Macmillan's New Digital Textbooks Let Profs Reorder, Rewrite, and Stick It to Rival Academics

Textbook

Macmillan's newly announced DynamicBooks textbooks are a huge change for the stodgy, ultra-conservative world of academic writing. The digital textbooks give professors the power to reorder chapters, insert extra reading, delete irrelevant passages, rewrite individual sentences, and scribble in the margins. Oh, and they'll cost half the price of physical textbooks.

The inherent question here is whether professors should actually have the right to alter textbooks as they see fit--but the fact of the matter is, they'll do that anyway. Today's college classes often require a textbook, of which only half the content is relevant and which costs over a hundred dollars, as well as a coursepack or smattering of disorganized articles to supplement it. These DynamicBooks would allow profs to simply streamline their existing syllabus into a single digital file--essentially, allowing them to do what they already do, and better.

DynamicBooks will also be offered at a heft discount, partly because modern physical textbooks are designed to be resold after use (which in turn gives the publishers license, or at least they presume license, to charge a ridiculous premium). Digital books can't easily be resold, but they also eliminate the need for printing, so those savings are passed on. For example, Psychology, by Daniel L. Schacter, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Daniel M. Wegner, lists for $134.29, but the DynamicBooks version will sell for $48.76.

Some writers and students have expressed concern that professors might change books to reflect personal beliefs--say, a science teacher might change a chapter on evolution to instead promote intelligent design. Macmillan doesn't condone that kind of rewriting, but also doesn't provide a built-in way to check it--instead saying they "would rely on students, parents and other instructors to help monitor changes." But reaction has mostly been very positive, especially from students--and this summer's launch of the Apple iPad tablet may encourage incoming college freshmen to be the first to really embrace digital textbooks. Macmillan expects to launch its first 100 titles this August, just in time for the 2010/2011 school year.

[Via The New York Times]

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9 Comments

  • Leonard Waks

    Textbooks are a multi-billion $$ industry. The bill for K-12 is over $5 Billion. This represents about 7% of all school costs.

    McMillan is late to the game. There are excellent open access textbooks in most fields, and new publishers have been generating them for some time.

    The appropriate next step is for college textbooks to be generated on an open platform, sponsored by the scientific and academic professional organizations, and made available for free.

  • Leonard Waks

    Textbooks are a multi-billion $$ industry. The bill for K-12 is over $5 Billion. This represents about 7% of all school costs.

    McMillan is late to the game. There are excellent open access textbooks in most fields, and new publishers have been generating them for some time.

    The appropriate next step is for college textbooks to be generated on an open platform, sponsored by the scientific and academic professional organizations, and made available for free.

  • Leonard Waks

    Textbooks are a multi-billion $$ industry. The bill for K-12 is over $5 Billion. This represents about 7% of all school costs.

    McMillan is late to the game. There are excellent open access textbooks in most fields, and new publishers have been generating them for some time.

    The appropriate next step is for college textbooks to be generated on an open platform, sponsored by the scientific and academic professional organizations, and made available for free.

  • Rita Ashley

    So much for copyright laws. Authors no longer have any protection. It is one thing to comment on content, a profs role, but to change it? There is no accountability. Allowing a comment function may be a good compromise, but outright change corrupts the author's work. And would it be legal?

  • Josh McCormack

    Sounds like a great way for a text book company to differentiate, and actually improve. It's refreshing to see digital content of books cost less, instead of margin hungry publishers trying to make people pay for paper and distribution that don't apply.

  • Chris Reich

    It's a possible step in reducing the racket of "education". At least this reduces the paper waste. I'm not really a Wiki fan unless credentials are required for modifying text. The students aren't writing their own books so this is a good thing. And it allows the insertion of CURRENT content.

    In the example given, evolution and intelligent design, the new head of the NIH is an intelligent design proponent though he calls it Bio Logos. A prof could insert articles about Francis Collins and open the topic for discussion. Can someone with such beliefs conduct himself in a 'pure' scientific fashion without influence of held religious beliefs?

    As for profs modifying content to suit their viewpoints, they do that now. No change there. I'm for anything reducing education costs. This is one of the final gasps of the current system which is on its way out.

    It's ironic that education is lagging so far behind society. In the past, education has been at the forefront. We are in for a total change in the delivery system of education.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Marc Grossman

    While this does sound great, I am wondering if Macmillan has thought about students with disabilities and how they will access these new text books. If Macmillan wants help, click on www.afbconsulting.org .

  • Yannig Roth

    It's like a wiki for a textbook isn't it ? It makes me think of Google's Wave - which I have quite some difficulties to use and to understand... Anyway, I think that rethinking academic writing can be a very interesting thing to do !