The publishing industry is chockablock with jargon, but one word we're going to hear a whole lot more of over the next few months and years is "enhanced." After all, as the world increasingly goes digital, stand-alone texts may not be enough to justify pricey new gadgets, be they e-readers, smartphones or tablets like Apple's (AAPL) iPad. That's apparently the rationale behind the investment of $2.5 million in seed funding in Vook, a company specializing in multimedia-enhanced books, by a group of backers including Huffington Post Chairman Ken Lerer.Enhanced books may provide a method for textbook companies to make money on new digital editions at a time when the rental-book market appears to be booming faster than the e-book one, as I reported on DailyFinance last week. So get ready for DynamicBooks, a subsidiary of Macmillan that promises a more interactive textbook experience.
As The New York Times reported Monday morning, DynamicBooks aims to deliver textbooks Wikipedia-style, allowing college instructors to edit, modify, add video and pictures to, and rewrite chapters or paragraphs of textbooks as they see fit -- all without consulting the original authors. "Basically they will go online, log on to the authoring tool, have the content right there and make whatever changes they want," Macmillan president Brian Napack told the newspaper. "And we don't even look at it."
Digital textbooks will be much cheaper than print editions -- the e-book edition of Psychology will sell for $48.76, a far better deal than the list price of $134.29. And there's some financial incentive for the instructors, too: According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, "for each customized copy that a student buys, the professor who contributed the material gets a dollar." Changes made by professors would be clearly noted in the text.
But Will They Sign Up?
Macmillan's partnership with Dynamic Books joins a number of other enhanced-textbook alliances, such as McGraw-Hill's (MHP) Connect, WileyPlus from John Wiley & Sons (JW.A), Follett Higher Education Group's CafeScribe, and Flat World Knowledge, which charges for print editions but gives away digital versions for free. In theory, where Dynamic Books will differ from its rivals is that it will allow other publishers to upload their own textbooks onto the service, so long as Macmillan gets an 18% markup.
In practice, that hasn't happened yet, and it remains to be seen if other publishers will sign on to a competitor's service when they'd have to pay extra for the privilege, and when the existing consortium, CourseSmart, may not be subject to the additional service fees.
Another unanswered issue is how instructor modifications will be regulated. The $1 cut each instructor could make for every DynamicBook bought was defended by the company's general manager, who said that "only professors who make significant changes in a book will qualify for payment." But that in turn raises larger questions of whether personal agendas or misinformation will make their way into the enhanced editions. As Neil Comins, co-author of the astronomy textbook Discovering the Universe, told The New York Times, if an accepted change contradicted basic scientific tenets -- like putting a creationist slant on the universe's origins -- "I would absolutely, positively be livid."
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