An article in Campus Technology yesterday discussed how factors such as high textbooks prices, the Web 2.0 business model, and knowledge building could lead to a revolution for how students will access textbooks. The article repeats, as have others, that the revolution in digital textbooks is not about digitizing print textbooks. Instead, this article suggests the solution is to get authors to write for companies that follow a Web 2.0 business model and publish textbooks online. BookBoon, Flat World Knowledge, Connexions, and Wikibooks are some examples of companies that follow the Web 2.0 business model, where the online content is free but the ability to generate revenue is just a click a way either through advertisements or charging for the print version of the content. These business models are examples of how many businesses outside of the publishing industry operate today and provide us a glimpse at what some of the new entrants to the textbook market could provide. In addition to providing new, more flexible pricing models for students, many of these new companies participate in the Web 2.0 model of knowledge building which is the idea that knowledge is available to be worked on and used by others. For example, Flat World Knowledge offers faculty the ability to modify online textbooks and create customized versions for their students while Wikibooks are free content textbooks and annotated texts that anyone can edit. The article goes on to suggest that while this idea may take some time to catch on, students need to push faculty to adopt the more affordable online texts.
What does this mean for the college stores? As we continue to see a shift towards collaborative learning and more textbook content becomes available for free, stores must consider their role in this change. In a panel at TOC last week, one of the educational publishers noted that free content is increasingly devaluing other content, and that this is one of the issues driving e-publishing in higher education. Stores must find ways to work with free content, to preserve market share, and perhaps define new revenue opportunities that satisfy the needs or interests of students having content in different formats.