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20 Jan

The $9.99 Textbook

The $9.99 Textbook

Amazon announced today that they are going to offer 70% royalties to authors/content companies that put their books on the Kindle.  Business Insider points out some of the limitations and restrictions, but they seem pretty fair.  If you are an author aligning yourself with this model, the restrictions are a good thing as it tries to push everyone towards the future.  The most interesting point is requiring the book to be between $2.99 and $9.99.  This point got me thinking – what if textbooks were $9.99? It’s a pretty insane concept with textbooks usually being 10x that in price.  Why not though?  We’re teaching our kids with analog methods in a digital world. (Some articles worth reading for context before preceding:

Here’s how I envision what the textbook publishing company of the future and McGraw Hill killer looks like:

  • Books are $9.99 –  There’s no reason textbooks should be $100+.  This helps eliminate the used textbook market where authors never see a single dime.
  • 50% Royalties To Authors- We can’t look at the authors as worker bees, but as partners.  50% means you’re partners on a journey to educate the world and that’s important.  Disrupting and recreating an industry lets you rewrite the rules.  This is an important one.
  • Primarily Digital-  E-Readers are starting to grow in popularity and I think it’s no longer a question of if, but when they become the norm.  We’re not even in the first inning of the game (national anthem, land of the free+home of the brave being sung), so prices will go down on the hardware.
  • Cross Platform- Don’t have an ereader?  That’s perfectly a-okay.  If you have a Computer, iPhone/iTouch, or anything with a screen you should be able to use the book.  Right now Amazon offers the Kindle software on my iPhone, PC, and Kindle itself.  I think it’s fair to say most people have these devices.  B&N is doing the same with the Nook.  When Apple releases the Tablet, I bet we will be able to further interact with our textbooks.  I see the Kindle as the Nintendo 64 and the Apple Tablet as an XBox 360.  Want your good ole print edition?  Purchase it from LuLu for a cheap price.
  • A Living Document and the Death of the “Edition”- New information is released every day on certain subjects.  No longer do we have to wait and pay more when new information is released.  If a subject is updated, the author (or readers) should have the ability to share links to new relevant information.  Most of useful things I’ve learned about business have been through resources outside of the classroom.  As an author, I should be able to update the book instantaneously with new information.
  • Superstar Teachers-  Think for a second of the teachers that changed your lives.  You probably have a few of them.  They’re the superstars that need to be recognized and writing the textbooks of the future.  I never had the honor of taking a class with Randy Pausch, but he is the perfect example of someone that should be an author of the textbook of the future.

In addition to the itself, there should be an aspect to the book that is online:

  • Facebook Connect Enabled- I want to be able to interact with everyone else reading the book.  If I have a question on a concept taught or need help, I should be able to interact with thousands of others.  Right now, tens of thousands of students read the same textbook at the same time, yet they can only interact with the same 30 people in their class.  That’s utterly ridiculous.
  • Screencast Enabled- This might not make sense for every subject, but for things like programming/math/etc. it makes a ton of sense.  I find screencasts to be the best way to learn programming.
  • Knowledge as a Platform- This is a really rough idea floating around in my head.  What if developers could take data, problem sets, questions,etc. and create applications related to the material?  ie- Create a flash game based upon a set of problems offered to a user.
  • A Two Way Conversation- Most books have the authors email somewhere.  Why can’t a chapter have Disqus comments or the author have a twitter account?  It might not scale out too well, but I can’t imagine they would get too many tweets at first.  If a guy like Fred Wilson can respond in the comments to blog posts on his investments, why can’t an author respond to people reading his work?  Could you imagine reading a textbook, tweeting the author, and getting a response back?  That’s utterly simple, yet mind blowing.

I don’t know where you start.  You’d have to pick a niche.  You certainly could not go after the K-12 market and where the lobbyists own the space.  Homeschooled kids, college level topics where the professor can pick, and continued professional education make the most sense for points of entry.

  • Narkor

    Sure, if you don't want to pay all those pesky editors or fact checkers. Very few textbooks end up with money in the author's pocket – the large costs are because of all the people involved that aren't the author. You might as well just print off pages of Wikipedia and use that – because it will be far more reliable than a ten buck textbook that hasn't had any fact checking or editing because those things are a luxury.

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    It's an important detail, but one the Internet solves easily. If we
    can recreate the encyclopedia for free, we can certainly make
    textbooks that are paid for correct.

  • Narkor

    As Wikipedia's problems with expertise show, this isn't the case at all. Wikipedia truth is about who is the most persistent editor, not who actually knows what they are talking about. Editing and fact checking is long, tireless and thankless work. It doesn't get done properly unless you pay someone good money to do it.

    You've got caught up in the cult of the amateur (… ) – that somehow experts and their knowledge don't have any place in education. What sort of society do you expect to build with half-arsed textbooks? One that falls even further behind the education standards of the rest of the world.

    You know what textbooks are going to be published for $10 – the ones that assert evolution is wrong (and don't think that the creationists won't get involved in your little peer group editing project), that MMR vaccine causes autism (lots of motivated editors there) and that Global Warming is a hippy plot.

  • Darren Lehane

    Great post yet again, Jason.

    Have you seen a recent Diggnation episode discussing the Apple Tablet?

    Kevin Rose touches on some of the points you make here about the possibility of implementing such social aspects into the Tablet's eReader. E.g. Comments on certain pages, discussions, etc.

    If I remember correctly, he also talks about how you could “follow” people in a Twitter-like fashion so when you're reading through a book you can see comments that all those people have left on those pages, etc. which is also similar to the idea above.

    I don't know about the whole price point aspect, but the “Living Document” definitely seems lucrative.

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    Once again, the same could have been said for wikipedia back in the day, and things turned out pretty well I believe. I'm not suggesting peer editing/ wiki style editing either.

  • barbarabaptiste

    Could someone PLEASE solicit Pearson to sign on….YESTERDAY! I signed up for a College Speech course. It is internet blended….all homework, tests, etc. The *&^&%%^& program does not support Windows7 …but, the best…it does not support MAC…. How can this be? Ludicrous. Antiquated. How can an institution of higher learning function with 1960's (80's at best) technology! How can they be allowed to “charge” $65.00 for this nightmare of a learning experience. Who has hours upon hours to spare just to “try” to get it up and running….which I have been “trying” to do…thwarted at every turn…one of which is getting an old laptop up and running to “try” and support installation of this program that (supposedly) will allow XP & Vista…and only Explorer! Do you think the education system, publishing especially, needs to join in the New Millenium….by yesterday! (ThankYouVeryMuch for listening to/reading my diatribe).

    PS Anyone out there who has had experience with these Pearson “educational?” programs and can offer any assistance, it would be greatly appreciated.