Not Your Grandmother’s Textbooks

November 30, 2010
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Why lug around a 15-pound textbook when the same material — plus multimedia add-ons like videos and animated infographics — could be accessed electronically? Today’s digital textbooks are increasingly interactive, not to mention significantly less costly than their print counterparts.

Last February, Brian Napack ’88, president of Macmillan, oversaw the launch of the company’s DynamicBooks, which allows instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes — dubbed “a kind of Wikipedia of textbooks” by the New York Times. “It’s the first time any publisher has allowed the instructor to edit copyrighted content,” Napack says. Students can choose between an electronic or print-on-demand version.

Offering students pricing and format options is a trend that has already been adopted by Noel Capon, the R.C. Kopf Professor of International Marketing at the School, who considers the typical price of textbooks “a serious social issue.” Capon offers his textbook, Managing Marketing in the 21st Century, in three formats: printed book, PDF download or online. Students are asked to “pay what they think it’s worth” for the online version — a pricing model that was made famous by the band Radiohead.

Learning materials in the secondary-school market are poised for change, too. “Education trails the consumer market, so we are constantly keeping a close eye on how technology is evolving,” says Amy Dunkin Donnelly ’04, vice president of product marketing in Scholastic’s Education Division. “We know that technology motivates students — it’s their world outside of the classroom — and technology gives us the ability to scale our efforts. In the end, the goal is simply: how many kids can we help?” 

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