology,” what the publisher is calling an “interactive textbook,” or “i-text.”
Vikram Savkar, the senior vice president and publishing director of Nature Publishing Group, told TechCrunch that “Principles of Biology” is unlike any textbook that has come before, in that it is truly “born digital.” The i-text will reportedly be the first in a line that Nature plans to release in the field of life and physical science interactive textbooks.
“Principles of Biology” isn’t a simple e-book or PDF file, but a fully interactive, dynamic website that can be customized by any instructor of the course. Built-in reader assessments are available, and the i-text works on any device that can access the site, whether it be a desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone or e-reader.
According to Savkar, Nature Publishing Group is hesitant to call “Principles of Biology” a “textbook” at all. Even monikers like “interactive textbook” and “i-text” fail to capture exactly what’s going on, as the ideas behind such concepts are still largely rooted in the past. For the sake of appealing to familiarity, calling it a “textbook” is a balm that will conceivably draw even the most traditional-minded college professors into the fold when it comes time to choose textbooks for students.
TechCrunch notes that “Principles of Biology” makes other concessions to old world publishing. One is the cover page. In an e-text, it serves no other purpose than to be aesthetically pleasing. For veterans of digital texts, it’s simply a speed bump slowing entry into the work. Here again, though, this caters to the purchasing audience: instructors.
Publishing companies are no doubt bristling over the price point of electronic texts like “Principles of Biology,” as paper texts typically demand several times more than the $49 price point. That’s because the value is inflated at the outset in order to absorb what publishers consider “lost sales” when a textbook is resold multiple times. Electronic texts, on the other hand, are a great benefit to cash conscious students.
A huge flaw in Nature Publishing Group’s strategy for “Principles of Biology” is that it is a website that requires an active internet connection. Adobe Air reportedly offers an app that allows desktops and laptops to access such e-texts offline, but tablets and smartphones don’t currently have access to this feature, notes TechCrunch. Plus, page navigation on smaller screens is more difficult, even on devices like the Kindle Fire. According to Savkar, however, updates every second Tuesday of the month will address such issues.
While some critics believe Nature Publishing Group is taking a risk with the i-text “Principles of Biology,” Savkar sees a winner in the making. As it typically takes five years to get a hard copy of a textbook to market, the 18 months it takes e-textbooks to become available makes things easier. Plus, printing and distribution costs are effectively nil.
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