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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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

University of Illinois awarded grant for open source textbooks

The University of Illinois has received a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to create an open-source textbook to be used by students on its three campuses. The textbook will also be shared with community colleges in the state and other universities across the nation. Rather than providing less restrictive licenses to current material, University of Illinois faculty members will create the textbook—the subject of which has not been decided. Once made, the textbook will be available online for free, and a print version will be available for a reasonable price. Faculty at the university hope that this is the first of many open-access books.

A news post from UI Springfield has a short video about the project.

Charles Evans, University of Illinois associate Vice President for academic affairs states, “The idea behind open-source textbooks is to allow students to go to a website and download customized material for their course. The material is made up of a mix of resources already available on the web and resources provided by faculty. The real benefit of open source materials is it allows faculty to customize their courses and actually produce a better teaching-learning experience for students."

According to Ray Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois Springfield, online textbooks are nothing new to many instructors at UIS, “Schroeder estimates that about 15 to 20 percent of courses currently offer open-source resources.”

A recent article from The Chronicle takes a look at this topic and also discusses the grant that was awarded to the Florida Distance Learning Consortium to research the barriers to entry of adopting open-source textbooks.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kindle Editions: Audio and Video added to e-books

In a recent press release, Amazon announced that it will now offer enhanced e-books with video and audio clips called Kindle Editions. The new e-books are available through the Kindle app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPad Touch. These enhanced e-books maintain the same price as most other e-books available through Amazon and there are about a dozen available so far. Some examples of the clips include video cooking instructions and audio recordings of famous speeches, alongside relevant text in their respective books, but they do cause the e-book to take up a substantial amount of space—approximately half of a gigabyte. Interestingly, these enhanced books cannot be used on current Kindle hardware.

In the press release, Dorothy Nicholls, director, Amazon Kindle commented,
“This is just the beginning—we look forward to seeing what authors and publishers create for Kindle customers using the new functionality of the Kindle apps."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Music in the cloud

There are many correlations that can be drawn between the turbulent past of the music business and the future of e-Books, and publishers and other components of the e-Book industry have worked hard not to fall prey to the same mistakes that plagued music. It is interesting and potentially beneficial to take into account not only the past but also the current trends and the future of the music industry.

An article from the New Yorker takes a look into online music in the cloud—specifically at some online radio services such as Pandora, MOG, and Spotify.

According to Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, “Of the twenty hours a week that an average American spends listening to music, only three of it is stuff you own. The rest is radio.” When it comes to music, we are already accustomed to accessing it and we do not necessarily own a copy of all the music that we want to listen to. In the future, we may become more accustomed to accessing e-books in the same way.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Amazon and B&N drop e-reader prices as Apple reports record sales

Earlier this week, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble announced price reductions for their e-reader devices just as Apple reported that it has sold three million iPads in three months.

A few analysts have commented on the news:

From The New York Times: “It was obvious that the price of stand-alone e-readers had to come down,” said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, citing the threat by Apple and other tablet makers. “We just never thought it was going to happen this rapidly.”

From Businessweek: “Their sales have obviously been impacted by the iPad,” said Charlie Wolf, a senior analyst at Needham & Co. in New York. “These price cuts are almost an act of desperation.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reinventing the bookstore business model

Recently there was an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal and another from Laura Dawson of LJNDawson that discussed the future for bookstores and how the digital revolution is forcing them to reinvent their business models. Dawson says, “Possibly a third of bookstores in the US will close when Borders is finished with its death spiral and Barnes & Noble and successful independents have picked up what business makes sense in those locations.” When the stores close, customers will quickly become accustomed to ordering books online and the instant gratification associated with e-book purchases. Dawson refers to this as “leapfrogging” and says it will start in rural and suburban areas and once the convenience of immediate delivery of digital books is realized, it will only be a matter of time before stores have to transform the in-store experience and offer more than just books.

According to the WSJ article, stores such as Indigo Books & Music Inc. in Canada and Barnes & Noble are already working on this. Leonard Riggio, chairman of B & N, says that over the next three to four years B&N stores will begin to sell a variety of merchandise and will serve as a showcase for digital products which will create a much more diverse retail store.

College stores must also begin preparing for this change. While many stores already offer a variety of merchandise, new product lines will become even more significant in the coming years. But more importantly, college stores need to offer students the opportunity to purchase print books and digital books through the store website. Students are already very accustomed to shopping online and this trend will continue in the coming years.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Traditional bookstores and digital booksellers – everyone can win

An article from Fortune, by Michael Edwards, the CEO of Borders, provides an interesting and optimistic perspective on the future of the traditional bookstore. Although Borders has recently been struggling—which many critics attribute to its lacking digital side of business—Edwards states that “there's no reason traditional bookstores and digital booksellers can't co-exist; for all their common ground, each offers a substantially different value proposition.” From his perspective, there is room for everyone to win.

Edwards goes on to state that, as the world becomes increasingly digitalized, the experience of paper books is accentuated, as the idea of reading words on paper becomes more appealing than looking at another screen. He also argues that bookstores have always been and will continue to be a social gathering place, and there are many options to add other aspects and activities that will appeal to and improve the experience of store goers—a platform on which digital-only providers cannot stand.

“The onus is on booksellers to prove their continued relevance in the digital age. If they continue to innovate in the services and experiences they offer and the ways they engage the community, consumers will continue to make bookstores a vital part of their lives. If they fail to adapt to changing market conditions and consumer needs, they'll deserve the empty aisles -- and cash registers -- that result.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The end of netbooks?

With the booming success of Apple’s iPad, many people have predicted the beginning of the end for netbooks and other mini-notebooks. A recent article from InformationWeek presents this same idea, rationalizing that the birth of the tablet computer will be the end of these other products.

“The last quarter of 2007 heralded the birth of the mini-note PC (netbook)," John F. Jacobs, director of notebook research at DisplaySearch, said in a statement released Tuesday. "Q1’10 signaled the birth of the slate PC, and possibly by extension, the beginning of the end of the mini-note PC.”

With new devices being announced and unveiled every day, we will have to wait to see how the industry progresses in order to determine the accuracy of these predictions; in the mean time, many intriguing devices continue to be released—some even incorporating ideas from both the notebook and the tablet. In a recent press release, Toshiba unveiled the Libretto W100, a dual, touch-screen, hybrid PC—a mix between a tablet and a notebook—in addition to two other new products. This device, which has two 7-inch multitouch screens, will be the first dual-screened device to run on Windows 7, and it will double as an e-reader. An article from Wired goes into more detail about the device.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What books can become

A recent article on Forbes challenges publishers to learn from Film and Music and to “re-imagine what books can become.” The article cites publishers’ lack of willingness to fully embrace e-Books, going on to provide potential ideas that publishers could instead pursue that compliment the nature of e-Books without bringing an end to their paper counterparts.

Publishers can add more value to paper books by combining the purchase of the physical copy with a complimentary e-Book. This could be a digital copy of the hard-copy book, or other works could be promoted by adding an excerpt or full copy to the purchased book.

Another suggestion is to utilize the capabilities and versatilities of the e-Reader platform and software. Examples include adding author commentary, background information, images, videos, and embedded content that the reader may enjoy. The act of reading could easily be transitioned into something more interactive and even social, where users could communicate and interact with other individuals reading through the same book, creating networks and a system of casual book clubs.

“Instead of trying to understand eBooks within the space of the old paper-and-binding universe, we should examine the media that survived the first wave of the distribution revolution: movies and music.”

The author challenges publishers to “unite our old ideas of reading alone in quiet rooms with the vast potential created by new technology.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Google Editions versus DRM

One of our interns, Nic, has been researching DRM and the issues surrounding it. Here is another one of his posts:

As we have mentioned in the past few posts, DRM is currently a major issue in the ebook industry, with many proponents pushing for different models with the aspiration of balancing between the publisher’s protection from piracy and the consumer’s experience and desires. Currently, there is very little interoperability between e-reading devices, which is problematic and somewhat disorienting for the consumer. Buyers want the freedom to read their e-books on other devices; this is especially a concern due to there being so many different e-readers currently on the market, so many companies working on producing the next generation round of devices, and the indeterminable question of which products will consumers want to be using in the future.

A recent article from FutureBook makes the bold claim that, thanks to its upcoming Google Editions, Google may have already won the eBook war due to circumventing these issues. The article draws comparisons to the music industry, and it goes on to predict a trend towards device agnostic reading. Books purchased through Google Editions are stored in the cloud, allowing users to access their books through any device capable of connecting to the internet, and, due to this, Google will be in a great position to seize market share in the industry if other companies continue with their DRM policies of limited-to-no device interoperability,

“The industry needs to grow digitally to last, and we need to start thinking uncomfortable thoughts about how we help readers access books in the way they want before companies like Google lock up the market.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

USB Typewriter for iPad

Here is an interesting innovation that repurposes an old device. As you can see in the video, a manual typewriter can be used as the keyboard for an iPad or any other device with a USB port. The design is distributed under a Creative Commons license so users can buy a kit and make one, or send the creator their own personal typewriters for customization.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thought for the day

In a blog posting on Seth Godin’s website he says, “I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Access to free wi-fi and content at Starbucks locations

Beginning July 1, Starbucks will offer free wi-fi access in all of its U.S. stores. In addition, beginning this fall, consumers will be able to access free content from The Wall Street Journal and other exclusive material.

Mobile Learning

With mobile learning taking off thanks to many improvements within the industry and next generation portable technology, it is on the brink of exploding into the mainstream. With this in mind, Upside Learning, which focuses on Learning Solutions, has put together a slideshow with descriptions of and links to the top 50 Mobile Learning Resources. This list ranges from Apple Education, to individual e-books, blogs, papers, and other resources, all of which would help interested parties keep up-to-date and stay informed about the mobile learning industry.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gentler Digital Rights Management

A recently formed IEEE Working Group (P1817) will be looking to change the way DRM affects users of e-books and other digital media. DRM currently prevents users from having real control over their ‘digital property,’ as it prevents individuals from sharing digital products, in addition to other limitations imposed by the provider.

The goal of this IEEE working group is to return control of digital property to the consumer by establishing standards such that “consumers may enjoy all of the digital conveniences and ownership privileges of the movies, music, books, games, and other digital products that they purchase, while honoring copyright and respecting the rights of authors and artists to profit from their creative works.”

A recent Ars Technia article delves deeper into this subject. The intent is to make digital property more similar to physical property with respect to product ownership. As we stated in one of our recent blog posts, the nature of DRM and licensing at this time effectively cause e-book buyers to pay for the right to access digital media for as long as the provider is willing to allow access. As we saw in July last year, when Amazon recalled two books by forcibly deleting them from their customers’ Kindles, the rights of the consumer at this point are somewhat ambiguous. One goal of the P1817 working group is to ensure that product ownership is perpetual, allowing owners of digital personal property to be free of restrictions on private use or sharing.

“The 'digital personal property' idea involves two major pieces: a title folder and a playkey. The title folder contains the content in question. It's encrypted, and it can be copied and passed around freely. To access the content inside, however, you'll need the playkey, which is delivered to the buyer of a digital media file and lives within a 'tamper-protected circuit' inside some device (computer, cell phone, router) or online at a playkey bank account."

The playkey cannot be moved or copied, but an e-book or other digital property can be shared with a friend by linking them the playkey along with a copy of the product. Users need to be careful, though, because just as with physical property, "controlling the playkey means that you control the media, and you truly own it.” Read here for more information on the process.

P1817’s first meeting is on July 14, and interested parties are invited to join and participate.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Futuristic Designs: Achievable Today

An article from ITBusiness.ca gives some insight on the potential future of laptop, netbook, and e-reader designs. “The 12 innovative notebook designs here -- some actual working computers, others wooden mockups or CAD drawings -- are for the most part producible within the next two years,” and a surprising number of these seemingly futuristic concept designs could be produced today, without the use of any new technology.

Included in the article are intriguing concepts such as:

The Prime, a folding laptop that is incredibly versatile. It can be compressed into a thin, 13” notebook for travel, opened completely with a 26” screen, or kept somewhere in between by leaving some screens closed.

Asus Airo Origami, which consists of four independently moving parts: the keyboard, the display, the wrist support, and the base. It has a raised keyboard to increase airflow and a very thin, triangular design.

Qualcomm’s Multi-Fold features three touch screen panes that are hinged together and can be configured in several different orientations.

The XO-3, a minimalist tablet from One Laptop Per Child, which will feature a 100% unbreakable, flexible plastic screen.

The Skiff Reader, a thin, tablet e-reader that has a large, flexible touch-screen which can bend into a U without being harmed. It also has an expected battery life of one week! Interestingly, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which among other things owns Fox News and Wall Street Journal, acquired Skiff earlier this week.

Sony’s flexible, color OLED display, a 4.1 inch display that is limber enough to be wrapped around a pencil. A video demo is available here.

The very impressive design concept called Rolltop, which can be unfurled from its cylindrical stand and configured as a flat, 17” flexible tablet or folded into a 13” laptop. Here is a video demo.

Some other flexible displays that are in the works include those that are being developed by HP and Arizona State University, Plastic Logic, and PARC.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

e-book file conversion

This summer we have a couple interns working with us who will be contributing to the blog. We hope it provides a fresh new perspective and some new views on content. Here is another of their contributions -- one from the tech file:

A recent article at How-To Geek walks through the process of converting PDF eBooks into ePub format, using Calibre, which is an interesting program that allows users to organize their eBooks and to transform them into pretty much any format. It also supports many format conversions, including MOBI, which is used by Kindles.

“Calibre is program to manage your e-book collection. It acts as an e-library and also allows for format conversion, news feeds to e-book conversion, as well as e-book reader sync features and an integrated e-book viewer.”

Converting from PDF makes eBooks much easier to read on smaller, mobile devices, on which the PDF format forces readers to zoom in and move around the page in order to see everything. If the PDF contains text, rather than only scanned images, this conversion will instead make the book reformat to fill the screen of your device. Additionally, the many file conversions supported by Calibre allow users to read non-copy-protected eBooks on various devices and e-readers that do not support every format.

Monday, June 14, 2010

DRM and content ownership

As e-readers and e-books become increasingly popular and pervasive, the rights surrounding e-books and issues of DRM are at the forefront of industry concerns. An article from Mainstreet.com takes a look at digital books, noting that “for the most part there is no real distinction between an e-book and a piece of software. When you buy either, what you are really paying for is a license to use the product, not to own it.” The interesting title for this article is "Do we own the e-books we buy?" An interesting phrase choice, as most of the options for students to buy digital textbooks fit this concept of paying for a use license for a period of time -- more like a digital rental than a digital purchase.

Publishers and e-book sellers rely on DRM software to prevent piracy, and it is used by all major e-book readers with the exception of the iPad.

“Amazon took a big step and allowed publishers to decide whether they wanted a particular book to use DRM. While this is definitely a step toward allowing consumers more control over the books they buy, Nieman Lab points out that most publishers will likely choose DRM for fear of piracy.”

With Google Editions expected to be launched later this summer, which will not be focused on proprietary devices and software, and with publishers pushing for a standardized e-book format, perhaps DRM restrictions will be at least somewhat reduced in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

E-book Sales Chart

Epublishers Weekly has created an interesting chart using e-book sales data from IDPF. IDPF posts a chart on their website which shows sales by quarter and Epublishers Weekly has reworked the chart to show the data on an annual basis. The annual format makes it is easy to see why 2010 will likely be a record year for e-book sales.

Note: IDPF’s figures represent the 12 to 15 trade book publishers who have been willing to supply their data to IDPF.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Opposing Voices in Digital Publishing video

The Teleread blog recently posted a video from Tyndale House Publishers, that features puppets acting out opposing view points on digital publishing topics. The video is humorous but also shows that no one really knows what is going to happen in the industry and how to accommodate the different needs of authors, publishers, consumers, bookstore owners, etc.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Video demo of Kno Tablet

Last week we talked about the new Kno Tablet that was unveiled at the All Things Digital Conference. Here is a video demo that shows some of the impressive capabilities.

Kno Movie from Kno, Inc. on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

iPad news from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference

Earlier this week at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Steve Jobs said that the iBooks platform for the iPad has captured 22 percent of the e-book market. However, a posting on the Bits Blog points out that this number does not reflect the entire publishing industry because Random House does not sell e-books through Apple. Steve Jobs also said that iPad owners have downloaded over five million books in the last two months which equals about 2.5 books per iPad. Whether or not Apple has captured exactly 22 percent of the market, it is selling a lot of e-books for the iPad.

A posting on Allen Weiner’s blog notes that these stats show that readers are ok with reading e-books on a backlit LCD screen. At this point consumers seem to appreciate multi-function reading devices, even if it means a less optimal reading experience than single purpose E Ink devices can provide.

Also at the WWDC, Jobs announced that the iBooks app will be available for the iPhone and readers will be able to synchronize their books between devices. In addition, new features will be added to the iPad including a PDF viewer, book marking functionality, and note-taking capabilities.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Verso Advertising’s Survey of Book Buying Behavior

Verso Advertising has released the results from the third wave of its Survey of Book-Buying Behavior. The surveys were conducted in November and December 2009, and April 2010. Altogether 9,300 respondents were polled. Some interesting findings from the third wave include:

  • E-reader sales are moving beyond early adopters. Since November, e-reader ownership has increased from 2.9% to 6.8%. However, the number of respondents who said that they are not at all likely to buy an e-reader increased slightly from 49% to 52.2% which suggests limits to e-book penetration.
  • 41.9% of respondents said that they are at least somewhat likely to buy a deluxe edition of a hardcover if it includes a digital version for a modest surcharge.
  • E-reader owners continue to buy print books in addition to e-books. 27.7% of respondents said that they plan to buy 10 or more print books this year and 17.2% are likely to buy five to nine print books. This shows that readers enjoy both formats and a hybrid market is developing.
  • Contrary to popular belief, many young people prefer the bricks and mortar shopping experience. 37% of 18 to 34 year olds said that they prefer to buy books from independent bookstores. In addition, 40% of 18 to 24 years olds said that they visit independent bookstores five or more times a year which is more often than every other age group.

PowerPoint slides of the 2009 findings and 2010 findings are available on the Verso Advertising website.

Monday, June 7, 2010

E-reader and tablet news

New competitors continue to enter the e-reader and tablet space. Here is some info about the latest announcements.

  • According to Bloomberg.com, Amazon may release a new version of the Kindle in August. The new version will still feature a black and white screen but it will have a sharper and more responsive display. The device will also be thinner than existing models. In addition, a posting on the Bits Blog says that Amazon may be working on devices with color screens and touch functionality.
  • Last week, Dell introduced a smartphone/tablet hybrid called Streak. The device will be sold like a phone but with its 5-inch touchscreen it is larger than others on the market. According to the ZDNet blog, Streak will run Google’s Android operating system and include 3G/WiFi/Bluetooth capabilities as well as a 5 mexapixel camera.
  • According to Information Week, Motorola may release a 7 to 10 inch Android tablet later this year that serves as a companion product to a TV.
  • Last week at the Computex show in Taipai, Taiwan, Asus announced new devices called the Eee Pad and the Eee Tablet. According to CNET, there will be 10-inch and 12-inch versions of the Eee Pad that are designed to provide users with “a real-time cloud-computing experience.” The Eee Tablet will be more like a traditional e-book reader but will include a stylus for note-taking and annotation. A release date for the devices is not yet known.
  • Also at the Computex show, MSI showed off its 10-inch, Windows 7 tablet called WindPad. A posting on Engadget includes a video demo of the device.
  • In July, Borders will begin selling a second e-reader called the Aluratek Libre eBook Reader Pro. The device comes with 100 pre-loaded classic books. Consumers can also purchase the Kobo e-reader from Borders. According to the retailer’s website, the first shipment has sold out and new orders will arrive in early July.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

March 2010 e-book sales statistics

E-book sales statistics for March 2010 have been released by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) via IDPF. Trade e-book sales were $28.5 million for March 2010, a 184.8% increase over March 2009. The sales for Q1 2010 totaled $91 million and far surpassed any previous quarter. IDPF reports calendar year to date revenue is up 252%. Note: These figures represent the 12 to 15 trade book publishers who have been willing to supply their data to IDPF.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Fast Company’s e-reader guide

Fast Company has an interesting article that shows their picks for the e-reader with the best browser, best bookstore, best value, and other categories.

Apple sells two million iPads in two months

Last week Apple initiated the international launch of the iPad and this week announced that it has sold two million iPads in two months. It was recently announced that Apple sold one million iPads in the first month so it appears that sales have not slowed down. Apple plans to release the iPad in an additional nine countries in July.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Kno Tablet unveiled

As expected, the Kno Tablet was unveiled earlier this week at the D8: All Things Digital Conference and it is impressive. Of particular interest, Kno has already partnered with four higher education publishers (Cengage Learning, McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Wiley) and pilots will begin this fall. Here is a list of some of the highlights:

  • Two 14 inch touchscreens that open like a book to allow the device to display 95 percent of textbooks
  • There will be an online store that is linked to the device for the purchase of materials
  • It has WiFi and Bluetooth
  • It weighs 5.5 pounds
  • It supports all document-creation formats and PDFs
  • It will include a stylus
  • Operating system is Linux based
  • Pre-orders will begin in October and it will ship in time for the holidays

In addition, here is a link to an article on CNET and another on All Things Digital. The videos on each link are worth a watch.

This brings us pretty close to having a commercially viable multi-function device for e-textbooks that was designed with textbooks in mind. The road ahead could get bumpy for college stores.

Thought for the day

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, said: "Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content. Three years ago, I said within ten years but I realized that was wrong - it's within five."


Thursday, June 3, 2010

One Laptop per Child partners with Marvell to produce tablet for education

Last week the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project announced that it will work with Marvell to create a new educational tablet for children in the U.S. and around the world. According to the press release, the tablet will include Marvell’s Moby platform and features such as a multi-lingual keyboard with touch feedback, Wi-Fi, and built-in video and still camera. In a video on the Bits Blog, Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of OLPC project, says that it is hoped that the device will have a dual mode display that work both indoors and in direct sunlight. Mr. Negroponte also said that every aspect of the project will be open source.

The companies expect to debut the first version of the tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2011. By CES 2012, it is expected that a completely plastic and unbreakable tablet will debut.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kno’s (formerly Kakai’s) e-reader/notebook for education

A few weeks ago we talked about a new startup called Kakai that was co-founded by Osman Rashid, the co-founder of Chegg. According to a new article on The All Things Digital website, Kakai has been renamed Kno and the company is preparing to show off their foldable dual-screen e-reader/notebook for education this week at the D: All Things Digital conference. The device is said to be powered by a Linux operating system, support gesture-based touch, include software and web access to deliver course materials, and include note taking, audio, and video capabilities. More details to come later this week.