CES is over...now can we please get some e-textbooks?

CES is over...now can we please get some e-textbooks?

Summary: E-textbooks have been slow to catch on, partly because textbook publishers have a multi-billion dollar industry to protect and partly because devices suitable for accessing them either lacked functionality or weren't ubiquitous enough to be of benefit to students. However, if CES, a show by its very name focused on the consumer space rather than education or business, has shown us anything, it's that there are more than enough interesting devices available to let e-textbooks take off.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Hardware
7

E-textbooks have been slow to catch on, partly because textbook publishers have a multi-billion dollar industry to protect and partly because devices suitable for accessing them either lacked functionality or weren't ubiquitous enough to be of benefit to students. However, if CES, a show by its very name focused on the consumer space rather than education or business, has shown us anything, it's that there are more than enough interesting devices available to let e-textbooks take off.

While it's true that first-generation e-readers and their e-ink displays made for easy reading of text-heavy books, the latest generation of devices and software seem happy to sacrifice that particular advantage for drastically increased functionality. As PCWorld notes,

Are these devices truly e-readers? The whole point of electronic paper-based e-readers is that the display, which doesn't use a backlight, mimics the look of physical paper and is easier on the eyes than a bright, backlit LCD. I saw many LCD "e-readers" at the show, but none had those same qualities.

I don't care if they're not e-readers. I want a cheaper, smarter, better way to get pounds of books into a single device that can meet a variety of educational needs. I want software like Blio displaying interactive textbooks that link to additional web resources, videos, and other useful online tools. No e-ink? I don't think too many students (or administrators) will mind if they can cut textbook costs, access their books easily, and simply have their books live up to the 21st Century expectation of interactivity.

But here's the problem. CES gave us software, tablets, better netbooks, cheaper notebooks, "slates", and plenty of other ways to view and interact with a new generation of books. Right now, though, the books just aren't there. I didn't hear any announcements from Pearson or other major publishers about their new partnerships with Kurzweil and Microsoft to deliver great content with smart DRM on a Windows 7 slate. I didn't hear about the MSI/Houghton-Mifflin booth announcing a vast library of textbooks that had been ported to their new dual-screen color LCD e-book.

I'm sincerely hoping that the expression "Build it and they will come" applies here. Because the devices have been built. But if all I want to do is read the next installment of Twilight, I have a Kindle and a Sony Reader for that. If I want to be able to check off "EPUB" when our district is ordering new textbooks, I'm going to need some buy-in very soon from the publishers.

Topic: Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

7 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • e-textbook reader

    I have been waiting to read $230 (1982 dollars) and 45 pounds worth of textbooks since before Ben Bova wrote [i]CyberBooks[/i]. Of the two, the weight worries this grandfather more.

    Hurry it up, please.
    E Randall
  • I was wrong 10 years ago

    I applied for the equivalent of Mr. Dawson's job with a local school district 10 years ago. Part of the application process was to predict what technology the district should prepare for in 5 years. I predicted the e-book concept, and no I didn't get the job.

    I pointed out this device should be very durable, weatherproof, and be two-way wireless controlled by the school's servers. The school would lease its eTextBooks, and the wireless connection would eliminate those glued in errata pages. The teachers could administer multiple choice quizzes & tests in real-time or 'take home' form as desired, with electronic grading and student progress profiling for the teacher.

    This SHOULD have been ubiquitous 5 years ago, but as we can see, I was sadly, very sadly, wrong.
    Jim Johnson
  • Blio why? PDF already does it.

    What is the benefit of Blio to a user?

    Adobe PDF already does interactive multi-media (Flash is built-in). PDF already has DRM.

    Or better yet, just publish eTextbooks in HTML/CSS/Javascript. Then you can read them with any browser, and they would support interactivity and multimedia.
    gmeader
  • Forget about textbook publishers, support opensource

    The California Open Source Textbook Project (COSTP) is a collaborative, public/private undertaking. It has been created to address the high cost, content range, and consistent shortages of K-12 textbooks in California. http://www.opensourcetext.org/

    Basically, you can read the books for free online, but there were also other ways to get the book in other formats where you would have to pay. The company seemed to be gaining traction lately, with a nice round of funding, and now it's being reported that 40,000 students at over 400 colleges and universities will be using Flat World texts this fall. That sound you hear? It's an old stodgy market getting disrupted.

    Related to this, Slashdot points out that here in California, where the state was running a free digital textbook competition, the results showed that some of the open solutions won the competition and were considered better reference materials than the ones provided by big publishers. In fact, the e-texts from a small company called CK-12 seemed to do quite well -- 3 of the 4 online texts that were deemed to meet 100% of the state's standards all came from CK-12.

    Examples:
    http://linear.ups.edu/opentexts.html
    gmeader
  • RE: CES is over...now can we please get some e-textbooks?

    there's an elephant approaching...the iSlate has the
    support eco-system that will reliably support students and
    districts 'leasing' topics or chapters, not whole books!

    the publishers are in no hurry to leave the horse drawn era
    and enter the 'horse-less carriage' age.

    recall whenever there is a paradigm shift there are winners
    and losers...bug publishers are lining up as losing oerall in
    all this.
    it's a bit like expecting petrol companies coming up with
    an energy replacement system.
    the hydrogen economy is 'ready to go' but requires much
    higher fuel pricing.

    similar with textbooks....can get writers, editors in US(and
    here in Australia) with typsetting in India, then printing in
    China, and shipping back for a fraction of the cost of
    printing locally....so why cut out an entire segment of the
    book preparation workflow??

    the opportunity for writers to publish direct is the sleeper
    here...the major writing, state endoresed curriculum
    projects are just to ponderous and inflexible for what
    teachers are after.

    ...however, if the assessment never changes (point in time
    paper examination) there is no imperative to alter the
    content delivery...in this we have been confusing education
    and schooling for years...education needs e-book delivery
    (and the whole textbook idea to be re-visited)..schooling
    to gain credentials and get a high entrance score does
    not...this is a gatekeeper strategy and does not require
    more students, just 'better' students (who can answer
    exam questions)

    the schooling industry meets education industry has never
    been more obvious!
    garybau
  • RE: CES is over...now can we please get some e-textbooks?

    An interesting analogy with iTunes and the APPS store.

    The high cost and effort in us lesser mortals publishing a book/short
    story/article may be circumvented if we have a similar medium for selling
    'the
    written word'.

    Hopefully a 'white knight' will come forth and move the power back to
    the
    people.
    Rodney Nagel
    • Same mistakes, different column

      I love how industry types, IT types, and every idiot who fancies him/herself a writer thinks s/he has the solution to the "future" of the book. And everytime, the same mistakes.

      Chris, once again, you make no distinction (as you ALWAYS FAIL to do) between solutions for K-12 and Higher Ed. K-12 can work with ebooks that have ONEROUS DRM, maybe. And certainly lightning the backpack weight of primary and secondary students is a good thing. Finally, a school district can afford to buy a multiyear license for a book to be reused each year by different students. Then again, what do you do with poor school districts who cannot keep up their infrastructure, much less afford a few thousand e-readers. Even platform independent e-books would still need the e-part, and there is still a digital divide in the United States, especially in rural areas and some inner cities.

      Higher ed is a whole different ballgame. Want to keep your book? Not with the DRM that is in place nowadays. You can keep it with yet another fee and you end up paying more than if you bought a used book. COSTP is a fine solution for K-12, maybe; but again, not for higher ed.

      Some advocate eliminating publishers, allowing writers to direcly market their wares. Fine for non-academic books (even then, I avoid "self-published" work like the plague, as it is always BAD), but people who advocate this have either never written a book or fancy themselves a writer and boor their poor acquaintences with their "knowledge" and foist upon them their latest "gem." Editors and publishers provide a much needed filter and corrective to a bunch of cranks scratching out their own ridiculous views of whatever.

      In the end, let me ask three questions. First, what media will ebooks be kept on? Paper has been around for thousands of years, flash drives for about twenty (not even counting floppies in three sizes, zip drives, cds, dvds, and tape). Second, traditional books have been around for a long time because they are "hardware" independent and portable. Finally, and no-one has ever had an answer for this, drop a traditional textbook from 20 feet in the air. Then drop a brick on it. Now do the same with your Kindle. Especially since Chris advocates giving out Kindles to grade and high schoolers, tell me, which medium is now readable? There is a reason that I have books from 40 years ago but cannot access some files I have stored on a 5 1/4" floppy.
      Citizen Gkar