textbook model

Fixing the Textbook Model

Indiana University’s Brad Wheeler explains how his institution is ditching the college textbook and replacing it with digital alternatives that are accessible to students from day one.

By Dian Schaffhauser 06/21/17


Brad Wheeler, the vice president for IT and CIO of Indiana University

it’s taken a long time for textbook publishers to own up to the “fundamental flaw” of their industry: “They are obsessed with counting their gross margins on the things they actually do sell.” And, he added, they ignore the enormous amounts they lose through the other 75 percent of the market made up of used and rented books and other kinds of substitutes. Because of those blinders, the publishers have “long pursued a model that has been failing, year over year.”

Starting in the mid-1990s, the price of educational books rose faster than just about any other measure, including healthcare. Something had to give. Wheeler has seen a “constellation of things” forming to bring about change. First, the e-reader software has matured, he said. “It works on your phone, your tablet, your laptop.”

Second, students are “increasingly digital.” They’re “comfortable with interacting with digital information [and] electronically marking it up.” After all, he noted, “some of them went through high school with digital books and materials.”

Third, familiarity is growing among faculty too. “They see e-texts not just as a substitute for paper, but as a teaching and pedagogical tool. They can go in and annotate that paragraph in the textbook and point to classroom materials or go online and correct something,

Fourth, the printed textbook-first philosophy has stopped paying off for publishers.

The three biggies — Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Cengage — weren’t first in line to sign on, even as additional universities piled onto Indiana U’s project. As a result, their reticence to promote textbook alternatives hit their bottom lines. Eventually, Pearson’s shares took a hit, hovering currently around $8; McGraw-Hill’s education division was peeled off and sold to Apollo Global Management in 2013; and just months later Cengage filed for bankruptcy, emerging a year later with $4 billion less debt.

the College Board decreased the undergraduate student budget for books and supplies in its “Trends in College Pricing” report.

Indiana U has seen nothing but growth for its IU eTexts digital initiative:

Unizin. This is the organization created by Indiana U and other large institutional partners to develop services that could replace major paid third-party applications, such as learning management, digital textbook and data warehouse platforms. The goal: to enable higher ed to own its data.

more on open text book in this IMS blog

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