There’s a ton of excitement around eTextbooks these days, and understandably so. Textbooks are one of the most frustrating aspects of being a student these days: the cost of buying books, struggling with (intentional) changes between different editions of books, and the aggravation of buying a required book that the professor never ends up using.
In other words, the entire textbook experience is ripe for a change, and there are a number of companies just chomping at the bit to get involved. We recently took a look at a couple of of the leading options for the classroom this fall and beyond.
First there’s CourseSmart. They’re founded by a consortium of textbook publishers, so they’ve got no shortage of content that schools are already using. And they’ve also got their own iPad App. At first glance, between the content and delivery, they’d seem to have the whole eTextbook problem wrapped up. But beyond their edge with the content and the delivery, they’re not doing a ton of innovation. Selling the same content at the same prices in a new format doesn’t by itself address any of the standard textbook frustrations.
One company heading in the right direction is Inkling, who are building more interactive versions of textbook content. They’re working with textbook publishers to take proven content, and add in features like note-taking, highlighting, quizzes and more. And while the prices aren’t dramatically different, students can buy content chapter-by-chapter which may reduce the cost, or at least allow them to try out the app with real content without committing to the entire cost of a textbook.
Going even further is Kno, who are building a dedicated educational device with note-taking, eTextbooks and a number of other productivity tools built in. They’re planning dual-screen and single-screen versions, and though pricing hasn’t been announced, it’s said to be “under $1000″. While the idea of the Kno sounds fantastic, we wonder if students will pay a premium price for a dedicated educational device, when there are already very popular general devices which can do all of the same things via various apps (like this charming app for note-taking).
Finally, we’re keeping our eyes on some other people who are out to make more dramatic changes to the way eTextbooks are written and distributed. ElevenLearning is one such company. They’re working on crowd-sourced textbooks written by experts, then edited and maintained by the community of educators and consumers. They’ve only got a couple of titles so far, but if they can build up a library of useful content, they stand to make a disruptive change to the standard textbook publishing model, and students are likely to be the big winners. Taking the big publishers out of the equation is likely to bring prices down dramatically.
Are there any other eTextbook providers we missed? Do you have any experiences to share with any of the textbook providers we mentioned here? Leave a comment below and let us know!