This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Digital Happenings

While the blog highlights many of the digital happenings affecting our industry, there is often more going on than we have a chance to cover each week. Here are some interesting stories and links from the past few days.

  • A posting on the University of Michigan website says that the university has partnered with Amazon’s BookSurge to make thousands of books that are no longer under copyright available for on-demand printing.
  • A posting from the Bits Blog reports that Plastic Logic’s e-reader device will use AT&T’s 3G Network when it goes on sale next year. As noted in a previous posting, Barnes & Noble will be the content provider for the e-reader.
  • According to the press release, CourseSmart has partnered with seven additional publishers for a total of twelve publisher partnerships. The new publishers include: Elsevier Science and Technology, F.A. Davis, Jones & Bartlett, SAGE, Sinauer Associates, Taylor & Francis, and Wolters Kluwer Health (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.)
  • An article from Campus Technology reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Desire2Learn by overturning Blackboard’s patent on learning management system technologies.
  • According to an article from The New York Times, Sony Reader customers can now access over one million free public domain books from Google. Previously about half a million titles were available.
  • Wired recently featured a review of the Cool-er e-reader noting “Cool-er E-Book Reader Leaves Us Feeling So Very Cold.”
  • An article from Ars Technica reports the American Chemical Society will likely be the first major academic publisher to switch to an online-only publishing model for its journals.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

University presses work together to explore collaborative e-book program

A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses how four university presses - New York University Press, the University of Pennsylvania Press, Rutgers University Press, and Temple University Press - are working together to research the idea of a collaborative e-book program. According to Marlie Wasserman, director of the Rutgers University Press, the idea came about after realizing that many university presses were having separate conversations on how to make the transition to digital. Wasserman commented, “No one was really harnessing the power of numbers.” The research is being funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and aims to determine the cost and technical requirements associated with producing and selling e-books. The group would like to be able to provide a one-stop site that offers e-books from many university presses and also gives individual scholars and institutional buyers a place to purchase e-books. Wasserman added, "If we come up with a solution that works for us but not for anyone else, it will fall flat." The article notes that since this project was announced, many university presses have inquired about how they could become involved.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


We frequently receive e-mails from different companies that are doing something new or interesting in the digital course materials space. A while back, I received one such message from a website called Shmoop.com. The site offers homework/study tools (for free) to students for subjects such as history and literature. The site’s intent is to make learning more fun and relevant for students in the digital environment. From Beowulf and Shakespeare, to Twilight, they offer students summaries, analysis, and interactive tools to help students with homework and better relate to history, literature, and poetry. The site is still in beta, but shows promise. The combination of social networking with content that is written and vetted by field experts should provide both interest and credibility. I have not had a chance yet to compare their capabilities to some of the other “study guide” companies out there. This type of interactive learning is increasingly common though, and part of what many major textbook providers are attempting to develop – tools that engage students in the content matter, and that are interactive – moving beyond simple text. I do not know that Shmoop is all that new, per se, in terms of capability or approach, but they are a good example of where some learning tools are headed now and in the near-term future from a digital perspective.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“Bits of Destruction Hit the Book Publishing Business”

Last week, The New York Times published an interesting series of articles entitled, “Bits of Destruction Hit the Book Publishing Business.” Part 1 of the article, discusses the “three big new waves” affecting the book publishing industry – Google Book Search and the digitization of millions of books, increasing consumer acceptance of e-books largely due to the Kindle, and print on demand. Then, Part 2 takes a look at the how these waves will affect all of the players in the industry including: readers, authors, printers, publishers, retailers, and e-book device vendors. One particularly interesting portion of the article is the discussion about retailers. The article notes, “Here is a bookstore owner’s nightmare. Customer walks in; browses around; has grand old time in this temple of knowledge; peruses a book that costs $27; takes out Kindle and orders it for $17, right there in front of your nose, using your wi-fi connection. Aaagh! You wake up sweating at 3:00 in the morning.” While the scenario is a nightmare for retailers, it is also becoming reality. The article points out that the industry can no longer operate on the “sale or return” model and with digital books and print-on-demand it does not have to. In the future, bookstores may be even more like coffee shops and become “community hang-out spots” that offer, a few best selling books and DVDs, pricey coffee and snacks, free wi-fi, and a way for consumers to place an order for any book.

The article has a lot of interesting thoughts and information and is worth a read.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Blackboard partners with NBC News and Vanderbilt University Library

Last week, Blackboard announced that it had acquired iPhone app creator, Terriblyclever Design, and now the company has entered into partnerships with both NBC News and Vanderbilt University Library. According to the press release, Blackboard will work with NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, to offer K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, digital news content via the e-learning platform. The NBC News archive has a vast amount of content and dates back to the introduction of television broadcast. Steve Capus, President of NBC News commented, “By making the rich resources of NBC News available to educators and students we are bridging the divide between traditional teaching methods and the interactive media culture in which today's students reside. It's often been said that journalists help write the first drafts of history. Now, through our instantly updated NBC News archives, history can come alive in the classroom."

A second press release says that Blackboard has partnered with Vanderbilt University Library to make their integration for Apple iTunes U application available to Blackboard users. The integration will provide other universities with a tool to enable faculty and students to access multimedia content from iTunes U within the Blackboard platform.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Will Apple partner with Verizon?

According to a posting on TheStreet.com, there is a new rumor circulating that Apple and Verizon could partner for Apple’s release of a large screen iPod. It was originally thought that the device could hit the market in fall 2009 but the latest report says it will be released in time for the holidays this year. The posting notes that the device will be data-only and Verizon will not be as “tightly integrated” as Apple’s exclusive iPhone deal with AT&T.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Technologies that your kids may never know about

Recently, there have been a few interesting articles about technologies from the not-so-distant past that have already been replaced with newer, smaller, and quicker innovations. A posting on Wired’s GeekDad blog features a list of 100 items that we grew up with but that your kids may never know about. The BBC News website also has an interesting review from a 13-year-old who gave up his iPod to try out a Walkman. It is a different world out there for students today.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is your world flat?

Flat World Knowledge continues to pick up a lot of media attention. More importantly, they are also picking up textbook adoptions – over 250 at over 170 institutions at this point. If you are a college store, you should see if your campus is on the list – we were surprised and impressed by the diversity of institutions on the list.

Like all new technologies and ideas, open access course materials propose a number of opportunities and challenges for college stores and institutions. With the coming HEOA requirements for campuses around course materials, stores will need to know and report what textbooks are being adopted—even those that are free and open source. That creates an opportunity for stores. In June the NACS Board approved a position statement on open educational resources (OER) and open access course materials (OACM). That position statement is largely consistent with those by other higher education groups, such as EDUCAUSE, ACRL, and the student PIRGs.

Stores have the opportunity to provide OER/OACM content in a variety of formats, and should do so as part of fulfilling the academic mission of the students and institutions they support. One way stores could participate in these models is by providing a print-on-demand solution and other options that improve accessibility at the local level. At a minimum, stores should provide access to the digital versions of the content, even if it is free, so that the store remains the primary source where students can be certain they are obtaining the correct content and materials required to be successful in their academic experience. Open access models like Flat World will by necessity change some of the long established practices among college stores – such as the way in which we manage inventory and returns. We must think of this inventory from more of a “just-in-time” perspective, and accept that returns may not be an option. That, in the end, may be a good thing for the industry. Lessons we learn about handling OER/OACM inventory might be applicable to more traditional textbook inventory – allowing us to further reduce costs for stores, for publishers, and most importantly, for students.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Barnes & Noble launches an eBookstore and partners with Plastic Logic

On Monday, Barnes & Noble launched an eBookstore, an upgraded version of its eReader application, and announced that it will be the content provider for the Plastic Logic e-reader device when it launches early next year. According to the press release, the store will give consumers access to more than 700,000 titles making it the largest e-book store. Half a million of those titles will be public domain books from Google and available for free download (Sony also offers these books for the Sony Reader). B&N expects to increase the e-book offerings to over one million titles by next year. In addition, B&N will support EPUB and the e-books will work on a variety of devices including: iPhone, BlackBerry, and most Windows and Mac computers.

Barnes & Noble has been in the news several times recently as it has begun implementing a digital strategy to compete with Amazon. In March, B&N acquired Fictionwise and earlier this month it was announced that the company’s popular eReader.com would offer a revised pricing structure to compete with Amazon’s low prices. A posting on the ZDNet blog, points out that this new partnership with B&N and Plastic Logic could also provide some great competition for Amazon because it will offer consumers what the Kindle currently lacks including: support for the open EPUB standard, free downloads, and ability to access the content on several devices. It will be interesting to see what else B&N is planning. According to William J. Lynch, President of BN.com, this is just the beginning, “Today marks the first phase of our digital strategy, which is rooted in the belief that readers should have access to the books in their digital library from any device, from anywhere, at any time.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Amazon removes titles from Kindle devices

Last week, Kindle customers who had downloaded either George Orwell’s “1984” or “Animal Farm” were surprised to find out that the books had suddenly disappeared from their Kindles. According to an article from the New York Times, Amazon removed the titles and credited customer accounts because the titles were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have the rights to them. But did Amazon have the right to remove the titles from consumer’s devices? According to Amazon’s License Agreement and Terms of Use for the Kindle, it does not seem like Amazon had the right. The agreement states, “Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use.”

Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, provided a comment on the issue stating, “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.” However, according to some postings on web forums, this is not the first time that Amazon has had some issues with certain titles and then deleted the titles from devices. If it is that easy to delete trade books from the Kindle, what happens if a textbook is uploaded without the proper rights? Will that be taken too?

The New York Times interviewed a 17-year-old who was reading the book “1984” for class and lost all of his annotations when the book disappeared. He commented, “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work.” If the same scenario played out for textbooks, and annotations from the semester were lost, it would surely create a nightmare for students.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

May 2009 e-book sales statistics

E-book sales statistics for May 2009 have been released by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) via IDPF. Trade e-book sales were $11.5 million for May 2009, a 196.6% increase over May 2008. IDPF reports calendar year to date revenue is up 166.7% for the year. Note that these figures represent the 12 to 15 trade book publishers who have been willing to supply their data to IDPF.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Micropayment technologies on the rise

A recent article from The New York Times discusses a growing trend known as micropayments. In recent months, the popularity of the iPhone and other mobile devices has driven several new start-ups as well as established companies to develop micropayment technologies that will make it easier for users to purchase goods via their mobile devices. The goal of these technologies is to make it as easy to make purchases on a cellphone, as it is on a computer. While there are still security concerns associated with some of these technologies, the ideas are interesting.

One technology, that officially launched last month, is from a start-up company called BOKU which allows users to type in their cell phone number rather than their credit card number to make a purchase. The system then sends a confirmation text message to the cell phone which requires the user to respond via text for authorization. The charge is then added to the user’s mobile phone bill. Social-networking, gaming, and retail websites can install BOKU as a payment platform for the site.

Another start-up company known as Zong, launched a similar service last year. David Marcus, chief executive of Zong, commented, “When people can use their phone numbers to make a purchase, they are 10 times as likely to follow through on a transaction as when they have to type in a credit card and billing information.” Currently both BOKU and Zong are focusing their efforts on companies that offer virtual goods because the large transaction fees that wireless carriers charge would make it unprofitable to offer physical goods. However, in the future, carriers may decide to reduce their fees if they see that customers want to make physical goods purchases with their cell phones.

Another article from CNET notes that this space is one to watch, as social networks and gaming companies begin offering these services. David Marcus added, “The space is definitely growing, and it's in hyper-growth stage, and you’re going to have major players that are going to enable mobile payments in the very near future." As these technologies develop, stores may be able to take advantage of these offerings. Perhaps students will be able to pay for their textbooks with their cell phone in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

E-Paper round-up

The Kindle review blog recently featured a great posting which includes details and video demos of all the latest e-paper technologies. For additional information about these technologies, the folks at the Epaper Central website have put together an informative “E-paper Technologies Reference Guide.”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harvard University Press to sell digital books via Scribd

In an effort to reach more readers, Harvard University Press will soon begin selling 1,000 digital books via the social publishing website, Scribd. Daniel Lee, director of digital content at Harvard University Press commented, “Our goal is to get our books in front of as many people as possible; Scribd helps us reach readers who prefer to read online and on digital devices.”

In recent months, Scribd has gained popularity and become known as the “YouTube for text” because it allows users to share and read original written works. The majority of the content available on the site is contributed from individual users but recently publishers have also begun offering their content. Last month, Simon & Schuster became the first major publisher to sign a partnership with Scribd and other publishers include: O’Reilly, Berrett-Koehler, and Lonely Planet. New York University Press and MIT Press also offer free previews of books and reports on the site.

An article from The New York Times notes that publishers are likely pleased with Scribd’s pricing policy over Amazon’s because publishers control the e-book pricing and can keep 80 percent of the revenue.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Digital Happenings

Here, again this week, are some links to articles that you may find interesting:

  • The New York Times recently featured an article about the textbook rental service, Chegg.com. The article notes that the business is growing rapidly and credits “word of mouth” publicity for their recent growth.
  • A recent article says that Amazon plans to launch the Kindle in the UK before Christmas 2009.
  • An interesting new website called FriendShopper is designed to simulate in-store shopping by providing users with a real-time social online shopping experience.
  • An article from Campus Technology discusses how Texas A&M is successfully using social media marketing tactics to engage students.
  • An article from E-Commerce Times questions if the new lower price of the Kindle 2 will be enough to attract customers in the down economy. A posting from the Bits Blog notes that the new price is a result of the decreasing cost to manufacture the device and the increase in volume of Kindle sales.
  • An interesting article from Fast Company discusses how the Redbox kiosks are succeeding with the “power of in-between technology.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blackboard acquires Terriblyclever Design, iPhone app company

In an effort to maintain its position as the leading learning management system, Blackboard had decided to move into mobile devices and acquire Terriblyclever Design, creator of iPhone applications. Terriblyclever Design was founded by Stanford students in 2007 and since then, the company has created several successful iPhone apps for universities including: Stanford University, Duke University, Texas A & M University, and UC San Diego. The apps offer students and campus personnel a variety of features including the ability to use an interactive campus map, browse the university’s catalog, locate the campus shuttle, watch campus related content on YouTube and iTunes, and search a campus directory.

Blackboard now plans to expand the iPhone app offerings to many more universities. In an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Matthew Small, chief business officer of Blackboard was asked why Blackboard would invest so much in a young company. Mr. Small commented, “Every single school is going to have an iPhone application. For Blackboard, the question is, How do we bring teaching and learning to where students are, which is on mobile devices?” He went on to say, “If you’re going to hire top iPhone development experts, they’re going to be students.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

University of Texas at Austin and University of Wisconsin-Madison expand Google Book Search agreements

Last week the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Wisconsin-Madison expanded their Google Book Search agreements. This news follows the University of Michigan's recent expansion to their agreement. The final hearing for the Google Book Search Settlement is scheduled for October 7, 2009, and if approved, anyone will be able to gain access to the titles that have been scanned and digitized from these libraries.

According to a posting on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s website, Google has also been scanning the works from the Wisconsin Historical Society in conjunction with the university library. Together, the titles make up one of the largest collections of historical materials in the United States and to date over 200,000 of the works have been digitized. Ken Frazier, Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries commented, “Our original project with Google was undertaken in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea - UW's commitment to making useful information and knowledge available beyond the confines of the university. Now, our new agreement will promote equitable access to knowledge even further by giving every student in the U.S. access to the same books, whether they're on campus or not."

Another posting on the University of Texas at Austin website also discusses the opportunity to expand access to their works. Fred Heath, Vice Provost and Libraries Director commented, “The new agreement between the University of Texas Libraries and Google insures that our participation in the project will fulfill our initial primary goals of discovery, preservation and access. Additional provisions will enhance local access while allowing for the introduction of rich materials from our collections to a broad audience."

Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s investigation on whether or not the Google Book Search agreement violates antitrust regulations is still ongoing. In June, the Justice Department issued civil investigative demands to Google, The Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and individual publishers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stanza app turns one

Following the one year anniversary of the Apple App Store, Stanza, the popular iPhone book reading app has also just reached the one year mark. According to a news release from Amazon, the Stanza app already has two million users and more than 12 million books have been downloaded. Neelan Choksi, CEO of Lexcycle, creator of Stanza, commented, “These milestones highlight that many people are quite comfortable reading full length books via Stanza on their iPhones and iPod touch. From commercial titles by Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown to public domain titles by F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.G. Wells, we are thrilled to learn that Stanza has been partially responsible for a lot of people reading more in the past year than they have in years prior to that.” Lexcycle was acquired by Amazon in April, giving Amazon two of the top reading apps for the iPhone.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Amazon files patents to give consumers free e-book with printed version and include advertisements in e-books and printed books

A posting from Online Media Daily says that within the past month the U.S. Patent Office has published three patents filed by Amazon. The first patent would give customers a free e-book when they purchase the print version. The other two patents would let Amazon incorporate targeted advertising in e-books for the Kindle and paperbacks sold through on-demand printing. The on-demand patent notes that the inclusion of advertisements could be beneficial to consumers because a lower price could be offered to those who are willing to accept advertising in the printed content. This statement suggests that there may be multiple purchasing options and consumers may be able to pay more for a book that does not include advertisements. Another posting from the Gizmodo Gadget Blog features a diagram that shows that advertisement banners would appear on the top and side margins of select pages.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Apple App Store Turns One

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Apple App Store. In just one year, the store has gained enormous popularity with over 56,000 apps and more than one billion downloads. In April, the Mobclix website featured a breakdown of the number of apps in each of the 20 app categories. At that time, there were 4842 book apps and 2313 educations apps. Just since April, the number of book apps has increased to 7856 and the number of education apps to 3973. We can expect that the number of apps as well as the sophistication of these apps will continue to increase in the coming months.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Digital Happenings

Starting last week we included a posting of a short list of other news and articles from the week that caught our interest. We received some positive feedback, and so here again this week is a collection of overflow stories and links from the past few days that might be of interest:

  • A recent article from eSchool News discusses George Gilder’s prediction for the future of network computing at universities. Gilder believes that cloud computing will soon become obsolete and “storm computing” will be the next big thing.
  • A posting on Google News says that the world’s oldest Christian Bible, a 1,600-year-old manuscript, has been digitized and is now available online.
  • An interesting website called The Know Something Project provides some great information and a good overview of the e-book environment.
  • A posting on the Kindle Review blog provides some interesting thoughts about Google’s plan to defeat the Kindle. The posting notes, “Google cares far more that the Kindle doesn’t succeed than it does about its own success in books.”
  • Two new e-readers were introduced this week: the Ditto Book and Cybook Opus. The Ditto Book is a 6-inch non-wireless device that includes: black & white e-ink screen, long battery life, ability to read text and PDF, support for ePub, and expandable SD card slot for an additional 2 GB of storage. The Cybook Opus is a 5-inch device that includes: black & white e-ink screen, support for ePub and PDF files, and has 1 GB of internal storage with an SD card slot for additional storage.
  • An article from Wired takes a look at the bookstores that are creating their own e-readers.
  • David Carr from The New York Times wrote an interesting article after he visited Google to meet with chief executive, Eric Schmidt and founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
  • An article from CNET says that some hotels are beginning to offer their guests e-readers for use during their stay. A second article from Teleread questions if the hotels that offer Kindles have received consent from Amazon. It was recently reported that the BYU library discontinued their Kindle loaning program because Amazon has not responded to their request for written consent.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Amazon vs Apple for control of the e-book market

There is a great article in this month’s edition of Fast Company entitled, “Amazon Taps Its Inner Apple,” that takes a look at the past, present, and future for Amazon and the effect that Apple could have on the company’s plans to control the e-book market. The article notes that Jeff Bezos’ initial strategy seems to be working. Bezos watched Apple establish a virtual monopoly over online music and is emulating those tactics to gain control over digital content distribution. By introducing the Kindle, Bezos “propelled the e-book concept from mere curiosity to full-fledged consumer item” and to control digital distribution Amazon is losing money on many titles in an effort to entice readers. Recently, Barnes & Noble introduced a new pricing structure to compete with Amazon proving that Amazon is in fact defining the cost of e-books just as Apple defined the price for digital music. However, Amazon does have some weaknesses because the Kindle is not a stand-alone device and the company does not have experience in building electronics. In comparison, Apple has the experience and ability to design devices that people love and are eager to purchase. In addition, Apple has filed patents to add e-books to the iTunes store and for multi-touch e-book technology, proving that the company has plans to move into e-books. Apple’s experience in building electronics could be what it needs to overtake Amazon. The article notes:

“Nonetheless, this is how Steve Jobs could perform a jujitsu move on Jeff Bezos. After Amazon went through the trouble and expense of seeding the landscape, implanting the concept of the e-book in people's minds, creating a market where there wasn't one before, and moving to control the distribution system, Apple could muscle its way in with a full-color multitouch-screen media tablet that not only reads books but also offers video, music, Web surfing, email, and the combined power of the iTunes and Apple App Store. The device might even load into a desktop dock that accommodates a full-size keyboard. Books would only be a small part of what it offers, making it appeal to a vastly larger audience than the Kindle's.

It's critical to remember that Apple is first and foremost a hardware company that cares little about making money on content as long as it can sell iPods -- or media tablets. Bezos, meanwhile, is stuck peddling a fairly primitive piece of technology. For his strategy to pay off, he needs either the Kindle to win the hardware arms race, or to find a way to make money on Kindle titles, or both. He's not afraid to lose money while he moves into a new niche -- the first five years of Amazon's existence were spent in the red -- but it can't go on forever.

Unfortunately for Bezos, not only is Apple far more skilled at designing beautiful products people are eager to buy, but it may also be a more desirable partner for publishers than is Amazon. While Apple drives a hard bargain and might be eager to grind publishers into pulp on price, unlike Amazon, it has little desire -- or history -- of attempting to usurp the publishers' role or to control content. Suddenly, the hunter becomes the hunted, and if e-books take off, Amazon could find itself the odd man out.”

There is a lot more interesting information in this article and it is well worth a read.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New study evaluates online learning

The U.S. Department of Education recently released the results of a Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. The analysis used existing studies to compare online learning to face-to-face instruction and found that students performed best in blended learning environments that incorporated both types of instruction. In addition, students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. The report says that the amount of time spent by online learners affected the results because online learners that spent more time on tasks than students in face-to-face learning environments found a greater benefit for online learning. The report notes, “In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages. At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.”

An article from Inside Higher Ed adds that these findings could be significant because many colleges are also reporting that enrollment in classes with blended learning instruction is on the rise. In a press release from the U.S. Department of Education, Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education commented, “This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide. We must take advantage of this historic opportunity to use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to bring broadband access and online learning to more communities.” The findings from this report could lead to greater adoption of online tools for learning and continued proliferation of more blended approaches to course materials and education.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind file lawsuit against ASU over Kindle DX

Last week, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) filed a lawsuit against Arizona State University to prevent the university from issuing Kindle DX devices for the textbook pilot. The lawsuit says that the Kindle DX device features text-to-speech technology to read books aloud but the menus do not work in the same way so blind students will not be able to select a book and activate the feature. A blind student from ASU has been named as a plaintiff in the action and the NFB and ACB have also asked the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to investigate the other universities involved in the pilot – Case Western Reserve University, the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, Pace University, Princeton University, and Reed College.

In an article from Inside Higher Ed, Chris Danielson, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind says that the software to make the menus accessible to the blind does exist but it has not been added to the Kindle DX . If the universities adopt the Kindle DX devices as is, they are violating the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Virgil Renzulli, a spokesman for Arizona State commented that they are “committed to equal access for all students” and the university’s disability resource center will provide “the necessary tools so that all students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to be successful in their academic pursuits.” Amazon has not commented on the lawsuit.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New e-readers to hit the market

Borders UK and Elonex have just released an e-reader for the UK market. According to Elonex’s website, the 6-inch device has an E Ink screen and comes loaded with 100 free e-books. Additional books can be downloaded from the Borders eBook Download Store and then transferred onto the device. With a 4GB expansion card, the device can store an additional 8,000 books. The new e-reader will be compete against the Sony Reader which is the only e-reader device currently available in the UK. It is expected that the Amazon Kindle among other devices could be available in the UK later this year.

According to an article from BusinessWeek, AT&T is working on an e-reader device that could be available later this year. The article does not provide many details but says that the device will be similar to the Kindle and use AT&T’s wireless 3G network. It is possible that AT&T could partner with companies such as Sony or Plastic Logic.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Digital Education video

A posting on the Digital Education blog features a great digital video that was created by a third grade class to show the ways that multimedia tools can be used to engage students in creative learning environments. The video entitled, “Living in a Digital World”, won for Best Picture at the National Educational Computing Conference. Just think what it will be like when these kids reach Higher Ed!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Barnes & Noble launches iPhone app

This week, Barnes & Noble launched its own free iPhone app to give users access to millions of titles. According to the press release, the app lets users download books, watch video interviews with authors, view store event calendars, and view maps and directions to Barnes & Noble stores. In addition, users can take a photo of a book with the camera on the iPhone to view product details, editorial reviews, and customer ratings for that book. William Lynch, President of Barnes & Noble.com commented that the app was designed based on tremendous growth in mobile traffic and customer adoption over the past 12 months.

Barnes & Noble has also been working on a larger digital strategy. In March, it acquired Fictionwise with plans to incorporate the company into its digital strategy and earlier this week it was announced that Fictionwise's eReader.com website will match Amazon’s e-book pricing. There have also been rumors in recent months that Barnes & Noble is working on an e-reader to compete with the Amazon Kindle.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Digital happenings

While the blog highlights many of the digital happenings affecting our industry, there is often more going on than we have a chance to cover. Here are some other related stories that might be of interest.

  • The New Yorker recently featured Malcolm Gladwell’s review of Chris Anderson’s new book: “Free: the future of a radical price.” Gladwell captures some of the core ideas that should be of interest to booksellers and publishers.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article written by Tim Barton, president of Oxford University Press, Inc., that discusses Oxford University Press’ opinion of Google Book Search.
  • The American Society for Training & Development website recently featured a very interesting posting about innovation.
  • This week, Wattpad, an e-book sharing community that lets users create e-books for others to download, announced a new app to let users download content to Android-enabled devices, blackberry and iPhone apps already exist. About 10,000 stories are published on the site every month

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Global Gaming Factory acquires The Pirate Bay

According to a recent press release, a Swedish software company known as Global Gaming Factory has acquired The Pirate Bay, the world’s largest bit torrent tracker. The company will take ownership in August 2009 and plans to introduce new business models that will compensate the content providers and copyright owners. Hans Pandeya, CEO of Global Gaming Factory commented, “The Pirate Bay is a site that is among the top 100 most visited Internet sites in the world. However, in order to live on, The Pirate Bay requires a new business model, which satisfies the requirements and needs of all parties, content providers, broadband operators, end users, and the judiciary. Content creators and providers need to control their content and get paid for it. File sharers ´need faster downloads and better quality.”

An article from The New York Times says that the company envisions a file sharing system that uses networks of computers to move the digital files to ease the strain on Internet service providers. The company could generate revenue by charging the Internet service providers and also through advertising. Copyright owners would receive a share of the revenue as would participants that allow their computers to be used for file sharing.

A second article from Forbes notes that while it has been reported that the site has 20 million unique visitors, the chances of keeping the majority of these customers and turning the website into a profitable and legal operation are not likely. Eric Garland, chief executive of Big Champagne, a file sharing research firm commented, “When you think of all of the copyright-infringing companies that tried to relaunch or rebrand, the arc is pretty well established. It's easy to give away music without authorization, and far less popular when you try to offer it legitimately." Sonal Gandhi, a Forrester research analyst, added, “If the Pirate Bay takes this audience and manages to convert them to paying music buyers or to a workable ad-supported digital download, they'd have really achieved an amazing feat. In the filesharing world, people move very quickly from one site to the other." Since the announcement hundreds of users have posted both positive and negative reactions to the news.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Barnes & Noble to match Amazon’s e-book pricing

As mentioned in a previous posting, in March, Barnes & Noble acquired Fictionwise, owner of the popular eReader.com e-book store, with plans to incorporate the company into its digital strategy. This week, the company announced that it has revised the pricing structure of the e-books on eReader.com to compete with Amazon. Currently, Amazon’s e-books sell for $9.99 and now on eReader.com, all new e-books including New York Times Bestsellers will sell for $9.95 and no e-book will sell for more than $12.95.

An interesting article from Fast Company discusses how this proves that Amazon is defining the cost of e-books just as Apple defined the price for digital music. Large companies like Barnes & Noble can afford to lower their prices and take a loss initially but smaller competitors will have a tougher time. The article notes, “Thus, B&N’s concession to Amazon’s pricing structure could mark the beginning of a brave new world in e-books, one ruled by the dictates of Amazon. Once readers have it in their heads that an e-book is worth ten bucks and no more, everyone from publishers to writers to competitors like B&N are going to have to bend to that price. It would seem that paradigm shift is already underway.”