There's an article in this week's issue of Nature on The textbook of the future.
Most of the article is about a Kindle version of science textbooks.
Another drawback of current e-readers is that they have small black-and-white displays, just a little larger than 9 by 12 centimetres. This makes them unsuited to most science textbooks, which typically have large pages and colourful graphics. "The market is not likely to expand until the e-readers improve," says Hegarty.Publishers are experimenting with ways of delivering their textbooks electronically (e.g. CourseSmart) but there are still problems to be solved.
Competing ideas, such as Wiki's that replace textbooks, have a long way to go before they become a threat to the textbook market [Wikibooks: Biochemistry]. Besides, there are other problems that need to be solved.
For now these free textbooks remain a cottage industry, says Esposito. Wikipedia-like volunteer efforts are much better suited to self-contained modules that are small enough for an individual to see through from A to Z. But a textbook demands a coherent overall structure and coordination between sections. That is why creating one has always been a major undertaking, demanding long-term commitments by publishers — who need to make a profit — and by authors who usually want to be paid for their effort.I think there's going to be a way to make cheaper electronic versions of textbooks and still compensate the people who do all the work. I'm not sure how it's going to work but I'd love to put my book on a website where I can make changes quickly and get instant feedback from the users.
Still, perhaps 'free' and 'profitable' need not be a contradiction in terms. One group of veteran textbook publishing executives is trying to put open textbooks on a solid commercial footing. In 2007 they created Flat World Knowledge, based in Nyack, New York, and in January 2009 rolled out the first of the 21 textbooks they have in development so far. The texts are written by some 40 domain experts who will be paid 20% of royalties. The company also plans to make its content available via Kindle and other e-readers. All its content will be free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under a creative commons licence.
Eric Frank, Flat World's co-founder, says that the strategy is to attract greater use by giving the e-textbooks away — the initial targets are the high-volume texts for first-year students — and then look for profit from students' purchase of print-on-demand versions at $29.95 for black and white, and $59.95 for colour. Students can copy and use the electronic content in any way they wish, says Frank. "Cheap prices are the most effective digital-rights management," he says. "We want to avoid a digital-rights war with students." The company also hopes to make money by licensing its content to commercial companies, such as distance-learning outfits and course-management software firms.